Like most BBC “Sherlock” fans, I was skeptical when I first heard about “Elementary.” The idea of “Elementary” as a modernized Sherlock Holmes completely threw me off, especially because there’s already a perfectly good show with the same premise: “Sherlock,” also released by BBC.
As a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels and “Sherlock,” I kept my mind open to new adaptations. None of the elements you’d expect to see in a typical Sherlock Holmes adaptation, however, are in “Elementary”. Despite my initial uncertainty, the positive critic reviews pushed me to watch the “Elementary” premiere. I’m glad I did.
“Elementary” is different from “Sherlock” in many ways. For starters, Sherlock’s sidekick, John Watson, is now a woman named Joan (Lucy Liu). The show takes place in New York City, instead of London. While a Sherlock in America can be a revitalizing reinvention of the usual British setting, it also poses some complications. The iconic apartment 221B Baker Street no longer exists, for example, and the atmosphere is too American to match the tone of the British novels.
But the dynamic between the two main characters is the biggest difference between the shows. I expected Joan Watson to stand in awe of Holmes, much like John always does in “Sherlock.” Regardless of how terribly the Holmes of “Sherlock” treats Watson and the other characters, he’s always brilliant, and John Watson recognized that. Sherlock’s methods of deduction are beyond others’ ability, so his cold-hearted and self-righteous attitude are ignored. But in “Elementary,” Liu’s Joan Watson is often unimpressed. She never excuses Sherlock’s behavior; at times she doesn’t even acknowledge his intelligence.
What I originally failed to grasp is that “Sherlock” took a modern setting and applied it to the original stories, while “Elementary” completely modernizes the original characters. Ultimately, “Elementary” doesn’t have the same essence as “Sherlock” at all. For instance, Johnny Lee Miller’s “Elementary” Sherlock is kinder and more human. He is undoubtedly strange, but his personality isn’t as extreme. He’s more likeable that the Sherlock of old.
When the credits started to roll, I found myself wanting more. While neither the best TV adaptation nor the most loyal to the novels, “Elementary” provides a good fix for my Sherlock Holmes cravings — at least until “Sherlock” returns from its hiatus in 2014.