Elementary pilot episode review

Review Frances Roberts 28 Sep 2012 - 08:31

CBS’ modern-day Sherlock Holmes show is finally with us, but is it much cop? Here’s Frances’ review…

This review contains spoilers.

Imagine a world where the BBC’s Sherlock never existed. A world where Gatiss and Moffat dreamt up some other adventure to while away the time on those train journeys to Cardiff, where Sherlock Holmes had never been reincarnated as a modern-day, flappy-coated, high-cheekboned sociopath, and him off The Office stayed him off The Office forevermore.

In that sad, grey Sherlock-less world, Elementary would be something of a treat. Not a treat of the highest order, granted, but a treat nonetheless, like a nice toasted crumpet on a cold day. As it is, Elementary is more a cheese sandwich that’s been left in your desk drawer too long, perfectly edible, but no indulgence.

It’s undeniable that without Sherlock, there would be no Elementary. But by the same token, without Columbo, or CSI or The X-Files, or any number of TV detective shows, there would be no Elementary. From the wobbly camera pre-credits attack, to our lead picking up on the one thing the cops missed at the crime scene, to the ‘It’s him!’/’No, no it’s him!’/’No, it’s definitely him again!’ plot twists, Elementary is a generic crime show picking up where many, many others have left off.

The question that nags away through the pilot then, is why Sherlock Holmes? The archetype of an insufferable but undeniably brilliant detective has soaked so thoroughly into our cultural fabric, there’s really no need to name this particular version Sherlock and mess about with all that Joan Watson business. They could just as well have called Jonny Lee Miller’s character Hugo Deducey-Smartarseington and we’d all have known immediately what he was about.

The reason I ask is that Conan Doyle’s Holmes, nor his stories, are so far nowhere to be found in Elementary. The BBC’s Sherlock is literally riddled with nods to canon, either as cheeky punning gags or plot points, and each of its episodes weaves elements from Conan Doyle’s casebook into a new, composite story. Unless I missed something, no such allusion or borrowing was detectable in the Elementary pilot (unless that psychiatric patient’s penchant for fire-haired ladies was an oblique reference to The Adventure Of The Red-Headed League). So why bother?

There’s a very easy answer to that, and it rhymes with dublicity. Elementary has so far surfed along on a wave of press originating from a stirred-up if not entirely invented rivalry between the two shows and their leads. As soon as it was announced, comments sections filled up with prophesies of how dreadful Elementary would be (it isn’t), and how it would be worse than the BBC’s Sherlock (it is, but then so are a lot of things). Sherlock Holmes is a brand name, and CBS are just as entitled as anyone to have a pop at the franchise; it’s just a shame there doesn’t seem to be any justification for them doing so here apart from riding on the coat-tails of Sherlock’s international success.

Now that the moan’s over, there are actually many things to like about Elementary. Miller, for one, is a charismatic lead. He approaches the part with less of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Ice Queen-y, viper-like intensity, and more Captain Jack Sparrow-style silliness. He’s a buff, tattooed ex-addict and indulger in casual S&M whom we meet watching multiple televisions simultaneously, like David Bowie’s alien in The Man Who Fell to Earth. Unlike Bowie’s alien, he’s not drunkenly absorbing Earth-people’s culture, but practising his skills of recall and repetition, filtering out extraneous information to tune his brain into one specific thread of speech. Expect that ability to be used up in the coming weeks.

Lucy Liu too makes for a decent sidekick, and gets more game in her first case than most Watsons. A disgraced surgeon tasked by Holmes Sr. (unseen as yet, but pulling the strings, like a kind of Angel-less Charlie) to babysit Sherlock as his post-rehab “companion” (more in the Doctor Who sense than the Firefly one), Joan Watson is the softly-softly yin to Sherlock’s insulting, impatient yang. Together, they form a monkey-catching, crime-solving dream team.

