The Sunday Salon: Why You Should Be Watching Elementary

Y’all remember last May, when I said that if Elementary (which I was super worried about) turned out okay, I’d eat my hat? Consider my favorite ushanka gobbled, because I am loving it. To be fair, my errant sense of what is and is not good (one of my favorite movies is Rock of Ages, c’mon, people) means that my love does not immediately translate into any meaningful commentary on its quality, but the love is co-signed by friends, critics, and Scott Westerfeld. Step aside, Sherlock, I have a new favorite modern Holmes adaptation. (It’s a niche market.) Here’s three reasons why you should clear up your Thursday nights.  Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu

1. The Power of Friendship

The main reason I was so nervous about Elementary was because, with John Watson now rendered as Joan Watson, all the elements for a traditional procedural fell into place and began haunting me: what if they turned Sherlock Holmes into a CBS procedural? You know: he’s an eccentric consultant who doesn’t play by the rules! She’s a woman in authority forced to work with him! Unresolved sexual tension and increasingly labored mysteries of the week ahoy! But my worries were unfounded. (Well, not so much on the labored mysteries part, but I’ll get to that.) The great strength of Elementary is its character writing, which comes out not only in the relationship between Sherlock and Joan, but also in their relationships with everyone else.

The Guy Ritchie films enter the friendship in medias res and Sherlock even remarks upon how quickly John becomes loyal to Sherlock, but Elementary starts at ground zero and shows them slowly becoming friends and colleagues in small, organic ways. They like each other and respect each other, but they also challenge each other: Sherlock pushes Joan to be a better detective, while Joan pushes Sherlock to be a better person. (Sherlock says plenty of problematic things; Joan never lets him get away with it. God bless you, Joan, that’s an unforgiving job.) Plus, they actually show the two negotiating their relationship, the kind  And Sherlock’s relationship with Captain Gregson of the NYPD is just as respectful and complex, as is his relationship with Detective Bell, another person on the force. I basically wail “FRIENDSHIP” at the screen every time I watch an episode, is what I’m trying to say.

Funny T-shirt

2. Johnny Lee Miller’s Sherlock Holmes

Miller’s Sherlock is my favorite Holmes to date. To be fair, I’ve only seen the Guy Ritchie films, Sherlock, and Elementary, and I do like all three interpretations of Holmes, but Miller’s Sherlock is the one that I’d actually want to spend more than a day with. Robert Downey Jr. leaps for the eccentricity and Benedict Cumberbatch leaps for the sociopathic aloofness, but Miller’s Holmes goes for a kind of humanity that I haven’t seen the character imbued with too often. He understands and respects social norms, even if he often opts out of them, and he actually seems to like people, even if he won’t admit it to himself sometimes. He’s selfish, but it it’s in an almost childlike way—he’s always willing to learn, and it’s that expansive generosity, that love for the bizarre, that makes him so engaging.

Of course, this doesn’t render him a starry-eyed eccentric; Elementary places Holmes’ drug habit front and center, rendering him a recovering drug addict struggling with maintaining sobriety. For a character so obsessed with detail, his drug addiction is something that brings him crashing down to Earth, a physical problem that his mind cannot overcome. He can be vulnerable, as well as violent, and Miller owns all of it. Looking a bit like Sidney Paget’s original illustrations of Holmes doesn’t hurt.

Candis Cayne

3. Variety is the Spice of Life

In the overwhelmingly white landscape of primetime American television, Elementary stands out. Obviously, there’s Lucy Liu, whose performance I haven’t touched on, but has grown on me. (To be fair, I am a sucker for tall dark femmes, so it’s not like it’s hard for her to impress me.) Her Joan, although she lacks military experience, is smart and capable, as well as enormously generous of spirit in a quiet way: thus her occupation as sober companion. Detective Bell, a pleasingly no nonsense officer who has, nonetheless, managed to forge an actual friendship with Holmes and appears in almost every episode, is African-American. Holmes’ sponsor, a recurring character, is an African-American ex-con who, just like Joan, will tell him off when he’s getting too high and mighty. And Elementary’Mrs. Hudson, Ms. Hudson, is a trans woman (played by an actual trans actress!) whose story is not about being trans in the slightest. Brilliant!

True, Elementary isn’t perfect—last week’s episode, “Dead Man’s Switch”, isn’t the most progressive in terms of sizeism—but the fact remains that Elementary not only tries in terms of diversity, but often succeeds. I’m very much looking forward to their take on Irene (who will be played by Natalie Dormier), as well as their take on Mary Morstan, however she’s translated into the world of Elementary.

This week has been my last full week of classes. On Friday, I threw my friends an eighties prom, which was a lot of fun, but that meant most of yesterday was work, punctuated by Doctor Who and watching Lifetime with said friends. Today, I’ve got errands to run, and more studying, so it’s just hunkering down for the home stretch, really.

This week’s links:

Do you watch Elementary? Got a favorite Holmes adaptation?

11 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Why You Should Be Watching Elementary

  1. The character writing is really good for this show, but the cases are…not. I wish that Elementary could figure out a way to make the cases seem less CSI so I could really love the show. Even so I totally agree about JLM’s Holmes he’s adorable. And I’m looking forward to the finale episodes as well, hoping they bring something new to the show.

    • Yeah, you kind of have to ignore the cases to get to the meat of character development, but I feel like I have to do that with every procedural I watch.

      The finale should be awesome. I read a spoiler and had to dance it out.

  2. Late to your post because I have just watched all the first season myself, and agree wholeheartedly with all that you say. The crimes are a bit ho-hum, but the characters are just fantastic.

    If you can get hold of them, try Jeremy Brett as Holmes in the Granada tv series versions. They’re direct adaptations of the stories, set in period, and Brett does Holmes beautifully. The two actors who play Watson, David Burke and Edward Hardwicke, are portrayed as credibly less clever than Holmes, but not bumbling at all. I love Miller as this modern-day Holmes, but Brett is my choice for the authentic, Victorian, Holmes.

  3. Pingback: BOOK TO SCREEN: Elementary | Ela's Book Blog

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