Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Elementary alternative.

With all the sturm und drang around the new season of BBC Sherlock, a few loyal souls who remember CBS's Elementary exists have piped up and suggested that ongoing procedural as a comfy alternative to the more controversial and star-powered offering.

And while, in a lucky bit of timing, the January 8th episode of Elementary happened to be one of the show's more engaging episodes -- focusing on a single case without as much meandering -- it's still Elementary. What does that mean?

Well, it means that Elementary is never going to have the demands placed upon it that Sherlock does. Nobody is leaking episodes in advance, doing entire podcasts trying to decipher set photos and filming rumors, or reviewing every single episode with passionate comparisons to either the original Canon or its own. And no one, absolutely no one, is devoted to the thought that Holmes and Watson are really in love despite what the showrunners claim.

If Elementary was subject to such scrutiny? Well, if you thought Mycroft and Moriarty showed up too much in Sherlock, how about a whole season devoted to Shinwell Johnson in which Watson tries to teach him the skills that Mr. Elementary taught her, like picking padlocks off his padlock rack? Not sure if whipping things with a stick has come in this season, but it's an Elementary classic training bit as well. Shinwell was not really on any Sherlockian's list of Canonical characters we were dying to see more of, and like so many of the show's characters, is basically a name from Doyle tacked on to a standard TV role.

Jonny Lee Miller's wardrobe has become less mentally-challenged looking this season, but seeing him as Sherlock Holmes visually is still not easy, unless you're just a sucker for an English accent. And Lucy Liu as Joan Watson, despite its diversity points, is a completely different character than John H. Watson of the original Canon, and the show's efforts to keep her relationship with Holmes sterile and platonic also keep a full-on Holmes-Watson dynamic from evolving.

If Sherlock is guilty of being too "James Bond" of late, Elementary has been guilty of being too "CBS procedural" from day one, so  it's not really a Canonical safe haven for the Sherlockian purist. More just a comfy watch for those who don't mind standard network fare. Former fans of Sherlock who were driven off by the latest developments aren't going to find it a good replacement. Those who enjoyed Jeremy Brett's Victorian Holmes aren't going to find any more Canonical ties here. The best thing that Elementary might do for either camp is just be so far from actual Sherlock Holmes that it doesn't invite enough comparison to offend.

Going in with no Sherlockian expectations, the cast are lovely to look at, and the January 8th episode "Be My Guest" was written by Jason Tracey, who is probably the show's best writer.  If Sherlock is freaking you out all that much, the calm procedural plot to rescue a kidnapped girl might be a pleasant cup of tea.

Just don't hold a magnifying glass up to the series, or expect the weekly high that many a Sherlock fan gets during its all-too-brief seasons.


  1. I don't wish an alternative for "Sherlock", but during those long hiatus periods, I've chosen "The Murdoch Mysteries" as a palpable substitute, and for my CBS procedural NCIS is my coup de théâtre. Then again, there are so many Youtube Sherlock Holmes productions worth exploring, who needs "Elementary". Besides, you mean to tell me "Elementary" hasn't been cancelled yet?

  2. Replies
    1. Not really. Just thought I'd look in on last week's episode to take its pulse.

  3. Hmm. This is apples/oranges comparison. You can't compare or expect a 23+ episode a year series to have same characteristics as something that does 3 shows every couple years.

    And except for the first season of BBC Sherlock, it's really not a haven for purists either.

    Elementary is a first-class procedural that does a good job of pulling in some Sherlockian elements. It's not classic Holmes, but then neither were most of the Rathbone films or some of the last Brett episodes or the Downey movies. This season is weaker than in the past, but at least in prior seasons there were 5 or 6 episodes that were better than most anything else on network TV.

    As to BBC Sherlock, it started as the best update to Sherlock ever. But it has become increasingly self-obsessed, especially starting with season 3, and strayed further and further away from the spirit of Holmes and into caricature.

    I still enjoy it, but given how incredible the first season (especially Study in Pink) was, am saddened by the dropoff since then.

    Elementary might rarely soar to great heights, but it's been more consistently good over a lot more episodes.