The Elementary Problem

For those of you who don’t know, I live in the UK and don’t have paid cable or satellite TV. Hence I have not seen any episodes of Elementary other than the pilot - which I managed to see through (I think) a French website (and I don’t know whether that was entirely legit’).

Now you may ask why I have not made an effort to see it – by visiting a friend who has cable (or perhaps more questionable means). The answer is that I’m simply not that concerned. Some fans (particularly the more recent ones) seem to have a desire to see everything Sherlock Holmes related as soon as possible (perhaps so they don’t feel left out in subsequent social media debates) but I know that the show will come along in its own good time (to subscription-free UK channels) and I’ll see it then.

Before I am dismissed as one of the large group of Elementary ‘haters’ let me point out that, despite certain misgivings, I did largely enjoy the pilot and declared that I would willingly watch more if it (see here).

I completely understand the writers’ ire at people who have declared that they hate the show despite never having watched any of it and, before anyone points it out, yes I did take issue with elements of the show when I had seen nothing more than the trailer (and those issues remain). In my defence, I felt the points I made were ones that you could legitimately make based on the information that had been made public at the time; and I did subsequently watch the pilot and report back on the positives as well as the negatives as I saw them. I feel I have done right by the show thus far.

So, to clarify, I don’t hate the show but I do sometimes wonder, as did the noted Sherlockian David Stuart Davies, why?

Elementary is not offering anything particularly radical that would warrant prompt attention hence my lack of haste to see the remaining episodes. Much has been made of the fact that it has been relocated to America and Watson is a woman but these are neither original nor groundbreaking elements (as long-standing Sherlockians know all too well). We’ve already had a female Watson (admittedly called Winslow) and an America based Holmes in Sherlock Holmes Returns .

To me it feels more like the makers of Elementary have used these elements purely and simply to try and put some clear blue water between their programme and the BBC’s Sherlock. In the words of one of the commentators on my above blog post:
 “I finished watching the pilot with the feeling that nothing new has been achieved and nothing old has been modernized.”
Now, you may say that this comment could equally apply to the BBC’s Sherlock and, in my opinion, you’d be right. With the BBC offering even less has been changed and it is not breaking ground really either. The core elements of the show are more or less in-line with the original stories with the only changes being the chronological setting and the contemporary attitudes/language demonstrated by the characters. Sherlock’s creators were perfectly open about this and said from day one that they were only doing what had been done before with Basil Rathbone’s Universal series i.e. placing the programme in a contemporary setting.

This is, I think, one reason why Elementary suffers, perhaps unfairly. Where Sherlock made no promises (and had nothing to compete with) Elementary was seen, rightly or wrongly, as promising innovation and, in the eyes of many, whilst it entertains, it has not delivered the innovation that was suggested. For this it is being more harshly criticised than its British rival. Is that fair? Almost certainly not.

For more information on Arthur Conan Doyle and his time at Undershaw please refer to my book, An Entirely New Country which is available through all good bookstores including Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Classic Specialities, and in all electronic formats including iTunes, Kobo, Nook and Kindle .

The Norwood Author is available from all good bookstores, in many formats worldwide including Waterstones UK, Amazon UK,  Amazon USA, Barnes and Noble, Amazon Kindle, iBooks for the iPad/iPhone, Kobo Books, Nook.

Close to Holmes is available from all good bookstores, in many formats worldwide including Amazon USABarnes and NobleAmazon UKWaterstones UKAmazon KindleKoboNook  and iBooks for the iPad/iPhone.

Eliminate the Impossible is available from all good bookstores, in many formats worldwide including Amazon USA, Barnes and Noble, Amazon UK, Waterstones UK, Amazon Kindle, Kobo, Nook and iBooks for the iPad/iPhone.


  1. Your points are fair. I do not know if your being in the UK will make a difference but does post the episodes on line and free.

