Thursday 20 June 2013

Battle of Wits: Sherlock VS Elementary

If you heard the latest Across the Universe Podcast episode, you would know of my love for BBC's Sherlock. I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed Elementary, since I was convinced I will hate it. Both are modern interpretations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories about the detective Sherlock Holmes and his friend John Watson. Let's see how both of them match-up.

The Shows

As we can see from the title cards themselves, both shows make it very clear that they're set in present times- modern London in the case of Sherlock and modern New York in Elementary's case. 

As far as the writing and the concepts go, I can safely say that Sherlock is the winner among the two. The Victorian Arthur Conan Doyle stories have been literally modernised in the show, from A Study in Red, which becomes "A Study in Pink" to A Scandal in Bohemia, which becomes "A Scandal in Belgravia" and so on. Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock very much lives in 221B Baker Street even though he wears nicotine patches instead of smoking pipes. In spite of there being only 6 episodes out, each episode is like a TV film in itself and the entire world presented to us is so complete, that we have been totally mesmerised by this modern Sherlock. The writing is top-notch, as it has to be when dealing with as famed a fictional character as Sherlock Holmes.  

Coming to Elementary, though it does modernise elements of the Sherlock Holmes-lore, like the fact that Sherlock doesn't smoke but rather has a drug problem, Dr. Watson is a woman (!) and his sober companion, what it basically is is a typical crime show. Most crime shows on TV usually have that one really intelligent member in the team, though of course in this, he just happens to be named Sherlock Holmes. The crimes in themselves aren't that remarkable. The writing is good enough, especially when it comes to the relationship between Sherlock and Watson (more on that later), but it doesn't sort of grab you the way Sherlock manages to from the second it starts.

The Sherlocks

It's not really fair to Jonny Lee Miller, who does a fairly good job with his rendition of the renowned detective, that he is competing with what has been voted the best portrayal of Sherlock Holmes EVER! Plainly speaking, Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock is the bee's knees (including those of Euglassia Watsonia). His manner of talking, and the speed thereof, the way he looks and moves, and oh the way he condescends- he IS Sherlock. It is completely believable that this is the cleverest man on the planet, and though there are a number of issues that arise due to that, this Sherlock doesn't really give a shit. He just goes into his mind castle and does magic. Even though we get to see things from his POV in the show, which does explain a lot about how he thinks and deduces things, Cumberbatch's Sherlock would be just as brilliant without them. And since he is usually seen as someone above human intelligence and feelings, when he does show his humanity and weaknesses, it is that much more affecting and shocking. Cumberbatch is really doing a wonderful job here and I sincerely hope he wins some accolades for it.

Coming to Miller, we get to see a much more human Sherlock in him. He has struggled with drugs, with heartbreak, is wrong about things many, many times throughout the course of the show and is even apologetic about them. The thing is, I like my Sherlock cold and calculating, which Miller's is not. And even though he is convincingly clever, he isn't quite the genius Cumberbatch's Sherlock is. Like if these two Sherlocks were to meet, Cumberbatch's Sherlock will probably tell Miller's Sherlock shut up regarding his thinking process because it is distracting him.

One clear point of difference between the two is their sexuality. The first time we meet Miller's Sherlock is after a girl has left his house and he is standing shirtless in his living room. His character is shown to be very sexually perceptive and experienced, and one who acknowledges his bodily desires. Though it is never properly revealed, Cumberbatch's Sherlock is almost definitely a virgin. His thinking abilities make it nearly impossible to be attracted to people as he often sees through them. The very first time we meet him, we see how Molly is showering her affections on him, but he is perfectly unresponsive to them. People suggest that he suffers from Aspergers-like characteristics. So from this itself, we can see the two Sherlocks we are dealing with here.

Winner- Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock by a mile, even though I will have no chance with him :/

The Watsons

Dilemma! So here's the thing about the two Watsons- I prefer the character of one and the acting of the other. 

