Mon
Feb 24 2014 1:00pm
Battling Super Sleuths: The Awkward Case of Elementary, Sherlock, and Building the Better Adaptation

Sherlock, Elementary

It’s fairly common in fan-driven web spaces to see a critical fissure in the current Holmesian fandom—the split being between those who adore Sherlock and those who would like to explain why its American counterpart, Elementary, is currently trouncing the BBC gem in several important arenas.

If it is news to you that there are people who do not adore Sherlock… well, now it’s not. And the split is extending itself to the critical sphere, too; even the AV Club is keen to enlighten us as to why Sherlock should be learning a thing or two from its cross-Atlantic cousin. There are some incredibly valid points on this front for sure, but I keep the thinking the vitriol on either side is blinding what might be a very interesting give and take on how to successfully update beloved stories.

(Spoilers for plot details of both Sherlock and Elementary.)

A factor that I believe is essential to the conversation—the primary reason why Sherlock garners such a critical gaze, even without Elementary on the scene, is that writer and show runner Steven Moffat does not have a stellar track record when it comes to depicting characters who are not cisgendered straight white men. I would not dispute that claim in the slightest. However, it is important to consider that Moffat is not running Sherlock alone. He has a co-runner in Mark Gatiss, and that does alter the primary voice driving the story and characters forward. It means that the makeup of Sherlock is significantly different than, say, Doctor Who. (Which Moffat also runs.)

Sherlock, Molly Hooper, science

This can sometimes lead to attributing certain unspoken undercurrents to Sherlock that are not necessarily accurate. For example, a number of fans expressed anger over Mary’s bridesmaid Janine and her end game against Sherlock in “His Last Vow” once she finds out that his marriage proposal was a sham. Many insisted that by having her sell fake stories about their relationship to tabloids, Janine was being cast in a “shrewish, heartless money-grubbing bitch” light, though Sherlock himself seems not at all bothered by her choice, and more than a little humbled at her insistence that they might have been friends had he not lied to her. What’s interesting is that Steven Moffat, when discussing Janine’s decision at a recent Apple Store event in London, claimed that he had Janine take that action to get back at Sherlock for the personal dismay he had felt upon reading the parallel canon tale as a child.

In other words, he essentially had Janine act on his childhood desires to take revenge on Sherlock for being a jerk—which he had wanted to do since the tender age of twelve. (It’s important to remember that the woman in Doyle’s original tale had no such refuge, and we’re never told what happens to her once her “betrothed” simply up and abandons her. It was a pretty nasty move on Holmes’ part.) Sure, it’s not the most mature reasoning for a character choice, but not intended to cast Janine in a poor light either. When these sorts of misunderstandings are aligned with the actual problems Sherlock has in terms cast diversity and depicting non-male and/or non-straight peoples, things get pretty murky in trying to dissect places where the show could really do better.

Sherlock, John Watson, strangle

So what happens when you throw Elementary into the pot?

Elementary has a lot of things going for it in a world that is currently becoming re-overrun with adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work. Joan Watson is played by a woman of color (the always formidable, ever-classy Lucy Liu), and she is utterly respected by her counterpart. Rather than playfully belittling his partner the way that Cumberbatch’s version is frequently known for, Johnny Lee Miller’s Sherlock holds Watson in an esteem that is expressed outwardly to her, and to their colleagues; much more in line with Doyle’s original incarnation in that regard. They are played as equals according to the show’s premise—Sherlock even recruits Watson as an apprentice because he believes she can develop a skill set much like his own and become a detective. It features a relationship between a man and a woman that is a true, deep friendship with no other strings attached.

Elementary CBS, Sherlock, Joan Watson, Detective Bell

The show makes a clearly conscious effort to represent people of different races, sexualities, and social classes. From Mrs. Hudson’s portrayal by trans actress Candis Cayne to Alfred Llamosa’s continuing journey as Sherlock’s sober sponsor and recovering addict, there is no one on the show who does not receive considered portrayal and something beyond passing insults from Sherlock on any given day. He works with these people as a member of a team instead of wandering off on his own to play Super Detective. Which is not to say that Miller’s Holmes is never abrasive—it’s just that when he is, he doesn’t get away with it. He is constantly called out when his behavior doesn’t pass muster, and that is often. When he goes too far, he actually damages his relationships; there is no reset button and the people in his life are less willing to put up with his more aggravating tics.

All of these things are good, so lets move on to where Elementary shows some weaknesses, the primary one being its standard police procedural format. American shows have been stuck in this tried and true formula for ages, particularly in Holmesian offshoots—Psych, The Mentalist, Monk and many other Holmes stand-ins always go this route. Sure, it’s nice to have more than five hours of television every two years, but when you’re dealing with a police procedural, it’s hard to tell the difference. Most of your character development will take place between crime-solving (which is usually murder, and sort of dreary when you remember that Holmes solved all manner of mysteries in the canon). That means that you generally get a few scenes per episode of good character work. It drags a little.

I’ll admit to some bias in that area, as there are very few police procedurals that garner my consistent affection. (Actually, just White Collar these days, and that pointedly tackles lots of crimes that are not centered around murders, so there you go.) So I’ll move on to what many people consider to be one of the show’s greatest strengths—the choice to make Irene Adler and Moriarty the same person, thereby making Holmes’ greatest opponent a woman.

I love Natalie Dormer in just about anything, and the switch is an admirable go at giving women more interesting roles in the world of television. I would have been over the moon about the flip were it not for one minor detail—she is Sherlock’s former lover, and he has romantic feelings for her.

