Until today, 2013 has been Elementary-free for me. It's been a happy time. A world without weekly doses of a hack Sherlock impersonator lets one get back to what Sherlock Holmes was really all about. And it's been a happy time.
Of course, it's hard to spend time on the internet without bumping into Elementary's presence these days. The lukewarm reviews continue. And the apologists are still out there, pretending that BBC's Sherlock was a much lower quality show than it was, just to argue against any criticism of their beloved weak tea. But there have also been mentions of a building plot thread of a mysterious "M," a new phase for the show, and that its episodes are getting better. Of course, this is a bit like the way the Twilight movies got "best Twilight yet" reviews with each new movie because the original was so horrendously bad.
The "M" gambit has been played out in pastiche many times before, in various mediums. Mycroft, Moriarty, Moran, Milverton, Morstan . . . the Canon of Holmes is full of significant folk with the initial "M." But it was enough to lure me in to playing Elementary catch-up this morning.
Elementary continues to be more CBS procedural than actual Sherlock Holmes-inspired drama. The plot of the year's first episode involved spies, yet not the least reference to the spies of The Second Stain or any other Holmes tale appears. The writers seem more concerned with the usual routine of throwing in a sudden plot twist in every five minutes rather than letting Mr. Elementary behave like Sherlock Holmes and save his revelations for the big finish. The main characters of Psych or The Mentalist could have strolled through the same plot with no different result, though the quips might have been better.
Mr. Elementary's role as a police employee seems a solid fixture now, quite different from Sherlock Holmes's signature independence from the official force. Watson's move from hired addict-nursemaid to apprentice detective still lacks the feel of true friendship, perhaps because any signs of real friendship would be taken as movement toward a love match between the two. Anyone who truly thinks Mr. Elementary is actually Sherlock Holmes at this point can probably be sold any book by simply replacing the dust jacket with the jacket of the book they were looking for.
But let us get to the mysterious "M." Spoiler alert: it's not going to be good. Spoiler alert two: If you really cared about Elementary, you wouldn't be reading this, so I'm holding nothing back.
We get to meet "M" in the very first scene. As he is played by Vinnie Jones, a wonderful character actor who tends to play Brit thugs, I had to immediately hope this wasn't Elementary's Moriarty. His scruffy style would make him a perfect Mycroft to Jonny Lee Miller's scruffy attempt at Sherlock -- they also both do "intelligent" at about the same level. Jones worked with director Guy Ritchie on at least one notable occasion, but alas, it wasn't Sherlock Holmes. And sad to say, Vinnie still isn't in a Sherlock Holmes project.
We also find out that Irene Adler is not just dead, she's really, quite completely dead in Elementary world and Mr. Elementary wants to torture and murder "M" for killing her, Mr. Elementary's girlfriend of seven months at the time. We finally find the whole story: Irene's death caused Mr. Elementary's descent into drug abuse. But all the "M" references in conversation quickly give one the impression that Mr. Elementary is out to kill James Bond's spymaster. For Mr. Elementary's most important episode/case to date, there is very little impressive detective work, as usual. No "Empty House" surprises. And even the victim of "M" is making observations of details to lead the police to the scene of the crime.
"M," by the way, stands for Moran. Sebastian Moran. Don't waste your time watching this to find out. He's not Moriarty's lieutenant in this world, he's Moriarty's hireling and patsy. Consider this for a second: Mr. Elementary left London without being aware of even Moriarty's name. How great a detective was he if he didn't become even slightly aware of the criminal mastermind behind his home city's crime until someone told him about it in New York, long after he was working there?
Rob Doherty, the writer of this mess, has his defenders. But throwing Holmes's post-retirement bees into Mr. Elementary's urban life, slapping the name "Irene Adler" on his ex (not that weird given that the whole show is just slapping names on other characters), and having a star with any sort of British accent still doth not a Sherlock Holmes make. Mr. Elementary lacks the style of Sherlock, the control of Sherlock, the genius of Sherlock, and, truly, the entertainment value of our Sherlock Holmes. And let's not even get into Watson.
It's a new year, but some things remain the same. Elementary still sucks.