Created in 2012, By Robert Doherty // Still in production (3 seasons aired, 4th in pre-production)
Log line: A modern take on the cases of Sherlock Holmes, with the detective now living in New York City. (IMDb)
Cast: Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy Liu, Aidan Quinn, Jon Michael Hill…
Prepare for a long article in which I expose to you my love for this amazing TV show.
Also, be aware of potential spoilers for seasons 1 & 2. I tried to cover as much as possible for season 3 since it’s the most recent and people may have not watched it yet, but if you haven’t seen any of the show, then there may be some spoiler-y stuff for seasons 1 & 2.
When you think “modern adaptation of Sherlock Holmes”, I bet the first thing that would come through your mind would be BBC’s Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. And I would not blame you. I, too, was completely in shock when I watched the very first episode of that show, and have been loving it ever since. It’s so good that I based my first year’s Master’s dissertation on the episode 2.01 and how it worked as an adaptation of the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle short story.
Sherlock paved the way
Elementary comes 2 years after Sherlock, it is then reasonable to assume that they were “inspired” by the concept of a modern Sherlock Holmes. That is to say a Holmes who lives in our modern world; because one could argue (I did in my 2nd year’s Master’s dissertation) that the 2009 and 2011 Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law, even though based in the 19th century, were indeed modern adaptations. But let’s not get sidetracked here and get to the point.
As I was saying, Elementary was probably inspired by Sherlock in the first place. But when the show was announced, a lot of people talked of an “American remake” of Sherlock, which, let me tell you, it is not.
Yes, it is a 21st century based Sherlock Holmes who uses the technology at his disposal and has his phone in hand at all times; but that’s basically where the comparison ends.
But let’s talk about Elementary, because this is what we are here for.
New Holmes. New Watson. New York.
I love this tag line that they put on the promotional posters for the show. So Holmes has relocated in New York, and John Watson is now Joan. These are the 2 most important changes that were done (and therefore advertised). Lucy Liu (an Asian-American actress) is former surgeon Joan Watson, who is now a sober companion and is hired to be Sherlock’s full-time sober companion (which means she has to move in with him). So right off the bat we have our Holmes/Watson classic dynamic. I won’t be going into detail in terms of characterisation here (I can send you a copy of my Master’s dissertation though if you like, given that you can read French), but know that it is really really good, and that they did an incredible job.
When we meet our main characters, Sherlock is less than enthusiastic at the idea of having a full-time babysitter, he is annoyed at her attempts to make him share his feelings, make him go to meetings and finding a sponsor. Because that’s her job at the beginning of the show, making sure that his “rehabilitation” goes smoothly and that he has all the tools at his disposal to stay sober. But as Joan follows Sherlock in his work as a consultant for the NYPD (under the supervision of Captain Gregson, another character taken directly from the original stories), she develops an interest for Sherlock’s work, and in time, Sherlock sees the potential for a great detective in Watson and decides to make her his “apprentice” and teach her in his ways of deduction.
Their relationship is at times incredibly sweet, hilarious, and always on point. Sherlock grows quite fond of Watson and will later in the show’s life go to great lengths to protect her.
Relatively early in during the 1st season, we learn that the reason for Sherlock’s addiction was the traumatic loss of the love of his life: Irene Adler, who was brutally murdered in London. The 1st season is therefore focused on Sherlock’s search for Irene’s murderer, a certain “M”.
I won’t spoil anything for you if you haven’t seen it, but just know that the resolution of this was incredibly clever and works amazingly.
Notice all the superlatives I’m using?
Season 2 opens with a great episode that takes place in London, where Sherlock has to come to the help of his former Scotland Yard liaison: Detective Inspector Lestrade; a man aeons from the image we usually have of Lestrade if you are familiar with the original stories or BBC’s Sherlock, who Sherlock is less that enthusiastic at the idea of having to be in his presence.
