Elementary: TV Review

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Elementary is the recently concluded reinterpretation of the Sherlock Holmes story. A setting of modern day New York is but one of the ways in which Elementary deviates from the traditional Sherlock Holmes story; the most publicised of which would be the inclusion of Joan Watson, an Asian woman portrayed by Lucy Liu, while Sherlock himself is played by Johnny Lee Miller. Elementary ran for seven years on CBS and has only just been concluded with a shortened 7th season. The show worked with an arching structure, with each episode standing on its own in terms of its content with side-strings adding up to the main plot line for each season. Despite warm public reception, Robert Doherty’s creation never grew to the level of popularity that its Holmes-ian counterpart at the BBC, Sherlock, seemed to draw in droves.

If you ask me, Elementary is better than Sherlock. I’ve seen both shows, in their entirety (which is more than most of the people who vehemently swear in Benedict Cumberbatch’s favour can say) and I do honestly believe the former is of a higher quality.

I appreciate the contemporary take on the situation; Watson being a woman was something that takes a moment to get used to, but, once you do, you come to realize it, along with setting the show predominantly in New York instead of London, were exactly the shake-up to the tone that the story and the characters needed. Watson being a woman, and not just any woman as Lucy Liu cements a fabulous character in Joan Watson over 7 years on the air, created a fascinating dynamic between her and Sherlock that would never have been possible otherwise. The side-by-side development of those two characters is, quite frankly, a feat of television writing that has gone completely unrecognised in the cultural zeitgeist. Miller’s Sherlock is superior to Cumberbatch (I’m a massive Cumberbatch fan, but the fact that it’s him can’t tint my vision here). He brings this humanity to the character, a level of vulnerability and an underlying wounded-ness, without losing an ounce of brilliance and raw intellect, that Cumberbatch, quite frankly, doesn’t even have the time to flesh out. Supporting characters on the show are exceptionally strong, from a performance and writing standpoint; Marcus Bell and Captain Gregson specifically. I even prefer Elementary’s conception of Moriarty, which I won’t detail so as to not spoil the end of season 1.

The shows structure is something really worth appreciating as well. The thing here is the potential for tediousness. Elementary has 7 seasons, each with about 22 episodes per season and 45 minute episodes. Out of those 45 minute episodes, maybe 5-7 of them will be relevant to the larger, arching plot of the season, usually at the beginning and the end, while the rest of it can stand on its own with a new case every episode. The cases themselves are more than interesting enough to entertain, but I know that people have complained about the amount of buildup that leads to the last two or three episodes of a season being relevant to the bigger picture. I always appreciated it, some don’t and if you think it’ll bother you then I recommend avoiding this show. In my opinion, it adds up to a narrative that asks more of you and gives more in return, but that’s my way of looking at it and I know it’s not for everyone. That reality leads to a lot of scope for character development, ups and downs in character dynamics, and, by the end of it, extremely comprehensive sketches of every supporting character in the show.

There’s a reality that I really appreciated about Elementary. The investigations are a lot more local as compared to, for example, Sherlock. There are examples of conflict turning international, but even then the writers manage to maintain an extremely familiar tone. A lot of times, Holmes and Watson were assisting the NYPD chase down more obscure kinds of criminals, pointing out the realities of crime that Sherlock really misses out on for me. It’s less superhuman in that sense, and I absolutely loved it. That grounded-ness in reality makes the show more relatable, lets it talk about issues without making those issues the point. A show that can do that, as consistently as Elementary has over the last seven years, is a rarity.

I’ve been watching Elementary for six or so years now; the end was a sad moment for me. I stand by what I said, there just isn’t much of a question in my head: elementary is better than Sherlock. I can understand someone’s perspective when they disagree, Sherlock is a great show in its own right, but I would encourage anyone who holds that opinion to watch this show properly before coming to any definitive conclusion. I keep bringing up the comparison, mostly to annoy a few people who I know will read, this but also to underline how far Elementary has been overlooked as a show because of that comparison. The mere presence of Benedict Cumberbatch does wonders to a shows image, the vast majority (but not the entirety) of people I’ve discussed this with have had irreversible opinions without having seen more than a couple episodes of Elementary. Obviously there was some decently sized regular audience population, the show survived 7 years, but the shows quality warrants a more notable place on the prime-time entertainment stage. Elementary is an exceptional show, and I do hope it picks up the kind of popularity and viewership it deserves post-finale.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 81/100                                                              Aryamaan’s Score –

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