Elementary, Sherlock, Jamie Moriarty

So… the show managed to avoid making Holmes and Watson a couple even though Watson was now a woman, but then neglected to do the same for Jamie Moriarty. Sherlock and “The Woman” now have a sexual relationship, which is fine because this is taking place over a century after Adler’s story was first told. But by making her also Moriarty, Elementary made a significant blunder in their reimagining—the suggestion that a relationship between Holmes and Moriarty is viable because they now fall into the boundaries of a heteronormative couple.

Being a queer woman, this actually grates me more than Sherlock and Jim’s aborted kiss on the roof in “The Empty Hearse.” At least that moment was being used as an illustration of fan culture, and pointedly shook a stick at enthusiasts who behave like Anderson, who insist that women who enjoy slash fiction are “bad” fans ruining the experience for everyone else. On the other hand we have Elementary giving us the relationship so many people are curious about, right? What could be wrong with that? As the AV Club article says in support of the Sherlock/Jamie pairing: “Who else would a man obsessed with solving crime fall in love with?” Of course! Obviously with his equal opposite, the criminal genius who can outsmart him at every turn, who continues to intrigue and surprise him.

But, you know… only if that mastermind has breasts and Holmes doesn’t.

So there’s a dialogue here, absolutely. There are ways in which Sherlock is firmly planted behind Elementary, but that doesn’t mean that the CBS darling has nothing to learn. So what can we deduce from the primary leads of either show? A common criticism of Sherlock is that the BBC characters constantly allow themselves to be stepped over because the resident genius in the room gets a free pass. But in regard to how both Holmes’ treat the people in their lives, I’m inclined to disagree that one is an inherently better depiction. There is an insistence among many Elementary-only fans that people who love Sherlock are willing to forgive all behavioral misdemeanors out of a misguided love for a central character who is really just an asshole. That people love Sherlock and specifically Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Sherlock so much, that he is such a poor woobie baby to all those fangirls, that they’ll allow him every excuse and laugh as he steamrollers the various lovely people in his life.

I would like to point out that there is another person out there who believes that most woman who watch Sherlock only do so because they’re attracted to the main character in some manner—that person is Steven Moffat. Does anyone see the problem I am having here?

Elementary, Sherlock, Joan Watson, cooking

At the end of the day, both shows are attempting to depict a very similar man by highlighting how he might fit into a social circle of very different people. It is awesome to observe Elementary’s Holmes get called out for his personal failings, to be scolded and never allowed an inch of superiority no matter how hard he grasps for it. Watching the people on all sides of him respect themselves enough to shoot him down when he’s rude, callous, and dismissive is important for viewers to see. It’s a reminder to all of us never to allow ourselves to be treated in a similar manner, no matter how brilliant our friends or colleagues may be.

On the other side of this coin, I would postulate something very different. I don’t believe that most fans of Cumberbatch’s Sherlock thoughtlessly worship his every perfect thought—I think they relate to him. (And I mean this particularly in regard to fangirls, the very same people who are being cast aside and told that they only like the show for an attractive lead.) His difficulty in social settings, his uncanny ability to always put his foot in it, to be insensitive or just plain mean when cornered. I don’t think the majority of people watching Sherlock merely forgive his flaws in favor of his brain; I think they connect with him and his difficulties, and that is essential in the arena of fan experience.

In BBC’s Sherlock Holmes, many are finding a hyped up, overblown version of personal failings we have all exhibited at one point or another. They are reacting to the dismissal and ire he receives from “normal society” (like Anderson, Donovan, and Sebastian). They are reacting to his inability to comprehend how anyone could care for him as a human being, no matter how useful his skill set is. And because he is a very damaged person, someone currently going through a slow process of construction, he requires friends who are willing to give him a wider berth. He doesn’t always deserve it, but that’s realistic to genuine personal relationships—some friends are enablers and pushovers. What progress Sherlock makes is a slow burn, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that narrative decision, or with seeing a piece of yourself in that characterization. Deciding that you like one version over the other does not mean that you are totally fine with codependency or draining friendships, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you think Sherlock Holmes deserves a constant pass when he’s being an awful person.

Sherlock, Sign of Three, dance floor

Taking issue with why other fans connect with certain works isn’t interesting in the long run. Good Holmesians know that every adaptation is a new twist, a hopefully intriguing spin on a comfortable theme. It shouldn’t be a competition—it has been and will always be a game. A Great Game, you might say. And though I think Lucy Liu is an unequivocal badass and Joan Watson is incredible, female Watsons have existed before out there. What amazes me more is that no one seems willing to take the extra groundbreaking steps here—

Like making Sherlock Holmes a woman.

Call me when that adaptation happens.


Emily Asher-Perrin definitely has moments at parties where she is Sherlock on the dance floor at John's wedding. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

57 comments
Nathan. T. Dean
1. Nathan. T. Dean
This article is perfect. As it sums up all the concerns I have for both shows. And it just doesn't do it with the usual blatant angry hissing that I usually find in fan communities. This is an article all should read.

My only addition is this. Why do we need to make Sherlock Holmes a woman? Why not write a character that is inspired by, but doesn't have to be, that hero? I, personally, feel it is quite patronising to go "hey, women, you want better characters right? Well, we'll take the male characters and just change the gender to keep you happy."

Why can't we just write decent female characters? Why is rehashing the answer to poor character development?

Please debate with me.
Jason Bellew
2. macshaggy
Great article and I love both shows. And I've been a fan of all the changes in either adaptation. The only problem that I truly have is with Elementary writers insistance to have Sherlock to continually call Watson, Ms. and not Doctor. I feel that does Lucy Liu, and women physicans a huge disservice and I'm surpirsed that they always add her credentials when its important to the plot. Even Captain Gregson calls her Ms. Watson. What? He would be hugely angry if he was referred to just Mr. Gregson instead of Captain.