Lucy Liu's Joan Watson in Elementary is a fantastic character. Though she starts out as a surgeon and then becomes a sober companion, which is when she meets Sherlock, she ends up being quite the detective. Joan is very intelligent, often discovering crucial clues in the criminal cases that Sherlock is solving and has missed. She is also very compassionate and helpful and is almost solely responsible for Sherlock's health and sanity. Not only him, she is often seen comforting others in the show and also being the go-between when Sherlock is being obliviously rude to people. To me, she is the more interesting character as we see her struggle in life but then she always manages to solve all her problems and those of others around her. Liu does a great job with her.

Martin Freeman's John Watson in Sherlock is pretty clever too, but the thing is, he is paired up with the far more intelligent Sherlock and thus seems dumber in comparison. He isn't that penetrating when it comes to the cases in the show. I would say he is often the brawn to Sherlock's brains as he usually is the one to throw the punches or pick up a gun. But god, Freeman really fills out this role. His Watson is so beautifully emotional and human. We can feel his exasperation, his protectiveness, his pain, his joys- all of that. He is shown as a military man so it's not like he wears his heart on his sleeve, but Freeman manages to convey all these feelings so well.

I do like how both the Watsons are shown as having scars from their past. After a patient she was operating on died, Joan found that she could not continue on as a surgeon. Oddly though, her subsequent jobs both deal with saving lives, as a sober companion for recovering junkies and then as a consulting detective. I guess she really has a taste for that. John, on the other hand, was a military doctor and was shot during combat. We see him haunted by that till he meets Sherlock. However, what he misses is the excitement that kind of life had which is why he enjoys working and living with Sherlock so much. 

Winner- I'm going to go with both.

The Police Captains

This one comes purely down to one's preferences. If you are into the slightly bumbling and jokey British police officers, Rupert Grave's Lestrade in Sherlock is the one you'd like. And if you are the kind to like the simple and straightforward American policeman, Aidan Quinn's Gregson in Elementary is your guy. They are both equally capable blue-collar men who do their jobs and put their trust in Sherlock.

Winner- The scales tip slightly in the favour of Lestrade, because he's just so adorable. Plus, he has said one of my favourite quotes about Sherlock- "Sherlock Holmes is a great man, and I think one day, if we’re all very very lucky, he might even be a good one."

The Irenes

Elementary builds a myth around the character of Irene. The most extraordinary love of Sherlock Holmes's life, the death of whom leaves him in spiraling down the rabbit hole of drugs. Also, he is obsessed with finding her killer and exacting revenge- one can even say that is his reason to live. We are completely captivated by her and the kind of woman she was whenever someone talks about her. When she is *SPOILERS* found alive, it is quite a shock. She is of course played by the ahmazing Natalie Dormer, who brings both the sass and the craziness to the role. One can understand why Miller's Sherlock (not quite so sure about Cumberbatch's) will fall head-over-heels with a woman like that. Of course the sad thing is that we get to see far too less of this Irene and we basically only know her through other's perceptions of her.

In Sherlock, Lara Pulver's Irene Adler is quite the sexy lady. A lesbian dominatrix, she is enthralled by Sherlock and subsequently he by her. She is the only woman who is able to baffle him. I love how plain seductive she is, from her "armour" to that message tone. Steven Moffat got a lot of heat for dumbing down Irene in "A Scandal in Belgravia" as she is shown to be dependent on Moriarty, but I thought she was pretty kick-ass still. She just had that allure to her, and Pulver did a fantastic job. I really hope we see a return of Irene in the future series.

Winner- I would say Pulver's Irene just because she is more fleshed out. Love Dormer though.

*SPOILERS* The Moriarties *SPOILERS*

The only reason why I have put Sherlock's Andrew Scott's picture and not Elementary's _____ picture is because we found out the former's identity in the third episode itself and we only find out the latter's in the end of the second-last episode of the first season. Also, they do build up the latter Moriarty's identity quite a bit, so let's just leave people guessing, even though I had correctly predicted who it would be. Plus, if you are on Tumblr, you see Scott's pictures everywhere.

