I almost didn't watch Sherlock. I'd seen it pop up a few times on Netflix as a recommendation, but I also had the misfortune to watch The Young Indiana Jones—at least the first 30 seconds of the pilot. It was so terrible, I was afraid when I first saw Sherlock pop up that it would be something like that. (I'm not kidding; on my mobile device, the thumbnail makes Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman look like a couple of teens or twentysomethings—neither of which fits with Doyle's Sherlock at all, in any context) Moreover, I had seen and very much resented the version of Sherlock played by Robert Downey, Jr. Don't get me wrong, he's a great actor and I can imagine no one better in the role of Tony Stark... Just not Sherlock. (For those who liked the movies, I understand that the inspiration for them came not from Doyle but from a series of graphic novels themselves inspired by the stories; I do not condemn this in any way, I only adhere to my preference for the originals)
I was worried that this new series was going to try and build off of it,
making Sherlock to be a crystal-snuffing, potentially-homosexual
brainiac with a bumbling roommate. (Harsh, but there you have it; I was
genuinely worried... My apologies to the BBC for assuming they would
commit such an atrocity against one of their own, to reduce Sherlock and
Watson to such a degree)
Then one day, May 2011 I believe, my sister mentions to me, "Have you
seen that modernized Sherlock series on Netflix? It's really good!"
My first reaction (In my head): "Now, wait a minute! I thought I was the
Sherlock nerd here! I've read the Complete Unabridged Adventures of
Sherlock Holmes cover-to-cover four or five times, nearly to the point
of memorization for some of them! You've read it, what, barely even once
when it wasn't assigned for school? And you're the one telling me that
you really like a Sherlock series?"
We owned two DVD sets of Sherlock Holmes TV series, one with Leslie
Howard in the leading role (which you couldn't see or hear, of course,
because it was black-and-white and very poor quality), and another with
Christopher Lee (Which was awesome; I love it when actors can bring
their own expertise to a character without it being a recently-acquired
skill; Lee's own experience as a detective with Scotland Yard came out
beautifully in his portrayal of Sherlock). I have only seen those once,
and no one on my family would even dream of wanting to watch them at
Now here was my sister, telling ME about a "cool new Sherlock series."
I had to watch it.
By the intertitle card at, oh, probably five minutes into the episode, I
was irrevocably hooked. Sherlock exceeded my wildest dreams on several
1) Even though it was a modern setting, it followed the plots of the
stories on which the episodes were based to the point where I could
predict the outcome because I knew the story;
2) The relationship between Watson and Holmes is teased about for one
episode only, then regarded for what it is for the remainder of the
show, and never brought up again (so far);
3) The nicotine patches were, in my opinion, a master stroke! In the
original stories, I only found one mention of Sherlock's "coke habit" in
one story, just a few sentences in hundreds of pages. In that same
spirit, the writers of Sherlock devoted one scene of one episode to
Sherlock on withdrawal, hunting for his drug with all the maturity of a
little boy who's mislaid his Halloween candy—but Sherlock never finds
it, because Watson has done the responsible thing and gotten rid of it
(Well done, John!)
4) The montage over the several cases that the series never covers but
have contributed to Sherlock's fame was equally entertaining. I do love a
good bit of wordplay, which they managed to involve with every single
5) Quite frankly, I never saw Moriarty coming, and I really like how he
seems to be a bit younger than Sherlock, to give the effect that
Moriarty could have in fact outlived Sherlock, even if they went their
separate ways and didn't try to kill each other again. (As opposed to
being a devious older man, as in the movies)
Which brings me to the CBS show Elementary.
The greenlighting of the series was announced, if I remember correctly,
not long after the second season of Sherlock—and about the time when I
discovered the cancellation of another CBS show that I really liked,
that ended on an UNRESOLVED CLIFFHANGER after only one season! At first I
was like "No way!"
By now I had realized that my fear about Sherlock being portrayed as a
druggie and his relationship with Watson becoming something more
romantic than it ever was in the stories stemmed from the
Americanization of Sherlock Holmes, our own perception of the character,
based on our culture, as opposed to the British culture. I read the
phrase "recovering drug addict" and learned that Watson would be a
woman, and promptly launched a preemptive personal boycott. No one was
going to change Sherlock Holmes for me! I just knew it was going to be a
copycat series, and I was very disappointed that CBS would choose to
discontinue an original, exciting concept in favor of starting a
I was perfectly happy with "my" Sherlock...
Then the Hobbit came out and delayed Season 3 of the show for another year. What's an avid fan to do?
I decided to give it one shot. If I watched the pilot and it fulfilled
my low expectations of it, I could continue the boycott with impunity.
By the end of the episode, I still was not sure if I particularly liked a
female Watson, or the kooky, esoteric Sherlock, as portrayed by Johnny
Lee Miller. As it turns out he was more of a "rehabilitated ex-druggie"
than a druggie, but he was definitely more antisocial than Benedict's
suave, clever "higher-functioning sociopath."
A comparison between the two might very well fall along the lines of
"How to Win Arguments And Influence People" (Cumberbatch) and "How to
Lose Respect and Alienate People" (Miller).
Benedict's Sherlock was clean-cut, suave, and almost transcendent of
society. Miller's Sherlock is scruffy, unorthodox, and treats society
with more of an irreverence than actual disdain.
As for the story arc/episodes themselves, I would go so far as to
consider the BBC version entirely canonical. With the exception of some
character names and the use of modern locations and technology, one
could easily believe that Doyle would have, if he were a 21st-century
writer, written his mysteries in exactly this way. Doyle's Sherlock
certainly would have used his smartphone for all sorts of information
and communication at his fingertips, etc.
CBS, on the other hand, makes no pretense of going "canonical." From
calling the show "Elementary," to merely using the names Sherlock Holmes
and Watson, not the actual characters themselves and certainly not
fashioning any sort of patterned mystery "as the book does it," the
American show does an interesting thing. It takes an icon of detective
literature and reconstitutes it into an inventive but in all other ways
typical crime drama series. If the two main characters were the
eccentric Floyd MacDowell and his spunky "sober companion" Jessica
Hartman, the series would not even have to worry about copyright issues.
The mysteries and investigations are unique, the context is entirely
original—all that's left is a few of the better-known names from the
I love a good crime/cop drama. I've watched and enjoyed plenty. I was on
the fence about Elementary because I was still trying to picture it in
the context of Sherlock Holmes. Once I stopped thinking about it as
Sherlock, though, and started regarding it as a brilliant criminologist
and his female housemate (who really seems to be Watson and Mrs. Hudson
rolled into one) and not a romantic interest—suddenly the whole show got
a little bit better. Not completely—the crime scenes are generally
disturbing, and the Elementary Sherlock is candid (just barely pushing
the envelope) about the topic of sex, but only when it is pertinent to
his observations. (which is not always)
Verdict: I feel I can recommend both series equally—provided they are
regarded as completely different species. Sherlock is a cat, and
Elementary is more like a dog; they both have four legs, fur, and make
great pets, but they have vastly different characteristics and serve
very different purposes. But both series are well-done, well-acted (the
writing on Elementary could use a little help sometimes, unlike
Sherlock), and very fun to watch.