CBS ELEMENTARY - SEASON 1 REVIEW
Author: Bálint Teller (Walentin) - Translator: Revati
Perhaps it is not an overstatement that Sherlock Holmes had never been so successful in the entertainment industry as at the beginning of the 21st century. While in cinemas the Victorian sleuth of Robert Downey Jr. produces lots of money, on the small screen the performance of Benedict Cumberbatch scored full marks from critics and viewers. In addition the latter enchanted the audience with placing the detective genius into modern setting. Witnessing the victory of the BBC it was not in the least abrupt that CBS made its own contemporary Holmes series. I can easily declare that the American version entitled Elementary copes with the British series.
Before I go into details I have to put down one thing. It is pointless to compare these two series, because except some similarities their structure is very different. And I do not only mean the fact of changing Watson’s gender. The dissimilarities are more diverse. Namely the British ’Sherlock’ can be seen as some kind of CSI series, while Elementary rather belongs to the old-fashioned detective series like Monk. We have to bear in mind these facts.
And now let’s begin the review.
Life is not easy for Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) these days. The eccentric, bilious, but brilliant English detective had only recently fought his addiction to pills and he tries to rouse himself far from home, in New York. To avoid relapse he gets a kind of mentor, Joan Watson (Lucy Liu), who is a surgeon retired from practice. Though their relationship was meant to be temporary, it turns out soon that the unstable sleuth and the embittered doctor are a great team together. So the unorthodox duo solves the most complicated cases in the Big Apple with the help of two local cops, Captain Gregson and Detective Bell.
Just like with other adaptations, one of the most important questions regarding Elementary was how will the leading actor portray the legendary sleuth. Will he be able to interpret the esteemed figure of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels? And here we arrived at the first really significant virtue of the series. Chosing Jonny Lee Miller was a very good decision. The British actor’s performance is excellent, he is great as the cantankerous detective who often has bursts of anger and whose mind never rests. I must confess that at first I feared that the creators will make a hot dog eating, baseball hat wearing yankee from him. But favorably my fear proved to be illogical. Holmes is still a pure Englishman, whose eyes radiate with intelligence – thanks to Miller.
However, we must not forget dr. Watson, whose character is also a direct hit. Her crucial remarks and clever advices are substantial in solving the cases, and thanks to these she really becomes a helpful partner for Holmes. It is emphasized in the series. Possibly Watson had never been so matched with him. We can feel the most in this adaptation what is unfortunately missing in almost every other versions. In Elemenetary Watson is not foolish, not just a mere chronicler - and Doyle imagined him exactly how the CBS series portrays the character. In fact, in the novels the doctor is a smart man – the thing is that the brilliant mind of Holmes overshadows those whose brain capacity is above the average. Elementary’s Watson is highly educated, and Lucy Liu’s acting is very enjoyable, so the relationship between the main characters works really well. So if you have no problem with accepting a female Watson, then you surely cannot say anything wrong about Charlie’s former angel.
Though this is not the first occasion on which the good doctor is portrayed as a woman - in the 1976 movie 'The Return of the World's Greatest Detective appeared a female Watson besides the Holmes of Larry Hagman. (Recommended site: Larry Hagman)
We have to talk about another significant thing when discussing an adaptation of high standard – it is the elaboration of the crime storyline. We can be contented with it. The majority of the cases is smart and makes you think. Not every episodes are perfect, but mostly we can see superb deductions and carefully planned crimes. The creator of the series, Robert Doherty evidently emphasized these details. Of course it is not surprising – series like ’Medium’, ’Tru Calling’ and ’Ringer’ can be attached to his name.
But having a detective alone does not mean quality. There are lots of series (especially those with a comedy touch) in which investigating is absolutely languid. Good examples for that are some tv shows of USA Network. Monk had great stories during its eight seasons, but the same cannot be said about Psych (though it is very popular) and Common Law.
I have to remark that the serried storyline comes at a price. Sometimes the events are so complex that you can hardly follow them. I must confess that there were some perplexing episodes that I had to watch twice in order to be able to follow all details. And what is more, in most cases there are no references to earlier things, so if you forget some meaningful parts, you cannot follow the current events. My opinion is that (even if many people do not like it) maybe it would have been better to show the occurrences a little more explicate way. Because of this reason it is hard to watch the series while you are doing something else at the same time, you have to concentrate on the events so hard. It is useful to have a dictionary ready at hand for the complex dialogues.
At the same time there is one thing which is very beneficial in the series: the detectives solve the cases, they are not waiting for special machines to give the results. Brainwork is important, just like in real, old-fashioned thrillers.
The stories are mostly the creations of the producers. There is one exception, episode 20, which is an adaptation of a Conan Doyle story, The Master Blackmailer. I think those who read the original novels will find this episode interesting.
Anyway, the majority of the episodes are separate, with some links to each other – there is character development and their relationship changes. Friendships are depicted very authentically which helps us to identify with the characters. In the season’s last four episodes (from 21 to 24) we get a continuous storyline which uncovers many mysteries. Though some details can be deduced and may seem familiar to those who read the novels, it does not spoil the pleasure.
Earlier I mentioned Monk - and I did it with a purpose. There are many similiarities in the two series. Their heroes are eccentric and pull themselves together (Sherlock Holmes and Adrian Monk) and there is a female character with medical degree in both (dr. Joan Watson and Sharona Fleming). Each has a police captain (Toby Gregson and Leland Stottlemeyer) and a detective (Marcus Bell and Randall Disher). Furthermore in the dubbed versions both detectives have the same Hungarian voice, Szabolcs Seszták.
Jason Gray-Stanford, who plays Disher in Monk, lends his voice to Sherlock Holmes in the cartoon series ’Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century’. Director Jerry Levine, who was one of the directors of the first season of Elementary, directed 12 episodes of Monk. In addition, Monk also has a character named Bell – dr. Neven Bell, Adrian’s second psychologist. Interestingly, Sherlock Holmes was modelled after a man called Bell - dr. Joseph Bell, who was Doyle’s lecturer at university.
(Recommended site: Dr. Joseph Bell)
The list of striking similarities can be replenished further. Lisa Edelstein, who was an important cast member in House, M. D. had a guest appearance in Elementary (there are several Holmes-related references in House). Miller’s Sherlock once finds a bottle of Vicodine – dr. House is addicted to this medicine. (More information: House, M. D. and Sherlock Holmes)
The dubbed versions contain impressive similarities as well. László Tahi Tóth, the Hungarian voice of the legendary Jeremy Brett worked on one Elementary episode. Zoltán Rajkai, the voice of Miller’s Holmes dubbed Andrew Scott’s Moriarty in BBC’s Sherlock. These are more than mere coincidences. (You can read more about the Hungarian voices of the different Sherlock Holmes actors here: The dubbed versions of Sherlock Holmes)
Returning to the review of season 1 I can say it is great. Characters and cases are well elaborated, what lifts Elementary high above average thrillers. Because of unnecessarily comparing it to BBC’s Sherlock many people will not like it, but I think it is worth to give it a chance, as it is really exquisite. I am looking forward season 2. If the episodes can stick to the standard of season 1, I will follow the series.
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Author: Bálint Teller (Walentin)
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The name of Sherlock Holmes
Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels and short stories