In the UK there is currently a much shorter and very successful reboot of Sherlock Holmes into the modern age and I remember the scoffing and derision that seemed to occur when an American television show was announced which essentially did the same thing. Despite this I decided to give it a try because to me they were not the same. The BBC Sherlock has so far produced 6 episodes in 2 seasons whereas this show has made 24 in just 1 season – representing twice the running time of the BBC's output so far. So to suggest they are the same beast is not really fair since the challenges of a longer run, more stories and more time is different from a much more contained season of 3 episodes. I say this because I really don't want to compare them because there is no reason to compare them beyond the fact that the characters have the same historical base. To be honest, you may as well compare BBC's Sherlock with The Mentalist or any other "case per week" crime show with an odd leading character who has a quirk and a couple of times each season has a nemesis who will show up for the Fall and Summer season finales.
In essence this is what Elementary is – it isn't something new that is attempting to be the BBC version, it is just another genre crime drama which drops well-known characters into the tick-boxes which loads of other shows fill in other ways – so for deductive genius read observational genius, for Moriarty read Red John, Trudy's killer etc. This is sort of to be expected but I was disappointed by how quickly and easily the show embraced the genre standards. The structure is overly familiar in terms of other characters and the delivery of the show. I particularly disliked how each episode seemed to end with "reflective" scene which played out unimaginatively below the sort of safely non- threatening music one normally hears in Starbucks. Although it was disappointing to see how firmly "genre" it is, I guess this comes with the territory and it is only in its first season.
There is strength and there is potential here though. Firstly it does have dark edges and the inherent personal weaknesses in Holmes are not just window-dressing but are mostly well used and I liked him being called out on his faults rather than them just being quirks within the genre. While it still needs to entertain, I liked that it rarely got too silly or amusing and mostly delivered satisfying episodes across the season. It helps that there is a lot of resources in the show in terms of production values but also in terms of the cast. Again many people want to compare Miller and Cumberbatch but this is hard to do since, unlike their alternating roles in Frankenstein, they are playing a character with the same root, not the same character in the same context. Miller does a pretty good job, he is great when in full flow but he also lets us see the flaws and their impact. His pomposity may be a quirk but it is not just accepted as a good thing. He does push things a little to the obvious at times with his projection, but mostly I liked him. Liu is a little stiff but I liked her chemistry with Miller and I liked that the show took time for her to be a character and not just a sidekick. The support roles are OK, with the usual cop characters not given a lot to work with. The supporting cast changes with each week's new case and the only problem with this is that you can be pretty sure that if you know a face, they are probably going to have done it – not in all episodes, but in too many of them. The guy from The Wire, from Breaking Bad, from The Shield etc, they all draw attention from the viewer and it jars all the more when the material doesn't do the same as it tells you they are deliberately being kept to the side.
Speaking of casting, it is hard not to look at Irene Adler. The casting of this role is so-so. In Game of Thrones Dormer is currently a floating, flirty creature that seems a bit fake to me and here she also seems unnatural. Her chemistry with Sherlock doesn't justify his feelings towards her and I didn't care for her too much. The twist that she is Moriarty is at least an attempt to do something different, but again in this role she doesn't convince and there are no real sparks between them in the way I had hoped. It doesn't help that she is captured so easily and indeed the final episode feels very anticlimactic in this regard. This last minute disappointment didn't spoil the whole show, but during the genre episodes I was hoping it would build to a good strong finish and that never really came.
It was good enough to make me go back for a second season though because I do quite like these genre shows and so far this has the makings of being one of the better ones (while still being one itself of course). Hopefully the ratings and the success of the first season can give it some confidence and freedom to challenge more and do more than just tick the boxes – but we'll see.
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