Everytime any character refers her to as Ms. Watson I cringe, for the character, for Lucy Liu, and for women who have earned their titles, Ms. Dr., Detective, Captain, or just plain Mom!
Nathan. T. Dean
3. shellywb
And some of us just like Sherlock over Elementary because the former reminds us of the actual Doyle books and the latter really does not. I'm not watching the series to see it deconstructed into something unrecognizable, I'm watching it to see the hints of the original books that made me love them and Sherlock has those. (Additional note, I loathe the RDJ movies and will watch either series over those.)
Nathan. T. Dean
4. ShellyS
I never liked Sherlock Holmes. I tried to read the stories when I was a kid and thought they were boring. I much preferred Agatha Christie, and I thought the arrogant Hercule Poirot superior to Holmes.

That said, I enjoy both Sherlock and Elementary. I've even enjoyed the two movies with Robert Downey, Jr. I have no problem with standard police procedurals, with or without a season-long plot threaded within. I also enjoy shows that break that mold.

I'm a middle-aged, straight female who enjoys Stephen Moffat's writing. I think his Doctor Who is brilliant and I admire his ability to think and plot longterm. I think he writes interesting characters. That he made Sherlock something I enjoy watching is to his and Mark Gatiss' credit. I think a show focused on two men, Holmes and Watson, doesn't require strong female characters, though I do like the character of Mary. I admire Cumberbatch's acting, but he doesn't do it for me, so there's no fangirl aspect to my enjoyment of the show. I enjoy the interplay between him and Freeman.

I do have a thing for Jonny Lee Miller, however, which makes it more fun to watch Elementary. I was intrigued that they cast Watson as a female. Most of my friends were not pleased by this and less pleased that Lucy Liu, who I think is wonderful, was cast to play her. Personal taste counts for a lot, here. I thought making Moriarity and Irene one person, and a woman, was a stroke of brilliance.

Sherlock seems to me to be a modern telling of the old Holmes. Elementary is a very different show. It not only brings the characters to the present, but it turns most of it on its ear. It's attempting to challenge our long held views of who the characters are. Even Mycroft seems more sinister in Elementary. What is his true nature? What does he really want from his brother? Also, Elementary is dealing in a real way with addiction. And as for Watson being Sherlock's equal here, that's the thing I love most. Joan Watson is not there to chronicle Holmes' accomplishments as John Watson seems to mostly do, but she's skilled and observant and clever in her own way and that's being nurtured, honed, even challenged by her Holmes.

The shows might come from the same source material, but IMO, they're very different shows.

I don't require shows to be more than they are, but yes, there should be more shows based on strong female characters. And one doesn't need to look to old literary figures for them. Why not create new ones? Though I really wish someone would do a decent show with Modesty Blaise. :)
Nathan. T. Dean
5. John Randolph Burrow
“how both Holmes’ treat the people” of course is incorrect — rather than that false plural possessive, it should be the simple plural, “Holmeses.”
Steven Halter
6. stevenhalter
I haven't actually watched Sherlock yet; I enjoy Elementary quite a lot. I find Irene/Moriarty an enjoyableplot line as it seems to me to give added depth to that storyline. The recent delvelopments of her (white out) having a daughter add an interesting complexity. I expect that the show is not done with Moriarty by a long shot.
Nathan. T. Dean
7. KMK
@2. macshaggy

In Elemtary, they refer to Watson as Ms. vs. Dr. becuase she no longer wants to be a doctor. I'm going to be paying attention to how she introduces herself, but if memory serves, which it might not, she does not introduce herself as a Doctor Watson, but rather Joan Watson.

I enjoy both shows. With that said, Elemntary seems to be getting better, while the third series fo Shelock felt stale. Just my opinion.
Matt Stoumbaugh
8. LazerWulf
Count me as firmly in the Elementary camp. One of my favorite episodes is the recent one where *spoiler*Detective Bell gets shot.*spoiler*. It shows that Sherlock's brashness and blase manner is bullshit and he's finally called out on it. His actions have consequences, not just for him, but for his friends (and I love that the show can use that word in the plural). It takes several episodes for that relationship to repair, and even so, it doesn't, can't, go back to how it was before.

I'd even go so far to say that JLM's Sherlock is the more relatable, because this Sherlock makes mistakes. He doesn't solve everything instantly, and requires the help of an outside perspective (be it Joan, Gregson, or Bell) when he gets stuck.

(disclaimer: I've actually only seen the first 2 1/2 episodes of Sherlock, and that was when it first came out. While I did enjoy the homages to the original stories, the "slow burn" that the article mentions was just too slow for me. My dad is a fan of both shows, though, and likes them both for different reasons. He says that they're different enough that you can't really compare them.)
Meg K
9. KittenSwarm
No mention of Moriarty's obsession with Joan on Elementary season 2? That fascination has been well done so far.

I've enjoyed both shows and both have their flaws and virtues. I tend to prefer Elementary because I enjoy the diversity and the character relationship work that show has developed. The police procedural isn't my favorite type of show though. I think a nice 10 episode season with a combination of small and larger multi-part developing cases would be fantastic, more of the HBO model. Ah well. :)
Nathan. T. Dean
10. dap of paint
Besides the Sherlock/Elementary comparision, actually there is a Holmes version with a female Shirley Holmes. It was an Canadian children tv show in the 90ies. Shirley was the grand grand child or niece of the great sleuth and she solved different misteries at her high school. I loved this show as a kid.
Emmet O'Brien
11. EmmetAOBrien
I find Sherlock's Sherlock easier to identify with than Elementary's because the ways he fails at human interaction are much closer to the ways I fear failing at it myself. I do think Sherlock loses a lot of sympathy for explicitly being about someone who's enough of a jerk to pretend to be a sociopath to avoid having to deal with people, though; he was much more interesting a character when he appeared to actually be a smart sociopath (modulo uneven writing) trying to get along in a world of regular people.
Nathan. T. Dean
12. TBGH
You danced around but didn't quite get to why I love Sherlock and can't watch Elementary. Most of the procedurals you mentioned, (and some you didn't like Bones, most Law & Orders, Castle, etc.) primarily pair the lead detective with an attractive woman because that's what gets ratings.

