Thursday, November 15, 2012

God help me, I'm actually enjoying Elementary...

Despite my best efforts to stay above the fray, I must now admit that I'm actually becoming a fan of CBS's new 'Sherlock Holmes in New York' crime drama Elementary.  I know I'm supposed to take pot-shots at the show and blab about how it's a shameless attempt to cash in on the success of BBC's Sherlock.  But the show has, if anything, gone out of its way to differentiate itself from the brooding series that turned Benedict Cumberbatch into a mega-star/sex-symbol.  I remarked back when the first extended trailer appeared that the show felt less like a riff on Sherlock and more like a rip-off of Tony Shalhoub's Monk.  That's still the case, but it's quickly become an arguably superior version of the briefly great but mostly terrible USA comedy.  Loyal viewers will recall that the show's first two seasons were delightful until the writers/producers amped up the farce and started treating Monk like a man-child who was completely unfamiliar with how the outside world actually functions.  The key to the show's appeal is two things it shares with the title character: a genuine intelligence and a general lack of unnecessary sentiment.

The show is written at a relatively adult level.  But what's most important is how often the adult characters actually act like adults.  This concerns both the investigations themselves and the leads' personal "B stories".  I love that the show's third episode, arguably its best, concerned a pedophiliac child murder without drowning in 'this isn't just any other case!' melodrama.  There was next to no hand-wringing as Sherlock (Johnny Lee Miller), Watston (Lucy Liu) went about trying to discover who was kidnapping and murdering young children, and the episode gave way to two genuinely compelling twists, climaxing in the reveal that a seemingly kidnapped young boy was actually the psychopathic 'leader' who was orchestrating the murders.  I love that the next episode, which revolved around Sherlock and Watson's concerns that he might relapse into  drug addiction were handled with simple conversation and honest insights.  The episode again ended strongly with Sherlock finally confessing his former drug use to Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn, never forced to play the fool).  This conversation basically amounted to Gregson telling Holmes that he knew about his friend's problems, didn't care, and figured he'd talk to him when he was ready.  Again, intelligent adults acting like intelligent adults.  As a bonus, since the format of the show revolves around us discovering information at the same time (or slightly after) Holmes does, the show contains almost no onscreen violence, which is a nice change of pace from the more gruesome procedurals like CSI or Criminal Minds.

I'm not pretending that Elementary is high art.  But if Sherlock is often art than Elementary is at least high quality craft (I'd argue that third episode flirted with greatness).  And the show strives to differentiate itself from the BBC series and manages to avoid the token gender issues that occasionally drag the BBC show down a token peg (kudos to making Watson's medical background for more relevant than her gender).  Ironically, it is arguably less explicit about the whole 'look, Sherlock Holmes is sending text messages!' shtick than the BBC version, something I appreciate.  The scripts are mostly compelling, the acting is solid across-the-board, and the show even made room for inexplicably the underemployed Roger Rees during its most recent episode, although I was fooled by his appearance in the credits into thinking I'd solved the plane crash-murder mystery right away (he actually played an old friend of Holmes's who ended up sharing worthwhile insights with Watson).  I first sampled the pilot out of morbid curiosity and found myself hooked by the above-noted third episode.  I've long said that one can like both the BBC Sherlock and the Guy Ritchie film franchise.  And thus it is possible to enjoy both Sherlock and Elementary.  I was wrong to mock, this is indeed a superior version of Monk, a show I was quite fond of in its early days.  It may eventually rise to the level of House, especially if it remains free of that show's melodramatic distractions.

The key to the show's success is quite simple (elementary even): Nearly every major character is at least as smart as Joan Watson and nearly every major character is almost as clinically objective as Sherlock Holmes.  The world may not need a US-set 'modern day Sherlock Holmes', but Elementary is a pretty darn good one.

Scott Mendelson


CillicaH said...

Hope you don't mind a stranger leave some comments. As a ACD's Holmes fan, the thing really makes me feel gutted is seeing people acknowledge that Elementary is a rip-off of CSI or Monk type of shows, but still insist that RDJ's movies, Sherlock and Elementary can co-exist, because it isn't true. Elementary never co-existed with Sherlock because it's not within Holmes-verse, just according to your view. If CBS didn't cash in the brand, I might watch or even enjoy it, but it will never happen with the nominal Holmes/ Waston in this Monk-rip-off show. Actually, I guess CBS's target audience would have enjoyed this show if the male lead was called Hank Liam and the female lead's name was Anne Li, and I'm not sure how many Holmesians contributed to the viewing figures, why did CBS make such a fuss?

Maxwell Haddad said...

I agree, I'm enjoying the show as well much to my surprise. Not because of any Holmes-specific related feelings, but rather because I don't frequently take the time to watch procedurals on a weekly basis. Thus far I've been impressed with the adult interactions, the portrayal of the characters (Miller is terrific), and the lack of violence. It's a refreshing and enjoyable show.

candice frederick said...

welcome aboard! i really enjoy watching it too.

Jose Cordova said...

Good to hear some else is enjoying the show. I've had a genuinely good time watching it. I used to watch a lot of procedurals but they really started to grow stale for me. I find Elementary really fun.


Related Posts with Thumbnails