But the premature judgment is a little unfair; rather than solely an opportunity to cash in on “Sherlock’s” popularity, “Elementary” proved to be a fairly solid, if familiar, police procedural that happened to feature modern iterations of Holmes and Watson.
BBC’s “Sherlock,” which only has three episodes per season, focuses on tightly recreating the original stories in a modern context. “Elementary,” while less true to Doyle’s original stories, instead features new mysteries that allow the writing to tackle the iconic Sherlock Holmes character from a different angle.
Because the “Elementary” characters sidestep rather than settle into their “Sherlock” molds, they escape our predictions and lowered expectations. So far, Lucy Liu’s Watson seems to be a more active player than the traditional Holmes sidekick and better able to hold her own against her Holmes. While she lacks Sherlock’s deductive abilities, her ability to read people entertains us, a la “Lie to Me,” “Psych,” “Monk,” et cetera. And while Sherlock strays less from his original form, or from Benedict Cumberbatch’s BBC performance, his seemingly haunted attitude has us hoping the show will delve deeper into what exactly makes him tick and what led to his rehab admission.
Despite all the character achievements, the flair of “Sherlock” escapes “Elementary.” Shifting it to a standard procedural distinguished “Elementary” from other Holmes retellings but risks falling into the shadow of any of the countless other procedurals on our Netflix queues. Meanwhile, “Sherlock” has a distinct style in all of its shots, even the ones where the style involves text floating in midair as Watson types out a blog post. Somehow, the Sherlock of “Elementary” waving around an iPhone to show a picture he took just doesn’t wield the same distinction. The show seems like it’s simultaneously trying to draw attention to its modernity and not step on the BBC’s toes.
“Elementary” may play too safe to keep the crowd. Despite that, for now the characters are holding our interest. It almost seems to be the story of what would have happened if Watson and Holmes met each other a little later in their lives, and how each character would have developed without the other’s influence. As a result, where they are now and where they go from here are both unexplored territories, and overall something I’m excited to see every once in a while.