Sherlock vs. Elementary

Disclaimer: This post involves spoilers on Elementary and Sherlock. Don’t read if you are not up to date with the shows and care to be spoiler-free. Proceed on your own caution.

My friend Kirsti over on Melbourne on my Mind wrote a post about comparing Sherlock and Elementary back in July, now that I’m caught up with Elementary I feel the need to write one of my own.

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First of, I’ve been in love with Sherlock from the first episode I saw, I love the cast and the cinematography is really beautiful. Back when I started watching Sherlock, I had no idea who Steven Moffat was or what Doctor Who looked like, now of course this has changed.

What, in my opinion, Sherlock catches really well is the thrill of the chase, it just really keeps me interested over the 90 minute span. Whereas Elementary was a slow burner for me. During the first few episodes I was always zoning out when it came to the crime of the week. It also took me two attempts to actually get into Elementary despite my love for the fact that they gender-swapped Watson and cast Lucy Liu, whom I loved on Ally McBeal a long time ago.

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The thing that threw me off in the beginning was the whole recovering drug addict stuff because I just don’t care about drugs. I understand that the addiction is part of the original book series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle however at this point (I still haven’t managed to make my way through all the books) I see Sherlock’s addiction to opiates in the original and don’t think too much about it. It was a different time when these books were published and Sherlock Holmes is by far an ordinary character. Sherlock does address these issues but in a far less finger-pointy way.

A lot of the negative commentary on Sherlock I read is true. The queer baiting is something I am sadly all too familiar with (not only on this show) and Moffat pushes it quite a lot. I think that Moffat really loves to write puzzles which is why his turn on Doctor Who is so absurd (even for that sort of show) and is losing its appeal because of too many puzzles and not enough follow through. River Song is a perfect example. I love her character but she is so complicated it makes my head hurt. I do believe though that Moffat does better with Sherlock than Doctor Who.

My favourite Sherlock episode was A Scandal in Belgravia probably because Lara Pulver was so good as Irene Adler. It shows how Moffat treats his characters, especially his female ones though. Irene Adler is portrayed as a lesbian dominatrix who played Sherlock Holmes for a higher bad boy named Moriarty. Over the course of 90 minutes she loses her sexual identity in a way that is just not cool as she falls in love (or so I presume) with Holmes. (Yes, sexuality is fluid and a continuum and all that stuff but why make her one thing only to prove it wrong or not utilise it in a proper form?) Sherlock just misses its follow-through sometimes with given characteristics. They hint and hint and hint at the Holmes/Watson relationship without EVER making an attempt to make more of it.

Elementary on the other hand played the Irene Adler character differently, she turned out to be the master criminal Moriarty herself which was something I didn’t appreciate too much. From what I gathered from the original story, the point of Irene Adler was to show a human side to Sherlock Holmes. He is often seen (and portrayed) to be asexual, she is the only woman he has ever had feelings for which is why she is also referred to as The Woman. In Elementary she is showed as the woman that Sherlock did care for the most, that is true, but in making her Moriarty, she is also given a way bigger role than she had in the book.

The character of Mrs. Hudson is one that Elementary did great by and I hope to see more of her in future episodes. Her transgenderism was treated accordingly, not stumbling over ‘OMG what shall we refer to him/her as??’ and the like.

To me, Sherlock is more edgy and rough, not as soft as Elementary. What I really dig on Elementary, as previously noted, is the gender-swapped sidekick. The biggest reason why I made it through the show was because of Joan Watson. She develops a friendship with Holmes and it’s nice to see them just as friends. There is no hidden agenda, no flirting whatsoever and that is rare on TV where almost every relationship is romanticised, especially male/female relationships. Joan and Sherlock are bros and that’s great. Holmes is also easier accessible than his counterpart on Sherlock and he treats Joan as his equal and not some footrest to use when needed. He takes interest in furthering her abilities. He is a genius and all of the stuff that makes him so remarkable while also being more likeable than in the BBC version. This however is a two edged sword for me. It’s good and bad because I like Sherlock on BBC just because he is so honest and outspoken, even mean sometimes but I love him on Elementary because he is not.

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I do like both shows, I really do but if I had to choose, at this point in time I still prefer Sherlock over Elementary just a little bit. Both are good but Sherlock just feels more genuine to me. In the beginning I didn’t understand why CBS was even trying their own hand at a current adaption of Sherlock Holmes and how it would separate itself from its BBC predecessor. Elementary did a good job at that, I don’t compare the shows too much (unless of course for this post). I can see them as two different adaptions of the classic and that’s fine with me. I will continue to watch both and am looking forward to new episodes. It also won’t hurt that I’m pretty smitten with Joan Watson and I can’t decide if I want to be her or be with her.

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  • Melbourne on my Mind

    I’m glad you liked Elementary, despite your hesitations! I loved that they made Irene Adler into Moriarty for a number of reasons:
    1. It puts a female character at the top of a crime empire;
    2. It puts a woman on equal footing with Sherlock Holmes; and
    3. The Irene/Sherlock relationship is SO INCREDIBLY FUCKED UP AND ABUSIVE, so it makes perfect sense for me to have her as this truly evil character who’s been manipulating him since Day One.

    As I said in my post earlier in the year, what I love so much about Elementary is that it takes the basic ideas of Holmes canon and runs with it, taking it to a new and exciting place that we haven’t seen before.

    • Wilhelmina Upton

      Me too, haha :) Your reasons are great and valid, it just takes more effort for me to climb off my high horse and accept the changes they made with the show. Like I said, I love what happened with the Sherlock/Joan friendship.