Friday, September 27, 2013

Elementary Points and Counterpoints, Part Two

Brad Keefauver's Counterpoint:

People ask me why I watch Elementary, a show I really don't like. And my answer is always the same: I'm a Sherlock Holmes fan. Bill's review of the second season premiere would have had me watching the show, even if I had given it up entirely sometime last fall. But I doubt my reaction would have been any different.

Obviously, I didn't revel in the plethora of Canonical references, as Bill suggested I might. Everything that surrounds them just goes against my Sherlockian grain far too much, which is why I have such a very hard time seeing things from the Elementary Sherlockian fan's point of view. "It's had to enjoy the icing when the cake is bad," a fortune cookie I saw recently read, and I agree.  A Sherlock Holmes story, to me, has always been a positive experience. Elementary has a decidedly negative spin, with unpleasant and unlikeable folk at every turn. Even Joan Watson is only there because she has to be, having killed a patient. And she seems lukewarm about the role she's been placed in.

“We get along, basically,” Joan Watson explained her relationship with Mr. Elementary this episode. I expect something more from an exemplary friendship that has shone brightly in our culture for over a century. Lucy Liu's Watson is steady, but perhaps too steady, given the partner she has to work with. If Mycroft has to blow things up to get Mr. Elementary's attention based on her advice, why don't we see her blowing up more? She certainly has good reason to. And we know that Lucy Liu has it well within her most enjoyable acting range. Joan's quietly tolerating this jerk is one of the hardest things for me to believe about this series . . . well, other than the fact that the guy is supposed to be Sherlock Holmes.

Lucy Liu's Watson does remain the sole delight in a dismal Elementary world, so I will give Bill that. While Mr. Elementary continues to dress like Jethro Bodine or a twit from Monty Python, Joan Watson has some very nice togs. I just wish they'd give her more to do. 

Like the whole series for her own.

Bill Mason's Counterpoint:

“Art in the blood, Watson. It takes the strangest forms.”  Thus spoke Holmes in the closing line of Elementary’s premiere—another of numerous homages to the Canon.

The art of adapting Holmes to a modern setting is akin to what contestants do on Chopped.  Familiar ingredients, breaking them down, repurposing them, presenting something wholly new but still fundamentally true.  Elementary places new emphasis on familiar points: Lestrade’s credit claiming becomes an addiction to fame he cannot lose; Mycroft doesn’t preserve 221B during a hiatus, he transforms it; Mycroft rivals Sherlock in more than just intellect. Transforming Sherlock’s occasional use of cocaine into addiction has been a running theme. Brad objects to this repurposing, at least inElementary, but if you really want reality and mystery to mix, this is essential.  This repurposing doesn’t insult Holmes; it keeps him alive.  Just as we in “the game” insist.

Brad has singled out Elementary’s use of Langdale Pike for criticism, but this transformation not only works, it's clever and believable. Instead of gathering information “in the bow window of a St. James’ Street club” (3GAB), Pike does so through London’s surveillance cameras.  This is just the sort of informant a modern era Sherlock Holmes would need and utilize.  Well done.

I share to some extent Brad’s discomfort with the arrogance and obnoxious rudeness of Holmes.  Perhaps, in television versions, this is a device (unneeded in a short story) to set an incomparable Holmes apart from the rest of humanity. Miller, however, has not taken this to a Mr. Data/Sheldon Cooper automaton extreme.  Like the Canonical Sherlock Holmes, he does indeed have real emotions, though tightly controlled.  That he doesn’t suffer fools gladly is a positive rather than otherwise.

The Elementary chemistry between Holmes and Watson is pitch perfect.  I cannot agree that the show “hates” Sherlock Holmes; it clearly treasures him.


  1. You might be able to tweak a recipe but if you bake an apple pie and replace the apples with peaches, the result might be to the taste of someone, but the folks who wanted the apple pie will rightly complain that they didn't get one.

    And blowing up Baker Street? That is something you can do in a season FINALE and even then it should be better part of a damn good story.

  2. Bill, I wish I could enjoy the show as much as you do. But I'm a tough sell on any Sherlockian pastiche, being more of a purist, as it were. Like the blind men and the elephant, we each find something different in the show. Alas, all I keep finding is something unpleasant to step in.

  3. Well after reading the points made on both side I have to say that I still dislike Elementary. Bill stated that the chemistry between Holmes and Watson is pitch perfect but when I watch elementary, I don't see ANY chemistry whatsoever. I can't even fathom why they are working together. Also I have to disagree with both Brad and Bill that Watson's performance is the best part of the show. To me, she is the worst part of the show. As a young asian women, I would not list the number of things I find offensive by her playing this iconic character on the racial/gender side but just focus on the character. First of all, as a medical student I find her back story about "quitting medicine because a patient died" highly improbable if not impossible. Well if you find
    her back story phony its hard to get into the show. Second of all where is all the Watsonian characteristic that we love? Where is Watson's military background? Where is his writing skills/the material that made Holmes famous? Where is his everyman quality? Where is his admiration and awe of Holmes? (Lucy Liu just seems like she is babysitting JLM in the show.) I don't see any of these traits in Lucy Liu's character. The show writers are denigrating my all time favorite character and it irks me to no end. I have to say, the thing I miss most about Sherlock while watching elementary is not Benedict Cumberbatch but Martin Freeman's Watson.

    1. Me too....I always think that a good Watson is the heart of every adaptation, and Freeman is my favourite one, beating out Solomin narrowly.

  4. Well, I got over my trepidations and watched it last night and I agree with Brad in all but one point: the show runners do not hate Sherlock Holmes and the canon, they despise them and they show it to us while laughing in our faces.

    Sherlock is still an ugly nitwit who I would rather run down with my car than consult. Lucy Liu is still a blank slate, nothing more than a mannequin to hang clothes on. As hard as I watch, I can see no chemistry whatsoever between them. And although I found Rhys Ifans strangely likeable, he's no Mycroft. All the rest are strange, unlikeable, broken people I'd prefer to hear nothing more about.

    What does it take to be Sherlock Holmes' friend? Well, clearly blowing up his belongings is a good way to start. *headdesk* In what universe do these people live?

    The showrunners seem unable - or unwilling? - to leave any character with even a modicum of dignity and that is what I despise most about the whole affair.