A good story is a good story no matter the racial/ethnographic mix and Sherlock has great non-traditional stories. Elementary just feels too focus-grouped together; and the few episodes I saw didn't feel like Sherlock Holmes at all.
Nathan. T. Dean
13. SamJ
Wow. I haven't seen Elementary but you make it sound very pious and conformist. Such a worthy set of relationships sounds off putting. I have watched and enjoyed Sherlock and I don't recognise the criticism you set out (which isn't to say it's not fair just that I don't think it catches the problem with the show). Abrasive and insulting is at least interesting.
Nathan. T. Dean
14. wandering-dreamer
"But by making her also Moriarty, Elementary made a significant blunder in their reimagining—the suggestion that a relationship between Holmes and Moriarty is viable because they now fall into the boundaries of a heteronormative couple." I didn't read their relationship like that at all, I read it as that Sherlock fell in love with Irene and now that he knows that she's really Moriarty he's unsure of how he feels. In many ways she's still the same woman but that with her "death" he's become different and isn't as in love/in love anymore, ie he only loved Irene, not Moriarty. I suppose I should mention at this point that I am asexual so I do sometimes just miss the clues that are apparent to the other 99% of the population but, until the canon explicitly confirms one way or another, that's how I read that situation.
Fredrik Coulter
15. fcoulter
I watch Elementary, but find Sherlock more enjoyable. Probably because of the lack of "yet another" police procedural. But there's the last Holmes based series that I enjoyed far more than Elementary, House.

House = Holmes
Wilson = Watson

And almost no police procedurals.
Nathan. T. Dean
16. C Oppenheimer
I think it is interesting that many have commented that they don't like "procedurals" when in many ways Doyle's Holmes' stories were the first procedurals.
R O T
17. rogerothornhill
As always, such a wonderful articulation of problems with both series that I didn't even know I have.

I'm in the Sherlock camp, but then I think Moffat has a great habit of ripping his heroes to shreds and making them much less admirable. I usually cheer for the companions in scenes with his Doctor and Sherlock because they are so patently annoying and/or clueless. (I have much more problems with the gender politics of Coupling, in which I am more certain that we are supposed to take the Neanderthal crap those men spout seriously.)

But for me the tipping point in the two shows was the depiction of Irene Adler. The BBC Adler was one of Sherlock's only intellectual equals who just went one step too far with a clever in-joke. The CBS Adler fell for the most obvious ruse in the book, one that she had (in a way) played on him. I know whose Master Criminal Seminar I'm taking.
Nathan. T. Dean
18. ProfMel
As always, great job, Emily!

I really like your point that many of us relate to Sherlock. I've been wishing for a John Watson who will tell me, "bit not good," "say Thank You," and "stop talking now."
Alan Brown
19. AlanBrown
Another thoughtful article. I can't really speak to Elementary, as I haven't watched that show, but it sounds like it is an interesting take on the tale. I intensely disliked the two recent movies, even though the actors and their characterizations were great. The bombastic style, frantic editing, and gigantic action scenes were just too much though. The Sherlock series has been a lot of fun, but sometimes verges on trying to be too big and too over the top itself. I especially disliked finding that John's Mary was some sort of secret spy assassin--I felt like she became more of a plot twist than a character at that point, and felt cheated. And that episode coming on the heels of the excellent wedding episode just made it even more frustrating.
I find it refreshing to hear that, even though the Watson of Elementary is a woman, that they have not thrown romance into the mix. I miss the days where you could read or watch a story where the characters were just good friends, without sex being thrown into the mix. Perhaps it is just because I am getting old...
Nathan. T. Dean
20. ShellyS
There was a TV movie back in 1987 called The Return of Sherlock Holmes that starred Margaret Colin as Jane Watson, a descendant of John Watsoon, and Michael Pennington as Sherlock Holmes revived from having been cryogenically frozen. I believe it was a failed pilot. I do remember watching it, but I can't remember if I liked it or not. But a female Watson is not new.
Nathan. T. Dean
21. LurkerWithout
Like making Sherlock Holmes a woman.

Baker Street

Female bisexual ex-cop Holmes character with med student Watson in a setting where the Victorian Era and the British Punk scene take place together...
Nathan. T. Dean
22. OregonDuck
One thing I just don't get is Holmes' self-diagnosis as a "high-functioning sociopath." Having spent two decades in mental health, the diagnosis just does not fit. There are many ways to be clueless and a social idiot without being a sociopath. In fact, our BBC Holmes does have a conscience, he does care, he is just so often an idiot about relationships. Idiot does not equal sociopath. There may or may not be a realistic diagnosis lurking, but it is not clear to me what it is.
Nathan. T. Dean
23. DougL
Huh, I don't read...well, any message boards. I just enjoy both shows, but likely because there are only 3 Sherlock episodes every year and half or so I treasure it a bit more.

I am not sure why anyone wouldn't just kick back and watch them both.
Nathan. T. Dean
24. Farrell_McGovern
Excellent article!!! Thank you!