    I do find the wonderful David Stuart Davies comment "why?" quite funny. I'm sure he did not intend it to be, but having read "The Veiled Detective", I could ask him the same question. It can be argued that the world does not need another, or any, pastiches. The are some Sherlockians that never read them. The fact is, the pasticheur has every right to create their own Holmes story and bring it forth unto the world. There, the world can accept it or reject it. The same can be said for CBS. It can be also argued that they have been trying to put a modern-day Sherlock Holmes on the screen since 1987 when they broadcast "The Return of Sherlock Holmes" with a defrosted detective and Watson's great-granddaughter. (This may also be where the "promised innovation" first occurred.) CBS re-tried in 1993 with "Sherlock Holmes Returns"; a re-animated Holmes and female doctor sidekick. So Holmes in America with a female Watson is nothing new for the network. A lawyer could posit that the BBC stole it from CBS! They just made the doctor male and set in London!

    To argue that CBS shouldn't do their own show because the BBC did it first and better would be to say that Mr. Davies, or anyone, shouldn't write pastiches because Doyle did it first and better. And please do not bring up "CBS is doing just for the money". One can say that about Doyle for every story written after "The Man with the Twisted Lip". By the way, "The Veiled Detective" is a wonderfully written book and I am very glad I read it.

  2. I have watched several episodes of Elementary, from the pilot onward, hoping that it would get better and that I would enjoy it. Alas, it was not to be.

    Not only has it not broken any new ground, but it pointedly ignores the paths already worn. The writers take bits of this and that and toss them into the show like so much glitter to catch the eye of anyone even remotely familiar with Sherlock Holmes. "Gregson," "Irene Adler," and so forth, as if to say, "Look! We read a story! We're legit!"

    To me, the primary attraction of Sherlock Holmes is his intellect and how he uses it, and the best part of the stories come from the friendship between two unlikely people (they are men, but could be either gender). The relationship between Holmes and Watson in Elementary is recalcitrant child and keeper. To me, this is not only not canonical; it is dreary and tiresome.

    The plots are contrived and full of holes. It's not even a good crime show. The police are inept to the point that they don't even try to do anything until Holmes shows up, and it all seems to be centered around how many lines Jonny Lee Miller can say the fastest in the shortest amount of time.

    After the first few episodes, when it was evident it was not getting any better (a man's body was found a month after his death, in the wall of his home, and supposedly there was no odor. Really), I participated in a weekly "snarkfest" on Twitter with others watching the show at the same time and making fun of its clumsy writing and frenetic (Holmes) and somnambulant (Watson)acting. Even that was not enough to keep me engaged anymore, as each episode was worse than the last. There was so much to make fun of that it just wasn't fun anymore.

    I haven't watched the show in weeks now, though I know there's been buzz over it airing right after the upcoming Super Bowl. Meh.

    None of my complaints about the show have anything to do with the modern time and the setting of New York, nor with a female Watson. They have to do with the lack of respect for the characters who have engaged the hearts and minds of people for over a century, and the lack of talent unable to create a show worth watching.

  3. Well, CBS must have been aware that their show would be compared to "Sherlock" when they decided to produce it and chase it out practically right on "Sherlock's" heels. So, I can see nothing unfair with that. "Sherlock" has been compared to the Downney-movies, the first of which came before, as well. It's hardly "Sherlock's" fault that the comparison was in its favour in both instances.

    Creating a lot of buzz to sell an inferior product under false premises is not what I call ethical conduct.

    Yes, CBS have more money to spend on advertising than the BBC or PBS. Note how most of the noise around "Elementary" stems from official sources while fan responses, while there, are mostly lukewarm and often originate from people with an agenda of defying Steven Moffat, who has the (bad?) luck of being somewhat polarising.

    On the opposite there's the "I'm with Sherlock"-campaign of viral marketing entirely due to the fans who love "Sherlock".

    Which one is the show worthy of ACD? I leave you to your deductions.


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