Like A.V. Club's Myles McNutt, I was hoping to go into CBS's Elementary without comparing it to BBC's Sherlock, which I recently started watching. But, as McNutt admits, as hard as one can try to not compare them, it's almost impossible not to. They're both modern-day adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, with Elementary conveniently appearing well after Sherlock had established itself as a darling of fans and critics alike. The inevitable rivalry was heightened when Benedict Cumberbatch (BBC's Sherlock's Sherlock) implied Jonny Lee Miller (CBS's Elementary's Sherlock) took the job only to sustain his LA mansion & trophy wife lifestyle, which was either cutting bitchery or a misquote. Basically, the two are going to be compared, and that might not be favorable to Elementary.
Jonny Lee Miller's Sherlock is an arrogant dick. And his Sherlock should be an arrogant dick, because Sherlock is kind of an arrogant dick. But while Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock's dickery comes from a place of arrogance, it also derives from his honest confusion regarding social norms and is tempered by his breathless enthusiasm and poignant vulnerability - which is why although he belittles and irritates the people in his life (Watson, Mycroft, Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson, etc.), these same people humor and protect him rather than punch him in the face (although Molly should seriously punch him in the face). And, with the help of threat-happy manic pixie dream villain Jim Moriarty, he's learning, gradually, just how much those people mean to him in return. Nothing like "Imma kill all your friends and also dance" to bring things into perspective.
|They mean nothing! Now leave me to my pouting couch.|
Jonny Lee Miller's Sherlock is more of just an asshole addict. Which is totally fair, considering that in Doyle's stories, Sherlock had quite the taste for you know what. But Miller's Sherlock's assholishness is laced with aggression, as seen in the pilot when he screams at a female assault victim (which, to be fair, gives Lucy Liu's Watson a great opening to shut that shit down). In last night's episode, "While You Were Sleeping," when Sherlock breaks into an apartment without a warrant in front of the police and the resident, there's a clear "fuck you, I do what I want" vibe. In Sherlock, when Sherlock technically breaks the law - for example, by withholding evidence in "A Study in Pink" - it's more of a "I am trying to solve the case and I need that to solve the case so why would I have given it to you kthxbai" vibe. Miller's Sherlock is not as immediately endearing as Cumberbatch's, but this does give the character ways to develop that are very different and still affecting. I did like how in last night's episode we saw more of how Sherlock views his addiction: he's still in denial and a bit ashamed. He's hiding his rehab stay from others, disdainful towards his group sessions, but also gently urges a drugged-up lawyer to get help while simultaneously bullying him for client information.
I think A.V. Club user Nate the Great (yes, getting into those peer-reviewed sources now) states the gist of the differences between the two series well in his/her comment on the the A.V. Club's review of last night's episode: "Elementary is a police procedural using the character names for people who haven't read [Arthur Conan Doyle]. Sherlock is written by fans of [Doyle] for fans of [Doyle], and it's a clear loving tribute." This feel absolutely true. Elementary is a procedural and could be any procedural. Joan Watson and Sherlock Holmes could be Melody Lee and Brian Smith and it would be another unconventional detective/long-suffering sidekick series, albeit with less character than Monk or Psych. Despite last night's violin shout-out, there's not much Holmsian about it. Sherlock revels in its Doyle roots in a clever way, while making something new and much fresher than Elementary despite more closely sticking to the Victorian source material.
|Plaid is British, right?|
That said, I adore, adore, adore Lucy Liu's Watson. Emotionally wounded yet a tough cookie, Liu subtly gives Watson strength and reservedness. Still getting over a tragedy that ended her career as a surgeon, she's a work in progress like recovering addict Holmes. And it's clear Holmes recognizes and appreciates her crime-solving talents, even if she's still doubtful of herself.
So I'm not ready to give up on Elementary yet. I think TV could use some more male/female platonic friendships, and there are parts I'm finding engaging. Will they do more with Watson's male Mary (Ty) Morstan? I'm also interested in learning more about "what happened" in London, which Watson has deduced concerned a woman. Was it Jersey girl adventuress/opera singer Irene Adler? They are near New Jersey, and Watson knows from Sherlock's father that Sherlock once loved opera, which Sherlock now vehemently denies. Or could the woman be a fem Professor Moriarty? BTW my dream fem Professor Moriarty is totally boho-frumpy and surrounded by books and drafts of Ph.D. candidates' theses while plotting crimes. I want Selma Blair in ankle-length skirts and lumpy sweaters. Just saying, Elementary crew.