I am enjoying both incarnations of Holmes. I just wish there was more of the Sherlock series. Elementry would have been fun if only to see Jonny Lee Miller back in NYC...I'm a big fan of the film "Hackers" which stared him and Angelina Jolie. Luckily, there is so much more to enjoy.

I like the comment Fred made. The last, best TV incarnation of Sherlock before the two current offerings was House. I enjoyed it...but it suffered from the "not knowing when to end on a good note" syndrome that a lot of shows suffer from....more commonly known as "Jumping the Shark". I couldn't watch the watch the last two seasons of House because it became a game of the how much can House/Holmes hurt the people around him, and try to get away with it somehow.
Nathan. T. Dean
25. StevenR
You're waiting for a female Holmes. So Remington Steele (1982) doesn't count? Or does she have to actually be named Holmes?
Alan Brown
26. AlanBrown
One thing that seems almost lost in our discussion of these shows is that the big draw should by the mysteries and how they are solved. Mystery and detective stories without that element are like science fiction without the science. I like good characters, but quite frankly, too much of that can get in the way--what really draws me in is when they have clues to follow and someting to solve. What I want to hear is not who likes who, who is what gender, and who wants to canoodle who--I long for the moment when Holmes says, "The game's afoot!"
Nathan. T. Dean
27. Nik_the_Heratik
I dislike Elementary because it killed off the very best character before the series even began: London. They took the same Crime formula the networks have been peddling for the last 15 years, tweaked it to have the lead guy be "An English crime solving genius" instead of "Some guy pretending to be a psychic", stole a few names and characters from a Classic, and tried to pretend it was this all new good thing instead of the same re-hashed crime show.

Sherlock has interesting plots, characters, and an original visual style. I don't feel that the relationships are wrong in that, a lot of the time people, especially the English, react by passively cutting someone out rather than getting in their face and calling them on their bad behavior. And right from the start you see that Sherlock had no friends, his brother had none, and the police barely tolerated him.
Ursula L
28. Ursula
So does this make Janine Moffat's Mary Sue, acting out his wish-fulfillment in the story?

Knowing that going to the tabloids was Moffat's insert, as revenge on Sherlock for his duplicity does very much go to the heart of Moffat's issues with writing women, and women's issues. He's genuinely upset at the way society treats women, and at how badly men can often treat women.

But he doesn't explore a woman's point of view on this. He inserts his revenge fantasy, without realizing that treating a female character as a man's fantasy is part of the problem.
Nathan. T. Dean
29. Nessa
I started out watching Sherlock, and I liked the inventive plot twists and the characters who all seemed vulnerable in their own way. I had a bit of a problem with the depiction of certain characters that differed from the original story (the queer-baiting was especially grating - why did they make Moriarty so camp anyway?). I stopped watching it sometime in the second season, probably because I was turned off by both the Moriarty and the Irene Adler storyline. Two characters who were great on paper seemed to be ruined on the screen.

I though Elementary would be better, and it was, to some degree. I purposely decided not to watch the episodes with Irene Adler and Moriarty because I wasn't sure I'd like their adaptations. I liked the equality between Watson and Holmes, but again, I stopped watching after the second season or so, because the episodes began to get a little formulaic.

I loved the recent movies, though. Holmes was a bit of a baby at times, but I loved the character that RDJ brought to him, and the Watson was spot on, I think.

I agree with the person above that said Ms. Marple and Hercule Poirot were more interesting. I do think I'd like to see more adaptations of those characters instead. Holmes can be a bit bland on TV, and even his creator got sick of writing about him after a while!
Nathan. T. Dean
30. suibhnegeilt
Excellent article, thanks. The problem with Elementary is that while the incidentals, (the rehab storyline, Lucy Liu's performance) are good it's really hamstrung by the plodding nature of the stories. I like a good procedural myself but these are hackneyed and always feel rushed, they're like something out of McCloud or some similar seventies cop series. And given that the great pleasure of the original stories is the ingenuity of the actual cases, this is a huge problem. Elementary's heart is definitely in the right place but its brain never seems fully engaged.
Whereas, at its best, Sherlock was able to construct intricate plots which were full of surprise. Though there has been a big fall-off in quality in the last season, it's the same problem which developed with Doctor Who, when something hits really big in the UK there's a tendency to start playing up the elements so what started as quirks hardened into mannerisms until you're left with a kind of light entertainment special, witness the wedding show.
I don't even see that much connection between Elementary and the Holmes stories. It seems a better series if you discount the connection and just regard it as a buddy investigative show with a couple of interesting protagonists. And maybe we've already had a female Sherlock Holmes with the two terrific main characters of the excellent Scandanavian detective series, The Killing and the Bridge, Sarah Lund and Saga Noren.
Thanks again for the article, thought provoking stuff.
Nathan. T. Dean
31. Shazzz
I love them both....
Ian Miller
32. millernumber1
A very thoughtful article, and I hope indicative of the direction Holmes fandom is headed, out of the acrimonious Grimpen Mire that we currently attempt to escape.

I like Elementary more, but love both for the illumination and passion they both point towards the original stories, my first literary fascination (and their perfect incarnation by Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke).
Nathan. T. Dean
33. Lindsay R
What about those of us who only started watching BBC Sherlock because we think Martin Freeman is a sexypants badass? What about US, Moffat?

