Friday, August 2, 2013

Elementary: Americanized Sherlock Holmes

As anyone who is a fan of BBC's "Sherlock" knows, a hiatus of well over 12 months is far too long for a magnificent show, especially considering the heart-wrenching cliff-hanger at the end of the final episode of Series 2. I've gone back and re-watched all 6 episodes twice since early 2012. It's easily still my favorite show on TV.

In the meantime, I've become a huge fan of "Doctor Who", and I've checked out a couple of previously under-my-radar TV shows. I approached the most recent of these, "Elementary", with some trepidation. I had heard from a few family members that it was a decent show and, while not as incredible as "Sherlock", worth watching. But I also knew that I would have a very difficult time not comparing the two shows. 
The premise of this American modernized version of the world's most famous literary detective has him fresh out of rehab for drug use, with a female Dr. Watson (Joan, played by Lucy Liu), acting as his... babysitter, while he rebuilds his life drug-free. Together, they solve crimes. Well, he solves crimes, and she follows him around at first, gradually being drawn in and becoming more of a partner as their relationship progresses.

The writing is so-so. The mysteries are good, but some of the dialogue is so simplistic and hackneyed that it's nearly laughable, especially as delivered by the NYPD characters. 

The acting is a mixed bag. Liu is very good; her emotions are authentic, and she seems to be content with eschewing the sexiness of her prior acting gigs for a more realistically-clad role. She is smart, not overly-serious, and more than a match for Sherlock.

Nice scarf, Jonny... a familiar fashion statement.
Miller is just okay. I wanted to like him better. I loved him on "Eli Stone". I'm only about 3 episodes in on "Elementary", and maybe he will grow on me, but from the beginning, I kind of feel like he's trying too hard. Maybe some of that is the scripting? I don't know. Again, hard not to compare Cumberbatch's brilliant, incomparable Holmes with Miller's mixture of Adrian Monk, Shaun Spencer, Rick Castle and Dr. House. It feels almost too familiar. The only things that make him Sherlock instead of just another contemporary quirky TV detective are the violin and the put-myself-in-a-trance thing. So far, I'm only lukewarm on Miller.

Aidan Quinn as the police chief detective dude is pretty awful. Some of his dialogue delivery is so over-the-top and heavily serious that I laughed out loud. For example, when they're interviewing an adult who was raised by a man who kidnapped him as a child, Quinn growls through his teeth in scene-chewing dramatic fervor: "Holmes, this is a delicate situation!" Subtlety? None. It's a very familiar over-the-top New York cop routine and he doesn't sell it well. He seems to be playing the character as a man who takes himself far too seriously. Like, if he isn't straight-faced all the time, no one will believe he is the chief-cop-dude. It's too much. And disappointing.

I will probably keep watching, at least for a couple more episodes, to see if it gets better. I'm left feeling ambivalent. I do like a good mystery, and these mysteries are pretty good. If this had come 3 or 4 years prior to the BBC show, I might actually really like it. As it is... it's better than many shows on TV; I'll give it that. Fans of mystery or crime dramas will probably enjoy it.

And maybe in a few more episodes, I'll like it better. Or I'll hate it and go back to "Sherlock". 

What do you think? Have you watched either show? Did you like "Elementary" better than I have so far? 


trishcook said...

I love watching Elementary, but I've also not yet seen the BBC Sherlock :) I'm a sucker for a good Sherlock mystery!

Steph said...

Oh, you've got to watch Sherlock. It's breathtakingly good. :) It's on Netflix right now. There have only been 6 episodes, but they are all long, like 180 minutes, I think. Like mini-movies of amazingness. I hope you get a chance to watch it!

Chris said...

No offense but "Sherlock" and "Elementary" are really apples and oranges. This comes from a huge Holmes fan; I've read all the stories, I've seen all the shows, my favorites before "Sherlock" were Basil Rathbone especially the first two movies, and, in the 1959 version of "Hound of the Baskervilles," Peter Cushing. I love "Sherlock" but I really do like "Elementary." Police procedurals all have their cliches but this one grew on me as it progressed and the relationship between Holmes and Watson gets better by mid-season and their dialogue exchanges are great. Lucy Liu is really what makes it work but by the end the show as a whole was one of our favorites.

Steph said...

I am going to continue watching and see if it grows on me. I agree, I really like Lucy Liu in that role. And I agree, they are very different and it's probably unfair to compare them, but they are more like oranges and tangerines-- similar, but different. :)