I write a series of mini-reviews for the first three episodes of the Sherlock Holmes in America TV drama Elementary, starring Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu.
So, Elementary. The Question on everybody’s minds is, or – on everyone who hasn’t seen it yet’s minds, – how does it fare to Sherlock? Well, put it this way. In a world where Sherlock was never made, and Elementary arrived on our screens, I am fairly sure that it would be a lot more popular. More people would view it as original, and not see it as an Americanized copy of Sherlock. I went into this series with a very open mind, and as a result – allowed myself to enjoy the show. In fact, I really enjoy this show. It’s almost as good as Sherlock in my books, and I will certainly be sticking around for the rest of the series.
So where does Elementary let itself down then? For starters, it’s because of the label that they’ve attached to this drama. They’ve labelled it a Sherlock Holmes show. I don’t know about you, but in my view at least, Elementary bares absolutely no connection aside from the names of the characters (and even Watson is given a gender shift) to the original Sherlock Holmes stories envisioned by Conan-Doyle. The first three episodes have yet to provide us with any mentions of Mycroft, Holmes’ older brother, instead replacing him with his father, who is playing the ‘behind the scenes’ game, making sure that Sherlock attends rehab, and is the one that assigns him a post-rehab companion (not in the Firefly sense, but more in that of Doctor Who), Joan Watson in order to assure Sherlock doesn’t start re-taking drugs.
I mentioned in my review of the first season of Sherlock that all the characters (aside from a couple of notable exceptions), are addressed by their first names. In Elementary however, they’re all addressed by their surnames. Or the main characters are at least, Holmes, Watson and Gregson, who is the Lestrade-esque character of the NYPD.
S1x01 – “Pilot“
The Pilot episode of Elementary introduces us, like Sherlock, to Watson before we meet Holmes, as Joan is assigned to watch over Holmes for reasons that I’ve already covered. The Pilot episode demonstrates what a series should do right from the start, tells the clear objective of the show and sets it up to be a villain-of-the-week drama. We also see Holmes’ deductive abilities, and whilst they aren’t constructed as good as Sherlock’s (from now on I will talk about Holmes when talking about Elementary‘‘s Lead Detective, and Sherlock when talking about Sherlock), the episode actually makes a Holmes that seems moderately believable compared to Sherlock. Whilst Sherlock was so out of touch with the modern day society making it hard to connect with him, Elementary‘s Holmes is a lot more human. He can make mistakes (as shown in Episode 3), and has flaws.
The episode itself is quite simple compared to the brilliant A Study in Pink, with a predictable plot, but it does introduce us to the characters well and sets the tone for the next few episodes. There are a few laughs here and there, particularly the theater scene, but Sherlock on the whole is in general more amusing than Elementary, which is a fair bit darker as well – particularly in the case of episode 3. The actors are generally pretty good at what they do, with the exception of Lucy Liu, who has yet to convince me that she can perform a good Watson, but Johnny Lee Miller delivers a strong take on Holmes but both ultimatley fall short of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman and what they did with their characters.
However, the episode is a strong opener to a series that delivers an entertaining watch but is let down by the fact that it seems to be too close to a normal crime drama and not enough like Sherlock Holmes to convince us that it is indeed the Great Detective. Yet.
S1x02 “While You Were Sleeping“
The second episode in the three that I have watched so far is entitled While You Were Sleeping, and it’s the one that I can remember the least about. The second episode of the series, Elementary continues with its villain of the week format by promising an interesting question for Holmes – a father with lots of money has just died, leaving his inheritance to his daughters. However, one of the daughters seemingly has decided that she wants to have all the inheritance to herself, and Holmes must uncover the mystery of the two. The problem is – one is in a coma, and the other claims to have no knowledge of the first murder that Holmes is called to investigate, one that first appears to be a robbery gone wrong.
I mentioned in the opening paragraph that the second episode of Elementary is the one that I remember the least about. A few details came back to me after I wrote that sentence without looking it up on Google, but it just proves that if I had to think to remember what the plot of the episode was, then obviously it didn’t stand out much to me. And to be honest, it didn’t – although it has a clever plot and a clever solution, testing Holmes a bit more than the Pilot episode, it seemed lacklusture. Once again, it was a plot that didn’t bring anything particularly fresh and groundbreakingly original to the table, which was a shame. The violin aspect of the episode was also a nice touch, showing that Elementary does give some connection to its Conan-Doyle origins.
However, this episode, on a further reflection – was more or less along the same lines as the pilot. It was good, sure – but it wasn’t brilliant. In a non-Sherlock world, that good would have been enough to keep me going. But after this episode, it left me a bit let down again. However, all of that was to change, with episode three, entitled Child Predator.
S1x03 “Child Predator“
This is the first episode where we meet someone who actually seems like a match for Holmes, and as a result, this is where Elementary kicks itself into overdrive delivering the best episode of the series so far that I’ve seen. An interesting plot, and whilst Liu still manages to be annoying, the episode was mostly entertaining, filled with twists and turns and an awesome drama. If Elementary continues in the form that it’s in after episode three, then this will move a lot higher up my TV ratings list.
This episode is probably the darkest of Elementary to date, dealing with a child kidnapper and murderer called “The Balloon Man,” named so because he leaves balloons where the parents of the kidnapped child will find them as a “Thank You” gift. Can Holmes stop the Balloon man from claiming another victim, and find out the identity of the Child Predator?
The charisma displayed by Holmes and Watson has to be crucial in order for a show like Elementary to work and I think Liu and Miller have nailed it here. Whilst Miller may not be a Holmes that Sherlock Holmes fans will recognize, but by now – I think if you’re still watching Elementary then I know you probably won’t care. It’s nice to see someone who isn’t Benedict Cumberbatch or Robert Downey Jr. playing the role of the Great Detective and Miller manages to gain my award for best actor of the series to date, and his character is certainly developing throughout the season, and it’ll be interesting to see where he takes Holmes from here on in. Whilst Miller may not be as quite as memorable as the former two actors who I have mentioned, he’s certainly capable of pulling of a strong Sherlock Holmes in his own right.
This episode is a strong addition to the series, with some cunning plot twists and some fast-pacing with some humorous moments, and I think that now, after episode 3, the show is starting to find its feet. I’ll be in for the long run.
So, overall, I’d probably have to give Elementary’s first three episodes a 3.5/5. It’s a fun show that although may not quite be as good as Sherlock, it still manages to be entertaining with a superb title sequence, and some interesting mysteries and a nice break from merely updating the original Sherlock Holmes stories. Johnny Lee Miller is a strong Sherlock Holmes but unfortunately Lucy Liu fails to impress as Joan Watson, however – there is room for her character to develop and become better over time.
ELEMENTARY SEASON 1 EPISODE LIST: Pilot, While You Were Sleeping, Child Predator, Rat Race, Lesser Evils, Flight Risk, One Way to Get Off, The Long Fuse, You Do It To Yourself, The Leviathan, Dirty Laundry, M, The Red Team, The Deductionist, A Giant Gun, Filled With Drugs, Details, Possibility Two, Déjà Vu All Over Again, Snow Angels, COMING SOON: Dead Man’s Switch,
If you’re interested of what’s coming up on the blog over the course of this week, we can have any one of the following: a review of Arrow S1x17: The Huntress Returns, Supernatural S1x02: Wendigo & S1x03: Dead in the Water, as well as a review of Firefly S1x06: Our Mrs. Reynolds & S1x07: Jaynestown.