CBS ELEMENTARY - OBVIOUSLY SUBJECTIVE
Author: SherlockExtra - Translator: Revati
I rarely write a very subjective article. But I do it now, because I think it’s necessary. It is a big heartache for me that my illness inhibited me from engaging in Sherlock Holmes as much as I wanted to. I seldom have the opportunity to watch series with lots of episodes, and I also have to confess that I do not like all kinds of detective stories. I watched many, but not all episodes of CBS Elementary, and what I saw fascinated me. Lots of the cases made me think and there were scenes that made me smile as well.
There are examples in culture when an earlier artwork or story is used to create something else from it, and this new thing makes life better, being a toally new branch of art. For example, the Romans took over the Greek gods and gave them new characteristics and put them into new situations – and in these cases the „latter version” is not a mere copy, a faint imitation or a poor second try, but a new and fresh fantasy world. For me Elementary is such a „Roman version” of Conan Doyle’s original stories. As a matter of course, in the later episodes there are less canonical references and more departures from the original characters. I am a fan of the classical Sherlock, so I believe that Holmes is the most excellent in his own era (Link: Mistakes of the modern Sherlock Holmes adaptations). I would be happier when the main characters were called Tom and Mary, yet me and my father became fond of this series, and I am convinced that it makes the world a better place.
When I first heard that there will be another Holmes adaptation, I was worried that it would be a rubbish intended to have lots of profits, since sadly there are lots of these derogatory remakes. The first ray of optimism was Jonny Lee Miller, who is undoubtedly one of my favourite actors. If you have seen Trainspotting, MindHunters or Frankenstein, you know that he’s an artist who has a natural acting style with accurate, professional work and heroic energy. He is able to mix the masterful peak performance of British acting and the humility of the devoted working man. With Elementary he had the opportunity to portray an original genius who is fond of his profession. Sadly, I think neither him, nor the late Jeremy Brett are recognized for their outstanding portrayals. Though this is not their fault or disgrace. They both can be righteously proud of what they made of the character. I cannot know what the future brings, but they will always have their distinguished place in my heart and on sherlockian-sherlock.com. As I heard, Miller got the advice not to accept the role, yet he decided to get it. What I especially like in him is that he pays attention to the standard of the parts he accepts – sadly not all actors are like him. For me it was a good omen that he thought the offering was decent.
It makes me glad that Jonny Lee Miller was well aware of his own acting abilities, of the values of the series and he dared to accept the role. He made an excellent decision and did a fantastic job. His hairstyle changed several times, but at intervals he resembled the Sidney Paget illustrations. The most impressing thing was that his American consulting detective is such a good-hearted, nice and likeable man just like Doyle’s sleuth of the Victorian era. Sherlock Holmes has lots of humanity – I would leave my life in his hands if he would be a living person.
Sidney Paget drew inspiration for the model of Sherlock Holmes from his brother Walter. Later, Walter has also made drawings about the great detective.
I just love the intro of the series. Nobody is killed, there’s no fight, you do not see blood dripping. All you see is a machine that works perfectly – this clearly shows that you will meet a genius who is able to plan and construct such a thing. Some weapons appear and the head of a sculpture is broken – the dynamic and the thrilling music is enough to allure the viewer in 20 seconds. This is worth to the canonical Holmes as well, the detective knew and used the equipments and opportunities that science offered. With this he was well ahead his time. In reality, CBS used more elements and they were cut and edited masterfully into the illusion of a moving machine – but this is a great achievement anyway, and symbolises a machine Sherlock constructed, which shows his unique cleverness, creativity and technical knowledge.
The series was only in production when I heard here in Hungary teenage fangirls of BBC Sherlock to sniff. They pondered how the creators dared to have the British Holmes living in America. I explained to them that maybe they are not familiar with the Canon – Doyle’s hero is tied to America on multiple levels, plus the author liked the country very much and travelled there many times. There were movie and book adaptations placed in the USA before Elementary. Though the famous tenant of Baker Street was modelled after British Professor Joseph Bell, Sir Arthur used another person as an inspiration too – the accomplished American surgeon, Oliver Wendell Holmes. (Link: The name of Sherlock Holmes). Indeed, the famous genius is very much appreciated in the United States. (Related article: Sherlock Holmes in America) Talking about the American references, we have to mention that fantastic American actors have also played the King of Detectives. And the actor that made Doyle love his hero again was American as well: the legendary William Gillette, who portrayed the sleuth on stage.
