Follow Monsters of Television on Twitter

Sunday, 26 of May of 2019

Elementary – “Pilot”

I have a confession to make.

I’m not that well-versed in Sherlock Holmes. I’ve never seen any of the “classic” productions of the detective’s tales and I’ve only read two of the stories, and that was so long ago I remember almost nothing about them. My knowledge of Holmes comes about mostly by virtue of cultural osmosis and things like The Great Mouse Detective. It was until recently – through the Sherlock Holmes films and BBC’s Sherlock, that I really became acquainted with “actual” Sherlock productions.

As such, I have no beloved impression of what Sherlock Holmes should be. I can take what I’m given as it’s presented (within reason). That being said, I did have reservations about Elementary. Some of those reservations still stand. But, for the most part, I rather enjoyed the pilot episode.

Inevitably, there has been a lot of speculation as to the similarities between Elementary and Sherlock. These comparisons will no doubt continue, but I do feel that Elementary has established a very different tone from Sherlock and has endeavored to make its main characters – Sherlock and Watson – distinct entities. One of the great things about classic characters like Sherlock – especially ones who have been around as long as these stories have and in as many versions as they have – is that there is a vast spectrum, a sliding scale of character personality that can be played with to create fresh and new retellings. Elementary has its own take on the characters.

The differences and similarities between the two shows are important:

  • Sherlock (BC) is colder, less personable. If he does feel for people, it’s a shallow and easily (and deliberately) brushed aside as worthless and wasted emotion. Sherlock (JLM) is warm, more emotionally open (and damaged).
    • BC would never spare someone’s feelings – unless doing so was beneficial for him in some way. JLM does so from the outset – for Watson, who he does not know – without any apparent benefit to himself.
    • JLM holds Watson’s coat for her at the end of the episode. BC would never do this, even if his Watson was a woman.
  • BC knows. JLM learns. JLM is less superhuman in his all-knowing-ness than BC.
  • Both have problems dealing with, connecting with, and understanding people because of their own personality. BC pushes people and doesn’t understand or care why they get upset. JLM pushes, gains understanding, and reevaluates, such as we see when he and Watson visit the first victim.
  • Though the straight-up drug addiction portion of the character is more front-and-center in Elementary, Sherlock’s addictive, obsessive personality is a major point in both shows. As is to be expected, considering the fact that it is exactly this personality that makes Sherlock who he is. It’s the reason he fixates on the minutiae of cases, why he is so easily bored, the reason for his temper tantrums.

In essence, both iterations are very like children. BC is the intense, focused, self-interested one; JLM is the eager, excited, self-entertaining one. BC is more manic. JLM is a little less tightly wound. There are many other compare/contrast observations that could be made, but those are the main ones I saw.

The differences are small, but significant. And the show needs to continue to develop those if it wants to make a name for itself in the massive shadow of Sherlock. It isn’t something anyone wants to keep bringing up, the comparison of shows, but it is important that Elementary make its characters and the path they travel distinct, not just to separate it from its British counterpart, but also to make something new of this well-worn material. In other words: you gotta earn it, Elementary.

So far, so good.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t all that thrilled by the idea of yet another contemporary reimagining of Sherlock Holmes. But I thought I’d give Elementary a fair shot and was surprised to find that I thoroughly enjoyed it. And I’m interested in where they could go with the premise they’ve established.

This first case was a good one to start off with – it’s complicated enough that there’s a reason for Sherlock to actually be around, but not so complicated that it takes time away from establishing the characters, a vital task for a pilot. The most interesting part by far was Sherlock’s stand-off with the murderous husband. The show needs to give us more of that kind of match-up (along with character stuff, like the baseball game at the end) and step up the crimes.

(I’m still not entirely sure why Sherlock was brought in in the first place on what appeared to be such a simple case. Was it because Gregson just wanted to watch Sherlock work again? Was it because the victim was missing and Gregson thought it would be quicker to get Sherlock in on finding her than to let his own men do it? I’m going to assume it was a little bit of both, and that Sherlock’s success on this case – and his continued presence in New York – will be the reason behind his continued partnership (read: official consulting gig) with the police.)

I’m okay with Elementary. It didn’t blow me away, but considering my concerns going in, the mere fact that I liked it is comparable to my singing its praises from the rooftops. Is it viable in the long term? That I don’t know. Sherlock is doing all right, but given its very short seasons, it would have to run for quite some time before it would run out of ground to tread, both story-wise and character-wise.

Elementary, on the other hand, is burdened with American-length seasons, which could either help or hurt it. The show will have to be careful with its caseload (there are certain types of crimes Sherlock would be needed for/interested in, and they aren’t the standard fare) and its character work (again, make the characters feel new and original) if it wants to last. It has a good start – the new environs help with that – it just has to develop in the right way.

Elementary has a lot of potential. Let’s see what it does with it.


Premieres so far:

  • Haven – I love this little show. It just makes me happy. The characters are great and wonderfully acted (including the bevy of guest spots). The show has such a wonderful and distinct atmosphere to it. I fell in love with that atmosphere first; the rest of the show quickly pulled me in. The Troubles are getting worse, the mystery of Audrey’s origins is growing darker, and what characters know – and don’t know is just as important as what they are – or are not – capable of. It looks to be another enthralling and entertaining season.
  • Castle – Oh, the ghost of the Captain bless us all. My show is back! The premiere was fantastic, a great (semi) wrapping up of last season’s cliffhanger, a smart set up for this season, and just the right amount of Castle and Beckett’s blossoming relationship. I don’t know that I have ever trusted a production team the way I do Castle’s. I can’t wait to see what sort of brilliance they give us this season.
  • NCIS – I left for a while, but it’s like they knew I’d be back. This show isn’t for everyone, but if you like it, it never lets you down. The premiere was more of what I’d come to expect, and it was nice to slip back into it, like a favorite sweater. Fall premieres and fall weather: it’s all about comfort sometimes, y’all.
  • Vegas – this one was a last-minute addition to my viewing schedule as I happened to catch commercials for it during NCIS. You want to give me Dennis Quaid? On my TV? Every week? Squaring off with Michael Chiklis and rubbing elbows with Carrie-Ann Moss? In 1960s Vegas? I’M IN. I won’t deny that seeing Quaid on a TV show will take some getting used to, but if it means getting to watch him play a tailor-made role every week, I’m willing to make the adjustment. There’s a lot of potential here, especially potential to fall into cliches. I hope they’re able to keep it fresh and interesting, because I really like this cast.
  • Last Resort – Probably my favorite of the few new shows I’ve caught. I suspected I would like this show, but I had no idea just how caught up in it I would get. Not fifteen minutes in, I knew I’d be coming back. The timeliness of the plot only makes it that much more intriguing – it feels like something that could actually happen.  The show has a stellar cast, none more fantastic than Andre Braugher, who could single-handedly make this thing a hit. I was on the edge of my seat the entire show, and not entirely sure of what moves it would make – a rarity nowadays. I’m not sure where it may go, but I sure as hell want to go along for the ride.

Leave a comment

Comments RSS TrackBack 1 comment