In spite of all the anticipation to who Moriarty was and whatever the future seasons will bring, the Elementary one just doesn't measure up to Scott's pitch perfect reinterpretation of Sherlock Holmes's arch nemesis Moriarty. He is so deliciously evil, so full of gleeful malevolence, that a part of you cannot help but root for him. He does his crimes with a flair, and his personality shows that too. He is nothing like what I expected him to be, which is just one of the beauties of Sherlock.

Winner- Scott's Moriarty would win because of his ringtone alone. 
"Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin alive, stayin alive"

The Others

Now, let's compare the other recurring characters in the two shows. Elementary only has one of these, Detective Marcus Bell, played by Jon Michael Hill. He, like Gregson, is a good police detective. We find out that he came from the shadier parts of the city but rose in rank. He usually isn't the biggest fan of Sherlock but he still respects him.

Unfortunately for Bell though, he does not hold up against any of the recurring Sherlock characters, much less all of them together. The omniscient Mycroft Holmes, played by the show's co-creator Mark Gatiss, is a delight every time he is onscreen. His hilariously strained relationship with his brother Sherlock and his endless supplies of girls who are always picking up poor Watson are just some of the reasons why Mycroft is awesome. Next, we have the lovely Molly Hooper, played by Louise Brealey, who was supposed to be a one-off character but the creators of the show, Gatiss and Moffat, could not get enough of her. We are ALL Molly Hoopers- perpetually amazed with and in love with Sherlock, but incapable of having him. Still, Molly has this endearing quality to her, and she isn't as silly as she seems since she too is capable of observing people, especially Sherlock. Finally, we have Sherlock's and John's landlady, Mrs. Hudson played by Una Stubbs, who is just the perfect mother-figure in their lives, fussing over them and caring for them. She is really cute.

Sherlock also has the super annoying Agent Donovan and Sherlock's verbal punching bag Anderson. Coming to one-off cast members, I really loved Russel Tovey's disturbed Henry Knight in "The Hounds of Baskerville" in Sherlock, and it was such a treat to see Vinnie Jones as Sebastian Moran in Elementary.

Winner- One of the best things about Sherlock is its vast array of supporting characters. 

The relationships

One of my biggest issues with Elementary is how dull it becomes when the lead pair isn't being shown. However, when they are there, the screen lights up. It was rather ingenious of the writers to make Watson a woman and make her Sherlock's equal. I love the fact that they are just good friends and there is nothing romantic between them (though that possibility is always there). There is a great deal of respect and understanding and the same amount of irritation, especially when it comes to Watson. On one hand, Watson helps to get Sherlock's life back on track, and on the other hand, Sherlock helps to find Watson's true motivation to live. They are proper partners and help each other every chance they get. Just the season finale goes to show how much Watson gets Sherlock, which is something he really treasures. My two favourite moments with them are:
1) When Sherlock tells Watson that the thing different about him, "empirically speaking", is her.
2) When they are illegally performing post-mortem on a corpse and Sherlock is complimenting Watson on her surgical skills, to which she retorts "We are not having a moment here."

And then there's Sherlock. Sherlock and Watson are polar opposites here, which is why they get along so well together. Yes, Sherlock drives Watson up the wall, and Sherlock is baffled by Watson not deducing things at the same speed as him, but what they are, are really great friends. Watson is Sherlock's only friend and Sherlock is Watson's best friend. Just watch "The Reichenbach Falls" to see what both of them mean to each other. Also unlike in Elementary, where Watson had to prove herself to Sherlock at first, I think Cumberbatch's Sherlock is immediately drawn to Freeman's Sherlock.
Apart from all of "The Reichenbach Falls", and everytime someone thinks they're in a relationship, one my favourite moment of theirs was when Watson gets irritated with Sherlock's um... looks and says "You being all mysterious with your... cheekbones, and turning your coat collar up so you look cool." Not helping all the rumours, John :P

Winners- Both. I love them.

