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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The case of Sherlock vs Elementary

As previously mentioned, Othman and I enjoy following TV shows together.A while back we got into BBC's Sherlock, much like most people with any taste and time to spare. We are eagerly awaiting season 3, said to be coming out next January. While we were quickly convinced by Sherlock, we began watching another Sherlock Holmes adaptation, Elementary, with a bit of a skeptical air. A year or so ago I happened to watch most of an episode of Elementary and was far from impressed. Being the pickier of the two, I've rejected quite a few shows after watching the pilot episode, and was hesitant to even give Elementary a chance. I'm quite glad I did.

Like Sherlock, it's an updated version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's tales, but moves away from the originals quite drastically. Holmes, played by Johnny Lee Miller, is now a recovering drug addict living in New York City. His absent, rich and unforgiving father pays for a sober companion to live with him after he exits a rehab facility, not giving Holmes a choice about it. Enter Joan Watson, played by Lucy Liu, a former doctor who moves in to keep him out of trouble. Miller's Holmes is significantly older than Benedict Cumberbatch's Holmes of Sherlock, and Elementary is meant to take place after a long tenure of Holmes' with the Scotland Yard. That detail makes the entire set-up rather easier to swallow.

I do not claim in any way to be a Sherlock Holmes expert; unlike little sister Maria I have not worked through the massive collected stories of Conan Doyle, though I have been exposed to various interpretations and original stories from a young age. Already within the pilot episode we see a significant departure from the books (his dad was never mentioned, among the more obvious variations), so one might say the show is more inspired by the Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes rather than based on his stories. I will admit that these changes didn't leave me wholly convinced at first, and may lead others to dismiss the show prematurely. My recommendation: don't let them.

I love TV shows with significant character development. Othman is more intrigued by the story and what happens, while I focus much more on connecting with the characters. It doesn't matter how good a plot is-- if the characters don't have depth and the actors are mediocre, I can't get into a show. Elementary is such a hit in my book because Holmes and Waston, while not really what we might expect, are incredibly well played. In Miller's incarnation of Holmes we can see Sherlock's personality portrayed in a unique light, and he is 100% believable. His tics, battles with addiction and total self-absorption are well developed and considered in the show. There is a psychological aspect of Holmes that isn't particularly dealt with in Sherlock or in the orignals. Waston as well is much less one-dimensional than she could be, the chemistry between the two actors is strong and pleasant, and quite frankly I ended up convinced.

Without giving anything away, Elementary does play fast and loose with many of the stories/themes in Conan Doyle's original, but I for one accept them readily as a novel interpretation of a character that deserves more than one reincarnation.


I realize that I didn't talk much about Sherlock here, but in my book there's not much point in that, because everyone already loves it, right? Just defending the underdog I suppose. ;D

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