Thursday, August 15, 2013

TV Review: CBS Elementary

Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu as Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson in CBS Elementary

After reviewing the cast, here is my second post in my blog series about the first season of CBS Elementary.

Confession time: I was eagerly looking forward to Elementary's pilot episode.

I liked the first season of BBC Sherlock and “The Hounds of Baskerville” from the second season. But certain aspects of “A Scandal in Belgravia” and “The Reichenbach Fall” struck me as odd in a Sherlock Holmes adaptation. I was hoping that Elementary would rectify these (what were in my opinion) issues.

What happened was the exact opposite: Elementary only made me enjoy BBC Sherlock even more and made me appreciate how tough it is to make a modern day adaptation without sacrificing the essence of the characters and the trappings of the Victorian era stories. BBC Sherlock accomplishes what every adaptation sets out to do: pay a loving homage to the legendary creation of Arthur Conan Doyle, while retaining its own unique identity.

Lucy Liu as Joan Watson in CBS Elementary

Elementary, on the other hand….

The show had a weak start with the Pilot Episode and "While You Were Sleeping". The third episode, "Child Predator" was excellent. The fourth episode ("The Rat Race") was OK and the fifth one ("Lesser Evils") was remarkable for the way Joan Watson came into her own for the first time.

The sixth episode ("Flight Risk") is one of my favorites as Miller finally started growing into the role of the fictional detective. This was the time, when I thought: here is a contender for Benedict Cumberbatch’s title as the best modern version of the world’s greatest fictional detective. Boy, was I mistaken.

Click on the link below to buy your copy of Season 1:

The next few episodes were so-so. The series again reached its high in episode # 12 ("M") when one of the famous characters from the Canon made his appearance: Sebastian Moran. As played by the ever reliable Vinnie Jones, Moran remains one of the best aspects of Elementary.

The show maintained its standards with the Super Bowl episode # 14, "The Deductionist".

And the decline started from there.

Guest star John Hannah as Rhys Kinlan in CBS Elementary Episode 15 A Giant Gun, Filled with Drugs

Episode # 15 ("A Giant Gun, Filled with Drugs") was only passable, despite the presence of guest star, John Hannah.

Episode # 16 ("Details") was one of the weakest with the main plot focusing on Detective Bell. Even worse was a running gag that involves Miller’s Holmes conducting surprise attacks on Joan to “prepare” her for any unforeseen life threatening situations.

Episodes # 17 ("Possibility Two") and # 18 ("Deja Vu All Over Again") continued the uneven trend by being boring and interesting respectively.

Candis Cayne as Miss Hudson with Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes in CBS Elementary Episode # 19 Snow Angels

Episode # 19 ("Snow Angels") was interesting due to the plot element of power shutdown and the introduction of the next important Canonical character: Mrs Hudson. As played by Candis Cayne, Miss Hudson is a transsexual and is hired by Miller’s Holmes to work on a weekly basis.

If the viewers were expecting to see Miss Hudson as a recurring figure, they were in for a big disappointment. Miss Hudson has never been seen again. Perhaps, she is busy being someone's muse. Only Season Two will clarify this (or I hope it will).

Episode # 20 ("Dead Man's Switch") was Elementary’s first attempt at adapting a original story: The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton. A novel attempt, but eventually proved to be another one of the mediocre episodes.

F. Murray Abraham as Daniel Gottlieb in CBS Elementary Episode # 21 A Landmark Story

Episode # 21 ("A Landmark Story") is memorable for the character of Daniel Gottlieb. F. Murray Abraham gave a very subdued and a mesmerizing performance as Gottlieb, one of the more cerebral agents of Moriarty. I was hoping that he would indeed turn out to be Moriarty, but no such luck.

Episodes 22, 23 and 24 sounded the death knell for the show, at least to me.

The “reunion” of Holmes and Irene Adler in "Risk Management" marked the exact point, when Miller’s version of Holmes proved to be a completely different person from his namesake. His emotional breakdown at the sight of his “lost love” was nothing like the detective I read in the classic stories by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Jonny Lee Miller and Natalie Dormer as Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler Moriarty in CBS Elementary Episode # 24 Heroine

"The Woman" would further prove this point, as we get to see Miller’s version of Holmes and Natalie Dormer’s Irene Adler/Moriarty getting very intimate with each other.  At least, Guy Ritchie had the courtesy to leave such things to the viewer’s imagination during the Holmes-Adler encounter in the hotel room in the first Sherlock Holmes movie.

