There seems to be a resurgence in the popularity of the legendary stories of Sherlock Holmes lately. There’s the BBC version called Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman and across the pond, there’s Elementary with Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu. Hell, there’s even a Russian version, though unlike the two former shows, is set in Victorian England whilst the others are set in modern times. It is natural to compare the two shows and draw comparisons and conclusions about each, simply because of the similarities between the idea of the two shows.
After what I thought was a pretty lacklustre first few episodes of Elementary, New York’s combination of Holmes and Watson has grown on me more than I expected them to. The show departs from the canonical stories modernised by Sherlock and resets into contemporary surrounds and comes up with its own episodic plots. The two contrasting approaches to Sherlock Holmes is further emphasised when the origin stories of characters are turned on their heads. For a start, Holmes is in New York because of his disgrace as a drug addict and Watson is assigned to him as a sober companion. They don’t meet because an acquaintance suggests they meet so they can share an apartment. Whilst Elementary refers to parts of the original, such as Holmes being an amateur apiarist chief among them, the writers have genuinely tried to do something creative and unique with the characters.
To me, Elementary’s Sherlock is more of a human being. Jonny Lee Miller’s Holmes is caring, yet quirky and bold, with a few ticks in his mannerisms. Contrast this with the cold, ruthless calculations in Cumberbatch’s portrayal and you can immediately see the differences in the thrust of both series. Whilst he is still self absorbed, mired in logical thinking, a little bit socially awkward and very to the point, he demonstrates his humanity much more than the original Sherlock Holmes. It is clear very early on in the series that there is a mutual respect and camaraderie between the two lead characters, and despite Watson being female, this doesn’t lead to any cheap sexual undertones. It is a genuine friendship that forms where they try to stop each other from getting hurt or killed. Sure, Holmes shows it in a strange and presumably non-productive way, but still, everyone has their idiosyncrasies. Even Holme’s reaction to finding his former lover, Irene Adler’s (her story is also very different) killer is what I think completely sound and logical: torture and kill the prick. It’s only when he realises that he has the wrong person that he stops to take a deep breath.
I can only say that Elementary is bold enough to do things differently, even if it conforms to the rigorous formula of American serialised television. It’s a fresh take on Sherlock Holmes that allows for room to maneuver, much like Hugh Laurie as a medical Holmes in House MD. I’m looking forward to the second season of Elementary and hope it continues challenging the conventions of Holmes and Watson!