(Seriously, though, great article. You've succeeded in making me want to watch Elementary!)
Nathan. T. Dean
34. Lee H.
There was a second 'return of Sherlock Holmes' movie some years after that CBS telefilm. As I recall, it had an also-defrosted Holmes (played by Anthony Higgins - who, curiously, played Rathe/Ehtar/Moriarty in Young Sherlock Holmes) and Jane Watson-by-another-name battling a descendant of James Moriarty. I don't remember much more of the plot than that, but though Pennington had much more of the Sidney Paget look about him, Higgins was also quite good in the role.
Nathan. T. Dean
35. Jeremiah R
I would rather watch Jonny Lee Miller's more grounded Holmes any day, Cumberbatch's iteration is saddled with too much angst and implausible deduction.
Nathan. T. Dean
36. Megs
I loved Sherlock when it first came out, but have found myself increasingly unable to get around the problems with race (expecially the Dragon Lady and China Doll characters in "The Blind Banker"), sexuality (specifically the queerbaiting, but the handling of Adler's sexuality was pretty obnoxious as well), and women (almost every time Molly or Donovan are on screen I have to look away).

I'm not big on procedurals either, but they don't make me mad if they're done well, and I've heard a lot of good things about Elementary. The main reason I haven't gotten into it is the fact that it's not on Netflix, Hulu Plus or Amazon Prime Streaming. I know that paying for a show isn't the end of the world, but given the zillion other things available to watch, paying for something when I don't know if I'm going to like it is sort of a barrior to entry. I feel like it would be good marketing to at least make the first couple of episodes available - I wouldn't mind paying a couple of bucks each once I'm hooked.
Nathan. T. Dean
37. AlanHK
Lucy Liu is a "woman of color"? Funny, I thought she was Chinese, and paler than most Europeans. Sorry, I'm not American so I'm not up on the racial euphmeisms, but I've never heard that label applied to East Asians.

"the BBC characters constantly allow themselves to be stepped over because the resident genius in the room gets a free pass." Did you not notice Watson punch Sherlock in the face several times for letting hin think he was dead and other failings?
Sherlock knows how disliked he is by most people.
Though his literally getting a pass for murder in the finale was a bit much, I admit.

"Steven Moffat does not have a stellar track record when it comes to
depicting characters who are not cisgendered straight white men." On Doctor Who, Moffat created Jack Harkness and River Song. And Amy Pond had quite some development.

Anyway, Holmes was never meant to be a poster boy for sexual equality. Sherlock is a show about a detective. A male, Victorian detective, in modern dress. There are plenty of shows starring female detectives; sadly none yet about a back lesbian dwarf detective though.
Nathan. T. Dean
38. rohrist
I do enjoy both shows, but I enjoy Elementary a good deal more. Essentially because of Johnny Lee Miller and his relationship with Lucy Liu (well, really all his relationships in the show). I also love what they've done with Mycroft.

I do agree that at times, the mysteries are a bit perfunctory, but I think that's mostly about only having 42 minutes to work with as opposed to the much longer format Sherlock enjoys. In the end, it doesn't matter to me because Elementary if far more focused on the characters and their relationships.
Nathan. T. Dean
39. Harpy_Lady
I didn't even realise that Elementary was still around. I remember when it came out but haven't heard anything about it since then. Althoug, from your description of the show, I'm not missing anything.
Nathan. T. Dean
40. Michelle Fidler
I really don't care for either show. I think it's weird to set it in the modern day but I do remember a couple movies years ago and in at least one Sherlock was cryogenically frozen and thawed out in the modern day. I am a big Sherlock Holmes fan and love mysteries. I like my Sherlock to be set in the Victorian era and loved the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series. I have read the entire canon and also read Sherlock stories by modern writers. What I don't like on Elementary is that it seems that Watson and Holmes are argumentative and don't get along. I haven't watched much of the show. I did watch a little bit of the last P.B.S. Sherlock adaptation (where he was being sent away on the plane) and thought that was better. Maybe sometime I'll get the DVD from the library.
Randall Trussell
41. Randalthor1966
OK, so I like them both (though I think JLM is sexier - when he doesn't look too addict-like, and like the person above, I love Hackers and him in it) and have minor problems with both.

Sherlock: Well, it was the first modern take on the character that I have seen - or, at least, remember seeing - and I like the idea of taking characters out of their normal setting to see how they do. (Though I prefer this in a more literal sense, as in: take 1800's Sherlock and drop him in 2012, ala Sleepy Hollow.)

I do like Cumberbach's and Freeman's performances and how they work as a couple - I can totally see all the confusion in the beginning about them being an actual couple. And I would not have disliked that if they went that way: welcome to the future.

I find the mysteries and how Holmes solves them to be a bit stale and somewhat predictable. (I have not read any of the original works, so no clues for me other than what is given out in the show.) By that, I mean I have figured out a few of them within 15-minutes of Holmes, or us, being introduced to the mysteries.

Also, he tends to solve them in flashbacks that show us slightly altered versions of the scenes, which tell him more than in the original. Now, I get they are trying to write in an abnormally smart character, and that is hard, but TV (and film/movies) are a largely visual media, and in film class I was always told "show don't tell". By leaving out those elements from the audiences point of view you are, in an essence, cheating. At the end, Holmes is "telling" the audience what happened and that is not how it should be done. At least, not in my opinion.

Elementary: First off: Joan Watson. The fact that she is incredibly smart and has actually seen clues that Sherlock missed is brilliant. She is not "straight-man" for his genius, she is a mentla power-house herself. This is only reasonable as she was a neuro-surgeon; really only the best-of-the-best get to do that, so if they would have dumbed her down to make Sherlock look smart (what I call the Lex Luther vs Superman syndrome - hard to make Lex look smart without making supes look stupid, which he wasn't) I would have stopped watching the show. Given my second positive is that I love - LOVE - Johnny Lee Miller (Eli Stone, I miss thee my prophet) that is saying something.