The American references of the world’s most famous detective:
Sherlock Holmes in America
(I bought several Holmes memorabilia on Ebay from Americans, and all were reliable sellers. My sincere thanks to them hereby. My special thanks goes to the American Sherlockians, because they are the most frequent visitors of sherlockian-sherlock.com, and when me and my fellow editor, Revati launch a game, most of the applicants are from the USA as well. Another pleasure for me is that we have a honourable partnership with a great American Sherlock Holmes club, The Nashville Scholars of The Three Pipe Problem.)
But the female Watson made me worry. I’d never witness a romantic relationship between Holmes and his friend, would be Watson either a man or a woman. Conan Doyle created a wonderful friendship, which is one of the noblest human values, and he did not wanted more. People envy Sherlock the most because of two things: the first is his extremely high intelligence and the second is his friend, John H. Watson. When either is changed, we just can’t speak about the legendary master sleuth any more. My opinion is that people should respect these characteristics. Fortunately the crew of Elementary knew this and handled it with dignity.
Later I heard that the creators of BBC Sherlock threatened the makers of Elementary that in case of similarity between their show and the American they will institute an action. That’s why Watson had to be written as a female (If this is not true, my apologies to the BBC crew, but I have read this.). So Robert Doherty had to totally re-write everything he planned to film. Yet he did not give up, but created a whole new world instead. With hard and heroic work he produced another opus, with Joan Watson. Doherty proved how prolific and creative he is. A true talent, who belongs to the best screenwriters with a reason. I liked this complication. The similar happened to Conan Doyle. The first edition of the Holmes stories was not a success, he had to wait some years. The Scottish writer was brave enough to hold on and weave through his hero with hope. Doherty also had patience, diligence and faith (Related article: I believe in Sherlock Holmes). The threat (if there was any, I add once more) did not hinder this talented writer in deploying his knowledge and showing what he can do. The result is a great series that he can be really proud of.
Doherty’s team made 154 episodes, and they did not lost logic on their way – this unfortunately happened in the modern British series (BBC Sherlock). In Elementary you see interesting and exciting detective stories, the sleuth’s brain work is brilliantly logical, policemen are not stumbling fools, and the friendship between the main characters is wonderful. The scenes dealing with drug addiction were a little bit too much for my taste, but I’m well aware of the fact that this is a much bigger problem in the United States than in Hungary, where I live. I’m glad that the consulting detective of CBS quits this bad habit, just like Jeremy Brett did.
Crimes are very exciting. Of course there are violent scenes, but these were beautifully balanced with humane and uplifting pictures.
Lucy Liu’s portrayal of the clever doctor who quickly becomes Sherlock’s perfect partner was very pleasing. As far as I know, the two actors were already good friends before they started to work together, and I do hope that their friendship became even stronger during shooting. I heard that Liu signed her contract only after Miller did it – so it was sure that she’ll be working with him and not with someone else. If this is true, then it’s fantastic that friendship and being part of a quality production is more important for her than money and exhibitionism. She’s not a celebrity – she’s a true artist, and a kind, loving human. She’s beautiful, as most Asian actresses, but I must confess that long before the series I only liked her performance out of actresses of the same origin. There is some kind of peaceful naturalness in Lucy, what is also present in Miller’s way of acting, so it was a real pleasure to watch them together. I wish both of them success and I hope their friendship lasts forever.
My appreciation goes to the supporting actors in the series, and to the production crew as well. It was a great joy to watch Aidan Quinn. In our cruel world, driven by brutal aggression, foolishness and humiliation, Elementary made a stand for friendship, thinking, work, patience, understanding and other human values, and clearly has the message that we have to believe that better times are coming. I think posterity will be grateful to this series and its message will become reality.
“ There are absolute masterpieces that move us intensely: Mozart's Requiem, Homer's Odyssey, the Sistine Chapel, King Lear. To fully appreciate their brilliance may require a long apprenticeship, but the reward is sheer beauty--and not only this, but the opening of our eyes to a new perspective upon the world. ”
(Carlo Rovelli, Italian theoretical physicist and writer)
In Hungary the series is still on air, and there are many re-runs. So I often watch an episode and let it touching my heart.
Modern-day Sherlock Holmes? It’s Elementary.
New seasons with the same standards? I would watch them. It’s Elementary.
Present for you: Free download - CBS Elementary and BBC Sherlock Bookmarks
Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes
Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels and short stories