To add insult to injury, Miller’s Holmes is busy protecting his lady love to pay attention to seemingly trivial things like apprehending Moriarty. He is content to leave such tasks to Joan.

Joan does prove to be the "Heroine" and traps Moriarty using a simple-minded plan that Miller’s Holmes already used in Episode # 2. Not to be outdone, Miller’s Holmes names a newly discovered species of bees (yes, those bees again) as "Euglassa Watsonia" after Joan.

Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes in CBS Elementary

In the next post, I will make some suggestions (that if implemented), I think will help justify naming Miller's character "Sherlock Holmes".

Click here to read all my posts about CBS Elementary.

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Image Source: CBS


  1. I have no arguments with you on this. I tried to go in with an open mind, too... :/

    Another issue with the Irene thing I had was that throughout the whole thing, the Sherlock/Irene relationship was rather generic. At least the other two TRIED to make it interesting. (the movies being more successful...)

    ...Did I just give "Belgravia" credit for something Irene and Sherlock-related? O_O

    1. Thanks Loveable Freak.

      I think BBC Sherlock comes out the best, when it comes to portraying the Sherlock-Irene dynamic. Both Sherlock and Irene are intrigued by each other. They walked the thin line without crossing it and the relationship and the show comes out unscathed (relatively speaking).

      Both the Guy Ritchie movies and Elementary took liberties with the Sherlock-Irene dynamic and made them out to be active lovers. The only difference being that the Guy Ritchie movies suggested the physical intimacy in a more subtle way, while Elementary took a more in-your-face approach.

      I am not even going to get started on the implications of Irene Adler and Moriarty being the same person in the CBS show.


    2. Yeah. I'm not fond of the whole "lovers" reinterpretation.

      Also, another thing I have to give points to the movies for is Sherlock's handling of Irene being dead in A Game of Shadows. Seemed more realistic for Holmes's character, especially compared to Elementary...

    3. Well said, Loveable Freak.

      Credit to Guy Ritchie and RDJ for handling that aspect well.


  2. I think Elementary has been hit and miss (w/more hits than misses). Granted, there were some bad episodes (Possibility Two & One Way to Get Off I think were the weakest), but some episodes were brilliant (Child Predator, The Deductionist, and especially M...a wild hour of television w/I think Miller's best turn).

    Since I come at this w/little to no exposure to Sherlock (and their fans driving me crazy w/their "there WAS no Sherlock prior to Cumberbatch and there SHALL BE no Sherlock after Cumberbatch" theology), I see things from a different angle. On the whole, I make so secret to enjoying this series, though I hope the next season irons out whatever kinks there are (a tighter focus on stories among the top). Still, I can't say that I hate Elementary. Good though not Great but Hoping...

    I now ask for advise: how Buddy2Blogger, can I enjoy Sherlock when some of their fans insist I acknowledge Cumberbatch as a genius and demand (metaphorically) I renounce my beloved Brett (I shall have no other gods before Benny)? THAT, more than anything, makes me downright leery to venture into Sherlock. Thanks.

    1. I agree about "Child Predator", "The Deductionist" and "M". They were very good episodes.

      In my humble opinion, Elementary has been more misses than hits. Still, I believe in the saying: “To each his own”.

      I do not consider myself an expert on giving out advices. Still, to answer your question, I can offer you my perspective on how I approach BBC Sherlock: I like Benedict Cumberbatch's performance very much, but my all time favorite continues to be Vasily Livanov. I do not think that one has to renounce his/her personal favorite, just to watch Sherlock or appreciate Benedict's performance.

      I enjoy Benedict Cumberbatch's version as a modern Sherlock Holmes, just as I enjoy Vasily Livanov's as the Canonical version.

      Perhaps, the same might work for you too. That is however, just my personal opinion.

      Thanks Rick for stopping by.


    2. Thanks. You are so wise, and maybe there can be a happy compromise where I can retain my love of Brett and appreciate Cumberbatch.

