Sherlock vs Elementary (TV)

Tonight sees the last of a three part run of BBC’s Sherlock.

It is carrying the hype and the vibe about the previous two episodes. 

It has been excellent, like all previous episodes and I expect tonight’s conclusion to thrill in equal measure with presumably a cliff hanger.

It’s a feature length show, it features layered stories and doesn’t always throw you the dots you need at times. The writing of Moffat and Gatiss is near universally praised.

There aren’t many episodes though, the availability of the starring actors squeezes the availability of the show.

Elementary on the other hand, sets a modern Sherlock Holmes in New York with a female Watson. 

It’s essentially a police procedural with Holmes and Watson consulting for the NYPD. It has more episodes with a US TV drama season schedule and more continuing back stories over the seasons.

I don’t think either show can be compared as both are equally valid in terms of their take on Sherlock Holmes. 

Both series are set in the modern era. I almost typed that all have to be set in the Modern Era. 

A very high bar on the adaption of the Conan Doyle stories was set by ITV in the eighties and early nineties. Jeremy Brett’s performance was immense and the stories were relatively faithful to the base material.

So we have a modern update on Holmes, in two different versions. 

One that applies a standard serial format and twists the format just enough. It’s onto 5 seasons and well over 100 episodes. 

From that, it could be thought that Elementary is the defining show featuring a modern Sherlock Holmes with Jonny Lee Miller’s performance setting a benchmark. 

His partnership with Lucy Liu takes the point that two men living together in this modern era would be surmised in a certain way and John/Joan is clever transition away from the source material.

 It may not be traditional, it may take a liberty or two in its initial set up, but the drama serial then goes from week to week and case to case whilst carrying a story arc. 

It follows the US television season by season convention and a team of writers that can utilise the writer’s room and be inventive with character and episodes.

Sherlock utilises the resource and prestige of the BBC as prime time ‘Event’ television. Cumberbatch and Freeman have movie commitments to work around.

 The format is feature length allowing for both a case and the ongoing development of the relationship of Watson and Holmes. 

It also allows for diversions, for throwing in red herrings for the audience and developing characters. Things like the creation of Mycroft, Mrs Hudson and Moriarty as supporting characters. 

The casting and quality of acting helps, Gatiss as Mycroft is perfect as an intellect similar to Holmes and Andrew Scott’s Moriarty carries an air of menace and also fun as a criminal genius.

The writing, the loose linked trio of episodes, the characterisations of a show that is an event. 

Moffat and Gatiss both created remarkable episodes of the new Doctor Who, they carried this partnership onto Sherlock.

Cumberbatch adds presence as a man that’s not normal, he describes himself in character as a high functioning sociopath. A remarkable detective without the social functions of others. 

Freeman’s Watson is ‘normal’ or as normal as someone that’s Holmes sidekick might be. 

The writing, the performance, the feature length add to the show’s mythology. 

It lends itself to being able to have fan speculation, blogs and modern television and social media events. 

Sherlock as event. Elementary as a regular show.

Two treatments of a concept, two methods of drama being defined.

The character has similar concepts across both ‘treatments’ – a quality close to Aspergers in having high intellect but no social abilities. 

Perhaps the high functioning sociopath, perhaps the troubled drug addict with exceptional insight. 

Neither Miller or Cumberbatch gives you a comfortable easy friendly character that you can relate with. 

Genius. Troubled, sometime drug addict, necessary to the police, necessary to take on an arch-criminal like Moriarty. 

Is either more valid? Probably not.


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