The look etc.

Another of my favourite things about Sherlock is how cinematic it is. It's set in a grey and shadow-y London and that really helps build the mood and the tone for the show. One of its best-looking episodes "The Hounds of Baskervilles" saw Sherlock and Watson heading out to the English wilderness, and all the high cliffs and rolling plains are just gorgeous. This is contrasted in the same episode with the pristine white and very artificial-looking settings of the Dartmoor research base. Also, as I touched upon above, we actually get to see things from Sherlock's viewpoint, as words and calculations appear as just as he is deducing them. They create very cool visuals and give quite an edge to the show and the character.

Elementary in comparison is, as I wrote earlier, a very ordinary TV show. We see the crimes and we see the New York settings- all the townhouses and subways and streets. They are all perfectly adequate, but nothing really pops out as far as the look is concerned. Also, though this has more to do with the way the episodes are written or perhaps with the genre itself, but everything that is shown to us has a pay-off later on in the episode. It becomes slightly annoying because the show becomes very predictable.

I'd also like to briefly touch upon the fashion of the two shows. Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock's look has become quite a style influence, which is very cool. Like the show, people in Sherlock wear rather muted colours and sensible clothes, though with an air of sophistication, more or less. I mean duh, they're British. Of course, this is why Irene popped out so much. In Elementary, Sherlock is much more hip and Watson's fashion choices are often distracting, but not in a bad way. Well, not always. I mean, I would love to be able to walk in high-heeled boots all day. Good on Lucy Liu.

Winner- Sherlock is just better-looking.

So, *obviously*, the overall winner is Sherlock!! Elementary is a fun show, a good show, but Sherlock is, like the man himself, great. I would recommend both, but I will really, really insist on Sherlock. Trust me, your life will change. Cannot wait for series 3 starting Halloween this year!

Just because it's not all about the wits :P


  1. What I don't get is why would they create another Sherlock series when "Sherlock" is still running with such great success! It's a risky move isn't it, since comparisons would inevitably be made.

    I've never seen Elementary, though I am rather curious for Lucy Liu's Watson -- I've always liked her, she's so cute. But I can't imagine a better Irene or Lestrade, not to mention a better modern Sherlock than Cumberbatch... Now, this article clears things up a bit, good one Nik! :D

    1. Apparently they were first going to make an American version of the show, but when that didn't happen, they made their own thing. Yes, the comparisons are inevitable.

      Liu is adorbs. Thanks!

  2. Miller's casting never ceases to amuse me. Ironic that the two actors currently playing Sherlock Holmes on television previously did a play where they alternate roles every night.

    What also amuses me was that I was originally against the whole idea of CBS trying to reap the same success BBC got from Sherlock. Yet the premiere date approached, I figured I'd watch it to see what it was like. Granted, I find Sherlock the victor of the two, but Elementary certainly has its moments.

  3. Sherlock starts Halloween this year? good to know thanks!
    I like them both- Sherlock is number 1, but Elementary is not far behind!

  4. As much as I like Liu I'd have to go with Freeman, his Watson is so adorable.

    But Elementary definitely wins when it comes to Irene for me, as much as I liked the twist I do hope Moiary is someone else, though, because that is just too iconic of a character to reveal so early in the series.

    Also Elementary wins for me when it comes to captain - oh, Aidan Quinn <3333

    Awesome post!

    1. He is. Absolutely.

      I don't think that's going to happen :/ Maybe there's a papa Moriarty?

      Haha, as I said, it comes down to personal preferences. Quinn's great too.


  5. I had my reservations about Elementary at first, but after watching it, it was pretty ok. Although they shared similar factors, I think both are still somewhat different and enjoyable in their own way.

    1. Yes they are. I think they can both be watched, though I sort of revere Sherlock.

      Thanks for the comment!

  6. I would certainly give Sherlock the win over Elementary. You touched upon it, but Elementary could just as well be CSI, just change Grissom's name to Holmes. Or Law & Order: Criminal Intent (I know, no longer running - but Vincent D'onofrio based his detective on Sherlock Holmes). And really, Benedict Cumberbatch just nails the role.