So, JLM, while I do not particularly like this new look (addict-chic is not my fave), he still carries it off, and my heart with it. Personality-wise, I do like that he isn't just a high-functioning sociopath, sorry, but I like a little humanity in my characters, call me crazy - or just human. The fact that when he does get too abrasive, those around him call him on it is excellent, instead of just internalizing their anger (and jealousy) and then believing each and every bad thing said about the character absolutely and completely. Basically, he is an individual I would be fine with being around for a period of time, longer than Cumberbach's Sherlock, who I would probably punch within 10 minutes of meeting.

My beef with the show is that they did make Moriarty and Adler the same person. I don't have a problem with Moriarty being female, and I don't have a problem with Holmes falling in love with a woman (though I would like to see more prime-time lead male-to-male hook ups). I have a problem with Holmes falling for the "bad-guy*." Call me a silly-romantic, but I like romantic stuff to work out in the end. BUT, because I do not condone rewarding the bad people and giving them your heart is rewarding them, I don't want them to be together. That destroys my silly romanticism, and I cry into my kitty-shaped pillow. (I know you were thinking that, don't deny it. :-) )

*I am over the "dark/anti-hero" crap!!! I want my good-guys/gals to be just that: GOOD. And good can be interesting, we have just been teaching ourselves that is not the case. So, sorry but: "Abrasive and insulting is at least interesting" is not true. Abrasive and insulting is just abrasive and insulting. I gauge my heroes on this criteria: Would I like (mind, feel safe, etc...) to sit with them for 5-minutes on a bus? If the answer is no, then I certainly do not want to watch them for an hour or more.

Overall, I really do like both shows and watch them both when I can. The negatives of each are not show destroying, so I can chalk them up to quirks and move on.
Nathan. T. Dean
42. Roger Lord Zeck
Perceptive comments about fans identifying with Sherlock's personality shortcomings...
Nathan. T. Dean
43. LibrarianMarian
I stopped watching Elementary very early in the first season because of the treatment of Watson (Lucy Liu). In those first episodes, even though she had been a great surgeon, she was squimish during the murders. The writers didn't seem to treat her with much respect at all. Also, the mysteries sucked, the only reason that Holmes was solving them was because he had read the script. Now I hear all of this great stuff about Elementary, and I'm thinking of going back. When does it start to hit it's stride?
Nathan. T. Dean
44. Pat O'Neill
My problem with "Elementary" is that its Sherlock simply isn't smart enough or quick enough. Doyle's Sherlock is always a step (or two or three) ahead of everyone else--that's his genius, to see the things others do not and figure out how they relate to the crime. A Sherlock who can be outthought by Watson (except perhaps on medical observations) is not really Sherlock.
Nathan. T. Dean
45. Dianthus
Interesting article. I've only seen s1 of Sherlock, and some random episodes of Elementary (my roommate watches it). I do like Benedict Cumberbatch. From what little I've seen of each, I prefer the former.

As a BtVS fan, I know all too well how hard it can be to have a rational, objective back-and-forth with someone from the "other side" or even (bloody hell!) someone from the same side!
Nathan. T. Dean
46. Danika Zoe
@2. macshaggy & 7. KMK:
Watson is a surgeon, and surgeons don't get called Doctor. Having risen above doctors in the medical hierarchy, they reclaim Mr or, presumably, Ms, as their honorific.
Mike DMonte
47. MickeyDee
I'm sorry Emily but you've missed the one incredibly obvious difference between the shows: Elementary's Sherlock is an idiot; Sherlock's Sherlock is a ridiculous genius.

You should never be cleverer than Sherlock. I watched the entire first season of Elementary in growing frustration and despair. What? Sherlock is fooled by the murderer again? And only figures it out in the last five minutes? Yeah, no.

The only ones that should be fooling Sherlock are those very, very few arch villains: Moriaty, Augustus Milverton et al.

I adore Sherlock for the same reason that I adored House. The protagonist is a genius operating in a world of mental children, desperate for challenges to alleviate the soul-crushing ennui of daily existence amongst the crèche.

I loathe Elementary for the same reason I ended up loathing The Mentalist: bland pap that cares more about being picked up for another season than telling a story well and with passion.
Mike DMonte
48. MickeyDee
Oops Pat O'Neill @44 said it all and far more succinctly than I did.
Kaye Aych
49. Squidwardella
Bones is pretty straightforwardly, Female Sherlock Holmes. She's got Booth-Watson and a whole team of back-up Watsons.
Nathan. T. Dean
50. Chollatech
Female Holmes? The US & Brit Prime Suspect series. Female brains as messed up as either current Holmes editions. The US even had Aiden Quinn and nearly identical police HQ sets, ambience. Far superior to Elementary and Maria Bello was great. Another? How about Saving Grace? Or The Bridge? All serious, slightly twisted, exploratory.
Nathan. T. Dean
51. Exhibit A
@22: I'm pretty sure Moffat has come out and said Holmes is not actually a sociopath. I think Holmes merely uses that as an excuse to behave the way he does.
Brian Haughwout
52. bhaughwout
A slightly different take that I'm loathe to add, because I'm loathe to get into such discussions:

From my point of view, at least, all the stuff you're talking -- cis* or trans*, homo* or hetero* or bi* -- it's all window dressing...

...everyone apparently gets caught up, as *sexuals on characters as *sexuals being sexual. I personally LOVE the depiction of Cumberbatch in all his social awkwardness because he's one of the few great asexual characters that we asexuals can call our own while you *sexuals war over cultural space out there in fiction & relaity alike.

Seriously stop trying to sexualize Sherlock. You're forgetting about those of us who ARE Sherlock just the way he is.
Nathan. T. Dean
53. Magda K
I enjoy Sherlock but I love Elementary. And there is one difference between the characters that makes my preference.

