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Staff Review: Elementary (S1)

Originally posted on Saturday, 10 May 2014 at ROPL.org.

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Reviewed by Sarah Nagelbush, Adult Librarian

Everyone’s familiar with the BBC show, Sherlock, now into its third season. But I’m guessing you probably don’t know Elementary, CBS’ Sherlock Holmes show. You should! It is amazing.

I know what you’re thinking, this can’t be any good – how can there be an American Sherlock? Well, technically we’ve already had an American Sherlock Holmes (the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock films, which are fantastic) and CBS’ Sherlock Holmes is definitely English.

English actor Johnny Lee Miller plays Sherlock Holmes, recovering drug addict/alcoholic and consultant to both Scotland Yard (in the past) and the NYC Police (present). He lives in New York City and although there’s an occasional foray to England, most of the shows take place stateside. Holmes’ Watson is one of the things that makes Elementary an extraordinary show. Yes, Dr. Watson is a former doctor, but she’s not the bumbling idiot of yesteryear Watsons. Elementary’s Dr. Watson remains, as all Watsons do, a foil for Sherlock, but she’s more than just a foil.

Lucy Liu plays Dr. Watson as fully as Martin Freeman’s in Sherlock. But she does what Freeman can’t. She brings diversity to a very British institution and she creates her Watson, not as a side kick or a love interest, but as a fully developed character whose personality isn’t dependent on Sherlock Holmes. Liu’s Watson had quit being a doctor long before she met Sherlock. They meet because Sherlock’s father asked her to be a sober companion for Sherlock.

Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu have excellent chemistry and their scenes together are always brilliant. Miller’s Sherlock is quirky and more akin to Downey Jr. than Cumberbatch’s. Lucy Liu’s Watson is smart, clever and brilliant in her own right, making her a better Watson (in my opinion) than any previous incarnation. Together, they match wits with two NYC cops, Aidan Quinn’s Captain Gregson and Jon Michael Hill’s Detective Bell. Together, the four of them make a fantastic team.

CBS mixes Conan Doyle’s world with that of our own, bring us familiar characters (Mycroft Holmes, Mrs. Hudson and Moriarty, to name a few). But they do so with a twist, a much appreciated modern take on Sherlock Holmes that reflects our world today.

Elementary is much more of an investment than Sherlock. Unlike the 3-episode format of the BBC series, CBS’ show is a network show, netting 23 episodes per season. It’s worth the investment, though. The long-running nature of network shows means that we get more depth to our characters are more involved story arcs that are both personal and work-related. It also means that our side characters often become more than that. I do concede that it’s not quite as clever as the BBC version, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be. Instead, it’s more alive, more heartfelt and much more real than other versions. Even if you strip away the fact that it is, in fact, Sherlock Holmes, what you’re left with is still an excellent hour of crime television. It’s well worth your time.

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