CBS’ Elementary starts off in a semi-familiar place for American viewers. Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) is recovering from drug abuse and engaged in some odd sexual behavior, which involves handcuffs and a ladder. Series creator Robert Doherty presents an upbeat, modern retelling of the Holmes saga that – in tone – feels more akin to the Robert Downey Jr. Holmes – minus all the flashy fighting. Also, Dr. Watson is now Dr. Joan Watson, played by Lucy Liu.
If you’re a fan of BBC’s Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, you’ll find no comparison between the two series. On the surface, both tales are modern retellings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle famed character, except Elementary takes place in New York City instead of England. However, BBC’s Sherlock presents more multi-tiered mysteries with more complex investigations. It’s a cerebral crime drama with a darker, grittier tone. There are always subtle moments where Holmes amazes the viewer with slight details.
Those moments of potential amazement in Elementary are lost to light comedy and the obligatory relationship budding between the leading man and leading woman. In the first episode, Holmes delivers a “do you believe in love at first sight” monologue to Dr. Watson. Joan, caught off guard, falls for the advance, dropping her handbag. Then, she realizes that Holmes was just quoting a soap opera. Later, she walks up to him and says, “I’m gonna need your saliva now.” She does this just before a routine drug test, but the double entendre was unmistakable.
EDITOR’S PICK: CBS’s Elementary Vs. BBC’s Sherlock
While Elementary may pale in comparison to BBC’s Sherlock, the BBC series is a victim of its own design. Annual seasons are only three or four episodes. So between seasons you can theoretically get your Holmes fix on CBS.
Miller offers a passable Holmes that can be entertaining from week to week, primarily if you’ve never seen Cumberbatch. Liu’s Watson isn’t a “girly” love interest and is able to match wits with this watered-down Holmes. She’s also a little tomboyish, which keeps her from drifting too far from Doyle’s Watson. Sadly, the New York landscape coupled with the new Holmes-Watson dynamic does little to separate this crime drama from any other crime series on TV.
Will Elementary beat the Fall cancellation season? Our early prediction is – yes. There’s nothing bad about the series, it’s actually quite entertaining.
If Doherty can take the series into a more cerebral space, skipping the romance and focusing on hearty analysis and mind-bending cases, then Elementary could prosper into something more than another crime-case-of-the-week series. But we deduce that it will take more than 22 episodes to come close to matching what BBC showrunners Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat did in the first four episodes of Sherlock.