BBC's Holmes seems to be motivated by puzzles, by the mental challenges, by matching wits. Whether or not he is a sociopath, he has become a crimesolver because crime fascinates him.

CBS's Holmes definitely cares about puzzles, definitely hates to be bored or take simple cases. And yet, the suffering of others, especially leading to death, moves him. He has a Speaker for the Dead quality that drives him to take cases - and seeing people abused both arouses his anger and engages his sympathy. Perhaps his tenderest moment in the first half of Season 1 was when, while on a case, he stumbles upon a suspect who is innocent of the crime he's investigated, but has a woman chained up as a sex slave in a hidden room. Holmes' voice and manner softened considerably when he approached the young woman and his rage towards the man was quiet yet palpable.

The cold, analytical detective who shuns emotions as muddying his mental clarity and seeks mental stimulation is a definite aspect of Holmes, but Holmes also had a sense of justice and compassion that drove him, as well.
Nathan. T. Dean
54. Shan
I think I could like Elementary if it wasn't trying to be a Sherlock Holmes adaptation.

Many people suppose that I don't like Elementary's Watson because she's a female, but that's not true. I don't like Elementary's Watson (as an adaptation of Watson, mind you, not in terms of her as a character) because she's no longer a wounded ex-amry vet who deliberately choice to help Holmes in his investigations of her own free will, rather than because she is his minder (I know that later on she stays on because she likes it but the idea of why a stanch no nonsesne army surgeon would hang around with Holmes is one of the most interesting features of his character to me.) They could have done so much if they had added cononical elements to Joan's character. For instance Watson's brother was a alacholic who died in disrepute. How would that have effected Joan as a sober companion? What about the fact that the original watson has experience with women from three different continents? Is that a characteristic Joan could have had or would people suddenly dismiss her as a slut? I think Lui could play a great Watson - I just don't think she is.

But that may be a bit unfair to focus on Watson when none of the other characters with cononical counterparts are much like their original characters either. Miller's Holmes - to me - isn't that great a detective. Watson is right almost half as much as he is, and while it's great to show Watson's strength's does it have to be at the expense of Holmes? If he doesn't have his brilliance, Holmes just becomes a dick who is right half the time - not sure why the NYPD would find him worth their while. Mycroft is a restauranteur. Gregson's pretty accurate but then again gregson really only appears in three of the short stories and is basically your standard cop.
But for me what really gets me is Irene Adler. People go on about how Irene from the BBC's Sherlock wasn't great but in truth she was fairly accurate to the original story. Being an opera singer -any stage profession was unseemly for a woman and almost always equated with prostitution - would have been scandalous back then, but nowdays it's not, so they had to up the ante to put the Scandal back in the title. Her being a contralto would have suggested that she was queer to a victorian public, seening as anyone who wore men's clothing couldn't possibly be straight -although this too was for the sake of the plot- so making say she was gay was in line with the character too (although they could have done it in a way that didn't make people feel that they were falling back on unfortunate Pussy Galore stereotypes). You may not have agreed with everything Mofftiss did with Irene Adler but it was indisputable that Irene was at least an adaptaion of Irene.
*Spoilers*
Elementary made Irene - to borrow another fandom's terminology - a "well tailored person suit" for Moriarty. The Irene Adler we were shown wasn't very much like the original Irene at all - respectable art restorationist with no scandalous undertones - but then we find out that even that Irene doesn't exist. It's hard when a show is trying so hard to be feminist by casting a female Watson and Moriarty, but then goes and makes Irene, one of the most widely known females in the Sherlock Holmes conon, into nothing more than a mask for another character. It's as though Elementary only will give weight to female characters if they were originally male.
Elementary for me is like asking for a hot-chocolate and getting tea. I love tea. I am one of those sad tea fanatics you read about. But if my mouth was all set for hot chocolate and I got tea I would never trust you again after such a horrible betrayal. If Elemenatry was not meant to have anything to do with Sherlock and was instead MILLER AND LUI FIGHT CRIME IN NEW YORK! I maybe could have been on board. But they told me it was a Sherlock adaptation, and when it was too removed from it's original, I just couldn't keep up with it.

Also if people think that Holmes gets a free pass too much in Sherlock, I would have them read, The Disappearance of Lady Fairfax, The Dying Detective, The Empty House and of course Charles Augustus Milverton. BBC's Sherlock gets taken down a few notches in ways that the original Sherlock never did.
Nathan. T. Dean
56. KiplingKat
"A factor that I believe is essential to the conversation—the primary reason why Sherlock garners such a critical gaze, even without Elementary on the scene, is that writer and show runner Steven Moffat does not have a stellar track record when it comes to depicting characters who are not cisgendered straight white men."

Stopped reading there. I am so sick to death of the feminst hate for Stephen Moffat. It's gone beyond irrational to the point of utter rediculousness. (And I'm a woman saying this.) I am sick of being told I should hate Moffatt's work, filled with such wonderful characters, witty dialog and satifyingly complex plots, because it does not fit someone's personal political agenda enough.

The fact is there is no "war" between the two fandoms except what people this this author try to create.
Nathan. T. Dean
57. Kiplingkat
"The fact is there is no "war" between the two fandoms except what people LIKE this author try to create."

Sorry, I have not had any caffine yet. But I find most fans of these shows get along just fine and are able to discuss their fandom reasonably and intelligently. And of course, there is a lot of crossover.

You want a war? Just mention how great DS9 is and watch the Babylon 5 fans come out of the woodwork. (I'm a fan of both.) Now that's a war.

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