Sunday 3 February 2013

Verdict: Elementary

Prior to watching the first episode of CBS' new crime drama Elementary, I was held the opinion that American adaptations of British television shows are hit and miss, primarily the latter (see Opinion: Brits do it Better). 60 minutes later, it is still immensely tricky to shake off that opinion.

The main lesson to be learnt about Elementary is that you can't take something so distinct in image and ideal and try and make it something it isn't. You can't take something so quintessentially British and Americanize it without losing something. The thing about the Sherlock Holmes is that he comes laden with an associated set of these images that define any book, television show or film that he inhabits; the smoky streets of London, the contrasting characters of Holmes and Watson, Holmes' odd traits and addictions and so on.

The biggest misgiving of Elementary is that it takes these characters' and attempts to transplant them into an alien setting that is ill-fitting of the legend. The established characters and the new spin just don't gel, don't mesh together as neatly as other recent interpretations of the character have done. Had Elementary been the first television show to take Sherlock Holmes and place him in a modern day setting, then maybe it would have been pulled off with a little more success. As it is, Elementary feels like nothing more than a rehash of other ideas that worked better in first place anyway.

First off, let's talk about the man himself. Jonny Lee Miller's drug-addicted Sherlock isn't anything remarkable or memorable. He's patchy and inconsistent, veering from an ADHD-riddled brat one moment to smart, smug and arrogant the next. He doesn't play it cool, instead throwing tantrums and anger fits that lead to him deliberately ramming a parked car.

On the other hand, Lucy Liu acts Dr. Watson well. She doesn't overact it, instead playing it low-key and understated. If fact, she is probably the show's greatest draw card. Outside of the lead duo, the supporting characters such as Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn) are almost instantly forgettable, coming across as one-off Law and Order characters.

In fact, the entire show comes across as just another bland American crime drama. There is little to distinguish Elementary from Law and Order, CSI or Bones, except that the latter of those has some degree of genuine wit and chemistry between its two leads. The twists and turns in Elementary are weak and predictable, nothing out of the ordinary or remarkable. It washes over you with ease; hardly gripping or thrilling in the slightest.

The hard truth is, is that after half an hour, I was longing to watch the BBC's Sherlock rather than intrigued to watch any more of Elementary. Taking a fairly standard American crime show format and simply naming your lead characters Holmes and Watson doesn't make it brilliant. Give Elementary a whirl if your a die-hard fan of Law and Order and CSI: New York. Other than that, I highly recommend you watch Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the BBC's Sherlock, a show that is simply genius on every level.

Click on the links below for my episode reviews of Series 2 of the BBC's Sherlock.

Episode 1: A Scandal in Belgravia
Episode 2: The Hounds of Baskerville
Episode 3: The Reichenbach Fall
Opinion: Reinventing Sherlock

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