Sherlock Holmes Series Elementary Gets a Full-Season Order From CBS: Four Things to Work On

CBS announced yesterday that it’s giving a full-season order to its freshman drama series Elementary. This news isn’t a huge surprise - the modern-day Sherlock Holmes adaptation has been performing admirably for the network on Thursday nights. It’s the second most popular new series of the season and averages somewhere in the 11-14 million viewers per episode range, even if their demos do skew rather on the older side. (This is CBS though, so I’m sure that fact wasn’t terribly unexpected, either.)

For many Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts, this is probably very welcome news – and I agree that more Holmes in any incarnation is almost always excellent. While Elementary did not turn out to be quite the trainwreck I had originally envisioned and I mostly enjoyed the pilot, personally, I’ve found its subsequent episodes to be somewhat mediocre.  Since it’s now confirmed that we’ll be seeing a lot more of Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu for the rest of the year – American seasons run for 22 episodes after all – there’s plenty of time for the show to work out its kinks. Here are a few suggestions.

Play to Jonny Lee Miller’s Strengths. Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock is certainly an interesting take on the character – and I enjoy his more punk rock, edgy kind of vibe. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised that Miller is fantastic at dry, deadpan wit – they need to let him do that all the time, because those have been the moments that I’ve really liked this interpretation and, on more than occasion, laughed out loud. For me, Miller’s Holmes doesn’t give off the same relentless intellectual vibe as Benedict Cumberbatch’s version – not so much that his brain doesn’t even shut off; it’s more that he likes showing his brain off. And that’s an interesting character quirk and they could do a lot with it. I suppose what I’m really saying is that the writers need to get comfortable with letting Miller play to his strengths, which may or may not be what they originally envisioned. Personally, I think he’s much less believable when he has to play Holmes being understanding or apologetic – a Sherlock that’s secretly a softie at heart (unless it’s used in very, very specific instances) just doesn’t work for me. If we must go there, at least make that sort of behavior a deliberate act to achieve some goal, as it was in the third episode with the serial killing teen (and please, please, can we tread lightly on the Daddy issues? Please?). Miller is certainly the most compelling aspect of the show, though, and they should run with that as much as they can. (And it wouldn’t hurt if they made him more Sherlock-ish, not less, too.)

Make Joan More Like John. No, this isn’t a commentary on the genderswap – which, honestly, hasn’t really registered for me one way or the other at this point. My biggest problem with this series is that whatever character Liu is supposed to be playing is perfectly fine, but is not, in fact, John Watson. By stripping the character of most of Watson’s history and rearranging the structure of the Holmes/Watson relationship thanks to the whole sober companion/minder thing, Elementary has totally done away with so much of what, in theory, makes John interesting (and, well, John). Instead, we are left with Joan, who could be pretty much any random character on the street that hangs out with a very smart detective guy. She’s perfectly nice, occasionally gets to be sassy, and even has moments of awesomeness – and goodness knows, I like to support strong women on my TV when I can – but she’s just not Watson, and for me that’s a real barrier to becoming emotionally invested in this series.  (John Watson is my favorite always, can you tell?) Perhaps if Joan were more clearly an audience proxy this wouldn’t be such an issue, as it is, she simply feels like another character that’s there, rather than someone the audience is supposed to connect with.

Focus on the Friendship. I also think a lot of my issues really have to do with the way the Holmes/Watson relationship has been impacted by the sober companion narrative framework – don’t’ get me wrong, I love the stuff that deals with the Holmes-as-addict idea, but the fact that Watson only knows Holmes, is only with Holmes, because she’s being paid to be there is uncomfortable and makes me not trust their relationship. Obviously, whenever Joan’s specified minder-time contract expires she’s going to choose to stay in their apartment, because the show has to continue, but so far this is a pretty lame set up for what is supposed to be one of the most epic friendships of all time. In order to believe in this series, I need to believe in the friendship (Guy Ritchie’s movies prove I’m willing to like pretty much anything if the friendship works) and while every so often this show manages to achieve that, it doesn’t seem to last very long.

Flesh Out the Supporting Cast. Aidan Quinn is currently being wasted as Captain Gregson – and it doesn’t help that he’s basically looking like the cryptkeeper thanks to whatever the make-up department is doing to him every week. One of the fantastic things about the BBC’s Sherlock is that while it’s obviously a show about Sherlock and John, even the smaller, recurring characters are given moments where they can shine and though we may only see them briefly, they still make an impact on viewers. Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft, Molly, even Anderson and Sally Donovan are all memorable, if not likeable, at the very least. And that’s not even counting Moriarty. I’m actually pretty sure that we’ll get to Moriarty at some point in this series, so I’m not too worried about that, but so far, other than Aidan Quinn, I literally could not tell you the name of any other supporting character/actor on Elementary, what they do or how they connect to Sherlock and Watson at all. It would be lovely if we could have this particular world fleshed out more with people we can get to know and care about, beyond the two leads. (It's suprising to me how much I feel the absence of Mrs. Hudson. She's not there a lot in any of the stories/adaptations, true, but she's important!)

What say you, folks? Are you watching Elementary? What do you think of it? And what do you think it might look like by the end of the season?


Lacy Baugher

Lacy's love of British TV is embarrassingly extensive, but primarily centers around evangelizing all things Doctor Who, and watching as many period dramas as possible.

Digital media type by day, she also has a fairly useless degree in British medieval literature, and dearly loves to talk about dream poetry, liminality and the medieval religious vision. (Sadly, that opportunity presents itself very infrequently.) York apologist, Ninth Doctor enthusiast and unabashed Ravenclaw. Say hi on Twitter at @LacyMB