    3. You are welcome, Rick.


    4. I don't think that the theology really exist outside of the really fanatic wing every big fandom has. If the CBS hadn't asked for a remake beforehand and "accidentally" called their show an American version of Sherlock, I doubt that there would have been such an uproar. I am in a couple of Sherlock and Sherlock Holmes forums, and other current Sherlock Holmes projects (like a planed series focussing on Mrs. Hudson, an interactive e-book which features a steampunk version with a female Mycroft (yeah!) and the newest TV show) have been meet with either interest or "let's see how it plays out".
      I always say that there are two types of Sherlock Holmes shows and movies: Those who only use the concept, and those which are seriously trying to tackle canon. Between those who really work with canon, I always say: If you want something really close to canon, watch the Granada version. If you want something, which is close to canon but isn't afraid to mix things around a little bit for a better and more dynamic screenplay, watch the Russian version. And if you want something which makes you experience Sherlock Holmes, similar to the way the original readers did, like a contemporary story which feels real in a way, then you should watch Sherlock, immediately. All three approaches work, and I really have trouble to say that one is better than the other...I don't hesitate to say, though, that Granada has the best Irene Adler, the Russian version the best canonical version of the Reichenbach Fall, and Sherlock the best Watson, the best Lestrade and the best Mycroft.

    5. Thanks for the comment.

      I agree with your thoughts. Some adaptations are a celebration of Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary detective, while some are just crass attempts to cash in on the character's popularity.

      The Russian adaptation and BBC Sherlock fall into the first category.

      Elementary, in my humble opinion, belongs to the second category.


    6. That's actually not what I meant...there are adaptations who play with the concept and do it in a way I really enjoy (though Elementary is not one of them - I think that you can change the character, or the setting or the era, but if you change all three and don't even do the stories, you are in trouble). Original stories can have it's own charm, when you feel the love for the character in the adaptation. For example, I very much like The Great Mouse Detective and the very obscure TV series from the 1980s with Whitehead as Sherlock Holmes, and "The private live of Sherlock Holmes" is not based on a case either, but more an intelligent commentary on canon.
      Not that sticking to the stories necessarily makes a good adaption...there are way too many awful Hound of Baskerville adaptations out there, for example.

    7. I too like The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. As you rightly pointed out, the movie is a commentary on the Canon. BBC Sherlock too does that time and again.

      I have seen the Geoffrey Whitehead series - one of the good adaptations out there, even if Geoffrey's Holmes often comes off as bland.

      I agree about the less than impressive adaptations of "The Hound of the Baskervilles". Possibly, the worst one (in my humble opinion) is the 2002 BBC adaptation with Richard Roxburgh. Even the Granada version is weak, considering the usual standards of the series.

      I personally like the Russian version (Vasily Livanov) and the 1939 adaptation (Basil Rathbone).

      I too like the adaptations that play with the character and the stories, without losing the essence. BBC Sherlock does this very well, while the Guy Ritchie movies do so with a relatively lesser level of success.

      CBS Elementary fails even as a pastiche.

      Thanks once again for the thoughtful comment.


    8. I'm always happy when someone knows the Whitehead series...I have a really soft spot for it. It does the commentary from time to time, too, I especially have to grin every time when in the pilot episode Lestrade (rightly) points out that the idea that some old enemy from America turned up after all those years to take revenge is preposterous. I had hoped that with the current Sherlock Holmes craziness someone would unbury it and at least show it again in TV, but no dice.
      I actually don't really like the Basil Rathbone adaptations (shocking, I know). I like the first two movies, but I positively loath the three propaganda movies and while some of the later ones are better, I just can't get over Watson's stupidity. I also think that Basil Rathbone's version is too perfect to be likable.
      My favourite adaptations are (not necessarily in that order), Sherlock, Granada, Livanov, Whitehead, The Great Mouse Detective and the Hammer version of the Hound of Baskerville. There are some others I like, but those are close to my heart for one reason or another. Well, and the Detective Conan anime, even though it is more a homage than an adaptation.
      And yes, the 2002 adaptation of HoB is really, really bad, but I'm not sure if it is worse than the 1978 version (honestly, who thought that it would be a good idea to make a comedy out of this in the first place?). And yes, the Granada version is weak by the usual standards of the series. As is the version of Sherlock and the version of Livanov (I can't stand Henry of Baskerville in that one, it is easily the worst part of the series in my humble opinion). I don't know what it is with this novel. I'm just writing an article about some of the worst Sherlock Holmes adaptations out there (I'm a masochist, I know), and man, there are some really bad takes.

    9. As you must be knowing for sure, Patrick Newell who played Lestrade in the Whitehead series also played Blessington in Granada adaptation of "The Resident Patient".

      I agree with you about the Rathbone series: Except for the first two (set in the Victorian era) and a few of the later ones, many were not so good. I too do not like Nigel Bruce's Watson and the fact that Rathbone's version missed the more complex nature of Sherlock Holmes' character.