In this 2nd season, the relationship between Sherlock and Watson grows. She is now officially his “detective apprentice” and has made the change officially by changing career paths (she is no longer a sober companion).
The “red line” of the season, is the mysterious and charismatic Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s big brother. We meet him in London and he then comes to New York to open a restaurant. He also develops a relationship with Joan, much to the discontent of Sherlock.
At the end of the season, Joan is abducted because of her relation to the Holmes brothers. Traumatised by the experience, she decides to cut her ties to Sherlock, moves from the brownstone and wants to get on with her life. Sherlock doesn’t take the news very well and moves back to London to become a consultant for MI6.
Joan is now a private investigator and retains at the same time her status as a consultant for the NYPD. Her training with Sherlock gave her particular skills that are valued within the department and she is regularly called upon to review and help in certain cases. She has her own apartment, her own clients, and a boyfriend. But one day she realises that a young woman is following her. She first assumes that it is related to a case she worked on, but when she fights this young woman, she realises that the moves she uses are single-stick, something Sherlock taught her back in the day.
So Sherlock is back in town, and he is not alone. While in London, he made the acquaintance of Kitty Winter, saw something in her, and decided to make her his new protégée, teaching her as he once taught Watson.
The first half of the season is dedicated to this new relationship of Holmes’, how he longed for the one he had with Joan, and attempted to replicate it with Kitty. Along the way, we learn that before he met Kitty, Holmes, in London, was struggling with his sobriety; almost as if not having a partner made him vulnerable.
I’d say that the running and overall theme of the season is legacy. We can see it in the relationship that Sherlock creates with Kitty, his desire to teach his methods to others; <spoilers>we also see it in an episode in which an acquaintance of his asks him for his sperm to have a child; in terms of his sobriety as well when he takes issue at someone quoting him on the internet without his knowledge</spoilers>; and of course, in his relationship with Joan, they are partners now, almost equals, but he keeps on trying to improve her skills.
The theme of Holmes’ sobriety comes up a few times during the season, as well as the theme of friendship (old and new ones), and the two become entangled in some way.
Leading to the final episode, <spoilers>we see that Sherlock tries to develop his friendship Detective Bell, that his relationship with Kitty also meant a great deal to him (in this case almost in a father/daughter dynamic), he tries to remind Joan of her old self (because she lost her way after her boyfriend’s murder: she becomes more and more like Holmes and he doesn’t like it. He doesn’t consider himself an example to follow, that his existence is painful, and he doesn’t want that for Joan), and he even fires Alfredo as his sponsor in order for them to be friends “full-time”. In the last episode of the season, his friendship with Alfredo is used against him.</spoilers>
The very last shot of the episode made me gasp and tear up. It’s been a couple days (almost a week) since I’ve seen it now, and I’m still thinking about it.
Elementary, my dear Watson
So what do we think of Elementary? Well… in case you’re a little slow: I LOVE IT. Not enough people are watching this show, they’re all too busy waiting 18 months between seasons of Sherlock. I don’t think the world realises fully how incredible this show is. Yes, it is kind of a procedural show, with a new case to solve each week, over 24 episodes, but the little things in between are so incredibly good!
Take Jonny Lee Miller for example: GIVE THE MAN ALL THE GOD-DAMN AWARDS!! What he does with this character is just amazing, and there is not episode where I don’t marvel at what he does on screen.
It is not just another Sherlock Holmes adaptation. The show tackles real life issues, Holmes is not the “invincible” person that he is often portrayed as, he has flaws, he embraces them, and he struggles in the real world. Joan goes through major life changes and has her own issues.
The characters are much more relatable than you might think. I love BBC’s Sherlock, but there’s an aura of “super-being” stuck to their Holmes, and you can’t ever really connect to him as a person; whereas in Elementary, Sherlock is vulnerable and more human than what we would expect of a Sherlock Holmes.
Seriously people, start watching Elementary! It is definitely one of my favourite shows out there at the moment and is worth your time.