Elementary: Pilot Review

Sherlock Holmes in modern day New York. Holmes is a recovering drug addict, Watson is a girl.

It’s impossible to write a review of this without tripping over comparisons to the BBC’s Sherlock. I tried very hard to review it in isolation, but every attempt left me frustrated. The more I thought about it though, the more I realised that it wasn’t entirely unfair of me, if the producers wanted their show to be judged on its own merits, then they should have given their lead characters different names. After all, once you’ve changed the histories of characters, moved them to a different time period and a different continent, and even changed their gender… is there anything that’s really Sherlock Holmes about it beyond the name? The “Holmes Method” has been used in plenty of other shows (House and The Mentalist off the top of my head) and they could very easily have made a procedural about a hyper-observant, socially awkward genius and his unlikely companion solving crime without incurring any of the fuss. So given that the producers have chosen not to avoid the comparison, I don’t see why I shouldn’t either.

That said, it turns out it doesn’t really matter, because even without comparison to Sherlock, I don’t think Elementary is particularly good. It’s not as offensively bad as many pilots are, but there’s just nothing special about it, and a few too many frustrations to make me want to tune in each week.

Maybe if Sherlock didn’t exist (or for that matter the Robert Downie Jr films), Johnny Lee Miller’s take on Holmes would be more interesting, but as it was he was just a bit unremarkable, a bit… safe. He didn’t have the spark of unpredictable danger, or even the humour that Downie had, or the curiosity or otherworldliness of Cumberbatch. He just felt like a bit of a weak impression of someone else’s character. However he wasn’t anywhere near as disappointing as Lucy Liu as Watson. I know there’s been comment on Watson being a woman, or being a struck-off doctor, but either of those would have been ok if the character was actually likeable. I’ve never really been a fan of Lucy Liu, her characters are always a bit emotionless, distant and aloof, making them extremely hard to engage with. With that flatness the relationship element also fails to work, I just didn’t feel there was much of a click between Watson and Holmes. Martin Freeman set a very high benchmark for Watson and there’s just no comparison here.

So the characters are a bit of a letdown, and sadly the plot was as well, it just felt like a perfectly ordinary murder with some clumsy contrivances added over the top just to make it seem more interesting than it was. I can come up with at least a dozen ways the murderer could have got rid of his victim more simply. Meanwhile the clues that Holmes uncovered through his miraculous intelligence were ridiculously telegraphed leaving their eventual reveal rather anti-climactic.

The biggest difference between Elementary and Sherlock however is in the pure quality of the production. Every frame of Sherlock is absolutely gorgeous, everything is framed creatively, every transition carefully plotted out, the lighting is incredible, and every episode is littered with little tricks and motifs that leave the whole thing seemingly effortlessly oozing style. Comparatively Elementary is just dull. There’s some nice usage of the New York location, and I liked the use of music (both popular songs and original violin pieces) but there’s no design to it, it looks like every other procedural in the world.

Of course this highlights one of the reasons that it’s not fair to compare the two. Sherlock is just 3 episodes every year or so, while Elementary will (they hope) be a 20+ episode season. The amount of time and attention that can be slathered on every second of Sherlock will be an order of magnitude greater than that of Elementary. That too is why comparison of the two is pointless. You don’t have to pick one show or the other, there won’t be any more episodes of Sherlock until well after the season of Elementary has finished. Given that my biggest complaint about Sherlock is that there isn’t enough of it, maybe Elementary can fill the gap. In that regards, the pilot was sufficient, but I can’t really claim that “good enough to tide you over if you’re desperate” is a ringing endorsement.

Elementary starts on Sky Living on Tuesday 23rd October.

Other Reviews
Guardian – Elementary does Sherlock right as series surprises as one of the best on TV. The set-up and the cast had me fearing the show would be wholly annoying, but this Sherlock revamp somehow works

CliqueClack – I wanted to like CBS’ “Elementary,” really I did. But, it’s pure and utter tripe. It has the framework of the Sherlock Holmes novels, but the acting and speedball pacing of a high-energy sugar addict.

Huffington Post – the two leads lack any kind of chemistry, platonic or otherwise, and the storytelling lacks the smarts and insight of one of TV’s best Sherlockian creations, “House.”


The Upfronts 2012 – CBS

The last of the big four networks is CBS, who frankly have such a huge number of massively successful shows that it’s a wonder they find any space for new things.

What’s out
Good news for me – I don’t watch a single show that CBS cancelled! The only particularly notable series disappearing is CSI Miami, which took the hit as the first CSI cancelled due to dwindling ratings. Almost every freshman series got canned as CBS tries and fails to find the next great procedural – A Gifted Man was fine but I didn’t like it, Unforgettable writes its own puns and I never even got round to watching NYC 22. How to Be a Gentleman was sufficiently unfunny that it was canned after just two episodes.

What’s Back
While they may not be great at finding new things, CBS’s stable of procedurals is still well populated and massively successful. CSI and CSI:NY survive their middle sibling, NCIS, NCIS Los Angeles and Hawaii Five-0 form a massively popular little family of their own, although frankly NCIS has maybe outlasted its welcome. With The Good Wife, Criminal Minds, Blue Bloods, and The Mentalist (in descending order of quality from brilliant to mediocre) it’s a wonder that there’s any space left on the schedules at all, but somehow they found a space for the somewhat ridiculous Person of Interest snuck in.

Oh, and there’s also the bundle of comedies – the astronomically successful Big Bang Theory, the increasingly irritating How I Met Your Mother, the new 2 Broke Grils, Two and a Half Men which survived the Charlie Sheen debacle and Mike and Molly which I’ve never seen, and .

What’s New
Elementary – Sherlock Holmes goes to New York and Watson has a sex change. Nothing against Jonny Lee Miller or Lucy Lu, but I have no expectations of this being anywhere near as good as the BBC’s Sherlock. It’ll just be on more often.

Made in Jersey – a girl from New Jersey joins a top flight New York law firm. Too obviously trying to ride on The Good Wife’s coat tails in my opinion, and it just didn’t have the spark.

Partners – two childhood friends are now business partners, one has a girlfriend, one has a boyfriend. I have a weird amount of goodwill towards this, I like Michael Urie (Ugly Betty) and David Krumholtz (Numbers) a lot and it’s created by the people that made Will & Grace. The trailer didn’t really make me laugh out loud, but I did smile indulgently at it.

Vegas – 1960s Las Vegas, the glitz, glamour and gangsters. The cast on this is astonishing (Dennis Quaid, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jason O’Mara, Michael Chiklis) and it looks beautifully shot but the trailer left me a bit cold, probably because I’m not really that into mob stuff (despite every network seemingly having one on offer this year) or cowboys.

The midseason shows don’t seem to have trailers available.
Friend Me – comedy about two guys who move to LA to work for Groupon. Genuinely, that’s what the press release says. That and it stars a bunch of people I haven’t heard of and will involve the pair video chatting with their friends back home in Indiana. Sounds awful.

Golden Boy – a uniform cop’s meteoric rise to police commissioner. Stars Theo James whose credits thus far include Underworld Awakening and the god awful Sky series Bedlam which doesn’t really fill one with confidence.

The Futon Critic
CBS Website
The Guardian