      I have not seen the Detective Conan anime. I will look out for it.

      I have heard about the 1978 adaptation of THoTB. I will give this one a miss :)

      I like the Livanov adaptation of THoTB. Yes, the Henry Baskerville is a bit over the top, but it meshes with the overall fun nature of the series. As good is Livanov is throughout the series, I think he gave one of his best performances in this episode.

      My personal favorites are the Vasily Livanov series and BBC Sherlock. I also like a bunch of others, but these two are at the very top of the list.

      I look forward to reading your article.


    10. I just realized that I have been lurking around for a while without properly introducing myself (I totally overlooked that I could comment under my LJ account, or I would have done it earlier).

      The Detective Conan anime is difficult to explain...but before I started to work on the "worst list", I put together a "must-see" list, and I put Detective Conan on it. (I'm also trying to line up all the canon references in Sherlock in case you are interested, but that's an on-going project)

      I think his best performance is in "The Agra Treasure", when he has to sell the romance (which is not easy to do, considering that it is very much a "love at first sight" thing). My favourite episode of the series is the first one, though, because they take so much time for phase when Watson is trying to figure out Holmes. I think this is the only adaptation which really delved into the part of the story ("Sherlock" refers to it briefly though when John makes his internet research).

      And I agree so much, those two are my favourites, too. I know that a lot of people put the Granada series above everything else, but I think that a few episodes (especially the later ones) are not that good and that an adaption which claims to be true to the text shouldn't skip the first meeting and Watson's marriage. Plus, sometimes it is too close to the stories to a degree that it becomes a little bit draggy. It is a good one, but I prefer the more approach of the other two shows.

      Well, I look forward to your reviews of Elementary season 2....I won't bother with it myself (I suffered through enough episodes of season 1, thank you very much), but I like to keep an eye on how it develops. It seems that the Moriarty reveal has become some sort of base breaker between the fans of the show.

    11. Nice to meet you, Swanpride :)

      I like your "must-see" list. In addition to the Vasily Livanov series and BBC Sherlock, it also has some of my other favorites:The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.

      As you put it correctly, Without a Clue had a great concept, but missed something in execution. Still, the casting is excellent.

      I agree with your thoughts about the Granada series. Too much loyalty to the Canon can be detrimental at times.

      You are spot on with your comment about both the Vasily Livanov series and BBC Sherlock capturing the first meeting of Holmes and Watson. That is such a pivotal moment in the Canon. To the best of my knowledge, the Ronald Howard series in 1954 is the only other series to do so.

      You are most welcome to check out my reviews of Season 2 of Elementary. I might be in a minority on this aspect, but the Moriarty-Irene Adler "switch" and more specifically, Sherlock-Irene "romance" was the defining moment, when I lost all hopes in the show as an adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary detective.


    12. The one with Whitehead does too, but then, it's the same producer the 1954 series had. In both cases it is just so incredible funny to see Holmes saying stuff but explaining nothing, leaving it to Watson to figure out what he actually meant.

      I wanted the list to be as complete as possible concerning the different angles they did on Holmes. I guess so that some Cushing fans wouldn't agree with me about his TV series (but I really don't think he was a particularly good Holmes, serviceable, and certainly better than many in this role, but not inspiring).

      According to TV Tropes a couple of Elementary fans were not happy with this development, either. I certainly didn't like the twist at all (but then, I'm not a fan, watching the show was more like watching a train wreck). A female Moriarty I take any day (in fact since Moriarty is supposed to be the kind of character nobody would consider to be a crime lord, a female one makes totally sense, since we tend to think of crime lords as male), but not one which has a romantic relationship with Holmes and certainly not one which is called "Irene Adler". The worst thing is that I saw it coming. It wasn't surprising at all, it was a typical "The Mentalist" ending. Honestly, Elementary feels so much like "The Mentalist" and "Castle", I could swear that they simply rewrote old scripts from those shows just enough that it isn't obvious anymore.

      I lost the hope way earlier, though. I think when they butchered the Milverton case. I really don't get how you can adapt a story without remotely understanding what it is really about. Holmes facing an enemy which is so clever that the only chance to defeat him is reverting to criminal means, that's what makes this case so compelling. I hope the BBC will do a better job when they adapt the character.

    13. I forgot about the Whitehead episode. Long time, since I saw it.

      Peter Cushing was unhappy with the production issues during the filming and hence his performance is only average in the BBC Series (1964-65). His performance is much better in the Hammer Hound (1959), but that production is marred by the script.