    I do like me some Natalie Dormer, but am content with her on Game of Thrones (more skin on that show anyways ; )

    1. Absolutely. That's probably my biggest issue with Elementary.

      She's freaking amazing on GoT! Thanks for commenting :D

  7. So this only convinced me not to watch Elementary. It sounds like a good but not really extraordinary show... plus, I already love Sherlock so much I think I'll be filled with too high expectations.
    By the way, season 3 really starts this halloween?!

    1. Aww it's still nice. It's a good timepass show.

      Yes it does!!

  8. Great post. I haven't given Elementary a chance because I think it looks a bit silly, but if you like it, I should probably try not to judge and actually sit down and watch it.

    1. Thank you :D
      Maybe you should give it a chance.

  9. I've only watched Elementary because that's the only one currently available for me to watch. I enjoy it, but everywhere I go, people just say Sherlock wins hands down. Really itching to see it!

  10. Sherlock is brilliant, but I really should check out Elementary.

  11. As a big fan of the original Sherlock (The One That Arthur Conan Doyle created), my favorite of all time would be Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock. His version, no doubt to me, is the closest version of Sherlock Holmes. To anyone of you who has not watched Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock, I strongly recommend you google his name. The best traditional Sherlock Holmes I have ever known until now. Then, it’s time to move on the new series.
    If I have to choose between BBC Sherlock and Elementary, I will definitely go for The BBC’ series. Don’t misunderstand that I do not love watching Elementary, I love Lucy Liu’s Joan Watson so much. She is cool, she is charming, she is beautiful and I love her!!! It is mainly because of Lucy Liu that I chose to watch Elementary when the series has just released 2 episodes. Before Elementary I have never thought I could think of Lucy Liu as a beautiful woman. I am Asian, and to Asian’s usual taste, she is not so appealing at first sight. But, the more I watch the series, the more I fall in love with her. I really love Lucy Liu’s performance. She makes the idea of a female Watson so believable.
    And the cases in Elementary are getting more and more interesting. Of course it is different from BBC’s version and I like watching both series, they are nothing alike.
    The problem I have with Elementary is: I could not think of Jonny Lee Miller as a Sherlock Holmes, no matter how hard I try. I know he is playing Sherlock, but I could not think of him as a Sherlock. Jonny Lee Miller is really good, but I only think of his role in the series as an excellent detective, not THE Sherlock Holmes.
    And this is why I would choose BBC’s Sherlock if I have to.
    Even though Benedict’s Sherlock is not the traditional type, I found his style funny at first, somehow I could think of him as Sherlock Holmes after ten minutes of the first episode. I could even image Benedict’s version as the descendant of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Homles.
    To me, if they change the names of main characters in Elementary, it would not make any different. Like the role’s name could be changed, from Sherlock to Benjamin or Greg or Frank… Don’t think that I do not enjoy watching Jonny Lee Miller’s acting. I pretty much like it, though not as much as I love Lucy Liu. What I want to say is, I like Jonny Lee Miller’s performance as a detective, just could not think of him as a Holmes. I think of his role as an eccentric detective with a brilliant mind, but not like the Sherlock who never does relationship and goes crazy when the challenge is not coming. In my opinion, Benedict Cumberbatch’ Sherlock is more believable, if you ask why, then the answer is simply: He reminds me more of the original Sherlock Holmes. The asexuality, the aloofness, the craziness, the restlessness and the childish manners… He makes it.
    I know some of Elementary’s fans would throw negative comments towards me, but this is my personal feelings so It couldn’t be helped. Well, enough saying.

    1. Wow thank you for this comment!

      I completely understand what you mean. Even though I haven't read many Sherlock Holmes books, even I immediately felt that Cumberbatch's Sherlock is very accurate and Miller's isn't.

      I shall check out Brett's version.

