TV Series Review
Sherlock Holmes is impossible to kill.
Just ask Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who tried to ax the detective way back in 1893. He sent the guy, along with nemesis Professor Moriarty, off the Reichenbach Falls, presuming they'd never return. But Holmes himself could've warned Doyle of hasty presumptions: The public wouldn't stand for their hero's demise, and Doyle was forced to resurrect the pipe-smoking sleuth.
Doyle's been dead for 80-some years. But his 19th-century creation? He's doing just fine, thanks very much—boasting more incarnations than Doctor Who. Indeed, with an acclaimed BBC show (Sherlock) and a pair of big-budget movies to his name just in the past few years, Sherlock Holmes is arguably as popular as ever. Now he's been given yet more new life on CBS' Elementary—a reimagining of the classic detective in 21st-century New York.
In both substance and spirit, the early results are much less inscrutable than the clues Holmes so often has to face. Elementary's Holmes shucks the CGI-action vibe of Robert Downey Jr.'s ludicrously successful movies (Sherlock Holmes *and *Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows), getting back to what the detective was always best known for: detecting. He's the original Mr. Monk, you might say, since nothing's too small to escape his notice—even a stray thread or an off-kilter picture frame. He's a mostly fitting heir to the original Holmes' legacy, embracing the character's tenacity, exasperating brilliance … and unfortunate flaws.
This Holmes, like Doyle's creation, is a drug addict. It's the reason why he's Stateside, in fact. To kick his habit, Holmes punts his career at Scotland Yard, flies across the pond and checks into a New York City rehabilitation center where he's subsequently paired with an in-house sobriety partner, Dr. Joan Watson—who herself unceremoniously stepped away from a medical career after a patient died under her care. And even after Holmes kicks his drug habit, Watson decides to stick around.
Why, you ask? Well, it's not because of Holmes' wit and charm, that's certain. He's not exactly the life of a party—unless you like parties where people blurt out inappropriate remarks and sometimes accuse the guests of murder. No, it's the work. See, while Holmes was conquering his addiction, he also served as helpmate to the city's police force, solving cases by the boatload through force of intellect, determination and clever banter. Now that Holmes is well again, the work goes on. And for Watson, it's interesting work indeed.
CBS is known for its envelope-pushing, gore-ridden crime dramas. But Elementary feels a bit kinder, a bit gentler, a bit—dare we say—old-fashioned, as if digging more deeply into its Victorian-era roots. Granted, the quantity of violence and blood can be expected to vary wildly from episode to episode. And the criminally minded subjects broached can range from merely icky to devastating. This is a crime drama predicated on someone getting offed every week, after all. We see killings and dead bodies. Sexual allusions are sometimes made as well, and sexual situations can intrude on the plot. Such is the nature of televised crime dramas. But Elementary feels more like a quirky USA show (recalling the aforementioned Monk) than CSI with an English accent.
The game that's afoot here, though, may still require a bit of careful deduction.
The crimes Holmes and Watson solve may have "elementary" solutions, but the ethics behind them sometimes need deeper consideration than the series lets on. Sure, we know the guy killed the girl … but should he have? What if she was in pain? What if she seems to have deserved it? And is it ever OK for Holmes to skirt the law to lambast the lawless?
These ethical conundrums are sometimes given the barest of mentions in the show itself, leaving viewers to trigger their own—unaided—investigations. Furthermore, Holmes is a cantankerous guy, prone to be prideful of his intellect and impatient with anyone who can't keep up. It fits his character, but he's hardly a template fit for unreasoning emulation. He's also a classic empiricist: If he cannot see or hear or otherwise observe something, he's skeptical of its existence and rationality.
At least this show allows for further thought, though, unlike so many of its peers. In a genre consumed with blood spatter and gratuitous content, Elementary, so far, sticks more to the facts than the flourish.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes; Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson; Aidan Quinn as Captain Toby Gregson; Jon Michael Hill as Detective Marcus Bell
Paul Asay Paul Asay