      A female Moriarty is a good idea, but that woman being Irene Adler is just terrible.

      I am sure BBC Sherlock writers will ace the adaptation of Charles Augustus Milverton.


    14. It is my favourite of the series. I especially love the dialogue at the very end, when Holmes explains his conclusion and Watson all the time gives him the perfect in to say "elementary", but he never does it until finally Watson says that it is elementary. Makes me crack up every time.

      I actually like the Hammer version, despite (or perhaps because) they took some liberties with the script. They certainly did a good job with the horror aspect of the story.

      I hope that they build up CAM as the new big baddy which will be still around for series four. In a way, he was always more dangerous than Moriarty...Sherlock managed to take Moriarty down by legal means after all, while CAM was nearly untouchable. In a way, Sherlock never really defeated him.

    15. I need to rewatch the Whitehead series. It has been a long time.

      I like the Hammer version too. Peter Cushing is always excellent in his roles.

      You make a great point about Milverton. I am excited to see what the BBC series does with this character.


  3. As you already know, I enjoyed the series more than you did. However, my opinion of its quality has lessened recently after thinking about the series more, but I will most certainly continue to watch the series.


    1. Thanks James. I will be watching Season 2 as well.


  4. I must admit I agree with you on every level. After couple of episodes I believed that Miller's finally aproaching his own way how to portrait Sherlock likably, but as the season was nearing its end, I just couldn't find anything that reminded me of canonical Sherlock Holmes. The Woman just ruined him for me, even though I have been and always will be amazed by Natalie Dormer's looks and talent. I was giving up, decided not to watch Season 2, until I heard some interesting news - Rhys Ifans to appear as my favorite Canon character, Mycroft Holmes. And even though he looks nothing like him, I am willing to give it a shot.

    1. Thanks Patrik for stopping by.

      Great to know that we share similar opinions about Elementary.

      Mycroft Holmes happens to be my favorite too.

      Sean Pertwee has been cast as Lestrade - so that is another reason to watch Season 2.


  5. Very good review, I agree, agree, agree. The BBC show just has more flair, and both Benedict and Jonny are exceptional actors and they've both worked together in the Play Frankenstein recently. I just think Benedict has better writers, and only three episodes to contend with. Jonny has mediocre writers with 24 shows to deal with, which makes for a bigger challenge. Shazza.

    1. Thanks Shazza.

      Perhaps with better writing, Jonny could probably be a better Sherlock Holmes than he comes out to be at present.


  6. I'm always amazed at how much people resist change! We all know that Conan Doyle had neither a literary style, nor were his stories of Sherlock Holmes of proper artistic value. They were detective stories which were very intertaining for that era. However, what was really exciting about the Sherlock Holmes stories was how Conan Doyle, influenced by his physician friend, Dr. Bell who taught at Edinburgh medical school explored science in developing his stories. Novelty and new approach to things was, actually what Conan Doyle tried to put across with his Sherlock. Now, in the 21st century, when in Elementary we see a whole new outlook to the Holmes stories, starting with the female Watson to Sherlock exploring the modern day crime scenes in NY and introducing the ever growing problem of drug addiction in the very person of Sherlock Holmes, people are still ranting about how it's not exactly in line with the canon. Even the Scripture has had to adapt to the modern day life and yet people still want Sherlock Holmes to be the arrogant, self righteous, misogynous colonialist Brit that he was when Conan Doyle created him.
    If people like the BBC Sherlock more, it's precisely because it is desperately misogynous ( Irene Adler, a dominatrix or a lesbian) it does not, in any way represent the current plural society of London and frankly Steven Moffat's writing is awful. The dialogues are so basic that it's an absolute waste of a great actor such as Cumberbatch. Elementary, however, has good enough writing and dialogues to make the character of Sherlock quite inspiring. His soul searching dialogues with Watson are rarely boring and the way he goes through every step of his deductions is also quite exhilarating. The casting is excellent all round and Jonny Lee Miller definitely sets the standard very high for the rest of the cast. He has turned Sherlock into a likable character and has managed to make the deductive reasoning into a really cool and exciting work, so much so that a few of my university friends in London are actually quite inspired to ask for internship with the NYPD. what more can one as of a TV procedural? The BBC Sherlock is really very boring, extremely cliche and apart from Cumberbatch, there isn't much to look forward to. Martin Freeman is always a drab and
    So is everyone else!