      Again thank you :D

  12. For the the thing that is truly missing in the Sherlock/Joan relationship in Elementary is the enjoyment of one another's company. The scenes where they talk about their problem's (Sherlock's addiction, grief over Irene/ Joan's loss of license) would be so much more effective if there were also moments where they just made each other happy. I felt the same was missing from the Man of Steele movie. Jonathan Kent's death would have been so much more effective if we saw some of Clark's happy memories.
    Men and women can absolutely have strong relationships with each other and that relationship be strictly platonic (Harry Potter with Hermione Granger and Luna Lovegood or Willow and Xander and Cordelia and Gunn).

    In Sherlock, we see Sherlock and John genuinely enjoying each other's company in every episode. They have a laugh together (except the Blind Banker, but there are funny moments in that episode). A Study in Pink: they laugh after chasing the cab and at the end when they talked about the bloody awful cabbie. In The Great Game, they laughed about "crap telly" and people talking about Sherlock ripping off John's clothes in a darkened room. In Scandal in Belgravia they laugh about Sherlock being naked in Buckingham Palace and stealing an ash tray. In Hounds of Baskerville, they make a poo joke at the very end when Sherlock tells John how the drug gets out of his system, and John says that he already took care of that.
    Joy and laughter defines relationships as much as being there for each other in pain. All the moments of happiness Sherlock and John Shared in the first five episodes, made Reichenbach Fall that much more effective. When John didn't want people thinking that Sherlock was a fake and Sherlock only got bothered by people thinking he was a fake when he started to fear John may start to believe it. When John said "I know the real you" the audience does not doubt it for a second. John's pain at Sherlock's grave was that much more effective because of all the joy Sherlock brought to his life.
    The moment in Elementary where Sherlock compliment's Joan's surgeon skills, has potential, but it just isn't as effective has when the BBC Sherlock appreciates John's military skills. Elementary seems to have a need to bring the story to a jarring stop when they show Joan's medical skills. It's like the writers are afraid the audience will miss it. The BBC show doesn't stop the narrative when John is being useful, it's part of the natural flow of the story. In Hounds, for example, John pulls rank to get them into Baskerville and Sherlock is just tickled pink about the whole thing.
    Elementary has potential. It has two very talented actors as the leads. They has a talented actress playing Irene. Natalie Dormer was the best Anne Boleyn ever. Her intelligence and cunning was shown on the Tudors.
    In Elementary, all we see is Sherlock and Irene/ *mor*spoiler*arty* talk about how impressed they are with each other. In the BBC show, we see Sherlock and Irene actually have a battle of wits as their own unique way of flirting. I would say that Elementary has dulled down the characters and the actors. Elementary is tell, BBC Sherlock is show. If Elementary worked more on the show aspect of the interpersonal relationships and character development, it would be a much better series.

    1. WOOOOWWW thanks for this comment.

      I adore the relationship between Sherlock and John. They're great friends. I suppose I respect that between Sherlock and Joan.

      I don't think Elementary can ever be better than Sherlock but I agree, it has a lot of potential.

  13. Elementary is also missing a flair in the Deduction scenes, and Sherlock has that flair.
    If they could add more flair whenever Sherlock is deducting things in Elementary, the show would be better then it already is.

    1. True. Sherlock is wayyy more cerebral.

  14. I'm honestly stunned that you consider Liu even remotely on par with Freeman. Never mind that whatever character she has to play, it is certainly not Watson (if you change the complete backstory of a character, you have a different character, period), this woman never emotes her lines. I had no opinion about the actress beforehand (no, I didn't watch Charly's Angels and whatever else she starred in), but Elementary certainly didn't convince me that she is more than an okay actress.

    And Freeman...he is easily one of the best actors which currently grace our screen, better than even Cumberbatch Imho. He just needed to sigh once after his nightmare, and I was already rooting for him. He even beat out Solomin's performance as Watson, which is truly hard to do.

    1. I think she does a pretty decent job of it. Of course Freeman is far, far, far more superior an actor, but I like Joan.