The pilot also introduces us to Aidan Quinn’s Irish NY cop Captain Gregson (we know he’s Irish because he drinks in one of those green-tinged bars where pixie-ish brunettes play the fiddle), a commanding screen presence, and more proof that in this early stage Elementary’s cast outclasses its script.

Because likeable as Miller, Liu and Quinn were, their first case was less successful. An identikit ‘violence against women’-type intro led into a plot that was unnecessarily complicated rather than brain-twistingly complex. If the psych patient had a problem with redheads, then surely a single pack of L’Oreal Casting Crème in Terracotta could have made the transformation without any accompanying cosmetic surgery? Red herring? Or just a script without a firm grasp on its own mystery?

Speaking of which, while the unravelling of Watson’s career trajectory from a parking ticket was at least Holmesian, the baseball game prediction just felt silly. This wasn’t Holmes the deducer, it was Holmes the Magnificent, psychic extraordinaire. The whole rice allergy/washed phone solution also lacked elegance somehow, as if its jigsaw pieces had been jammed forcibly into place rather than sliding in where they belonged.

Despite all that, Miller’s Holmes was fun to meet (his best lines were the throwaway ones: “Not even on key” during the opera, and “My barrister was rubbish” after his temper tantrum hearing), and there was plenty to keep you interested during its 43 peppy minutes.

Elementary certainly isn’t the dumbed-down, humourless travesty some predicted, but neither is it essential viewing. In a world without Sherlock, we’d likely be grateful for its appearance, but thankfully, we don’t live in one of those.

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Nice review.

I try not to blow off shows based on a clip or two and prejudice, but I did this time. And your review confirmed that I should just rewatch Sherlock. I'm really tired of procedurals, so "branding" one with Sherlock Holmes (as you say) doesn't do anything for me.

I liked it, compared to 'sherlock' it was more easily enjoyable. The detective genre was pretty much built around the Holmes story and he still fits into its conventions well.Conan Doyles original mysteries aren't particularly clever in themselves, they're just about a very clever man who solves them, something that the Elementary pilot gets and 'Sherlock' seems to have missed.

It would have been far more interesting if they'd have based the characters on Sick Boy and O-Ren Ishii rather than Holmes and Watson.

Boring show, sorry.

Spot-on that you can name these characters anything, so insisting it is Sherlock Holmes and "Waston" (let's skip the "Joan" or "John" argument as it actually doesn't matter) is just jumping on the Holmes bandwagon, and that's the disgusting and disrespectful part. Additionally, casting JLM is a rather obvious attention-seeker, considering that he swapped central roles with Cumberbatch every night in Danny Boyle's stage production Frankenstein last year and the show is still streaming in several theatres worldwide. Business is business, but CBS is conducting it in a quite dirty manner. Not impressed. No thanks, I'll stick with the BBC Sherlock.

I always judge shows linked to existing IPs thus: would I watch it if it didn't have the famous names linked to it? Would I enjoy it if it was a brand new IP with completely new characters? Having not seen this show yet I cannot answer that, but the makers blatant use of existing names to garner viewing figures wont work in the long term and they will need to write and produce a good show with interesting characters and story lines irrespective of the link to Holmes.

People may watch the pilot because it is Holmes, but as we see too many times in the US shows often start well and drop off and the slightest hint of a show not getting enough viewing figures for their advertisers, will result in unceremonious cancellation.

Review is spot on, they should never have attached the Sherlock Holmes name to this project, i would say Elementary is ultimately doomed.

Am I the only one who really hates Cumberbatch and Moffat's Sherlock? I haven't seen Elementary, but I know for sure Sherlock is abysmal - he just talks fast and that's honestly the only performance the lead puts in.

Thank you! I thought *I* was the only one who didn't think Sherlock was genius. I honestly don't think much of Cumberbatch as an actor. He leaves me totally cold.

It will be canned by mid season probably.

I enjoyed the review more than the episode. Just saying...

Your review is spot on! When I watched Elementary's pilot I kept forgetting I was watching Sherlock Holmes and everytime they said the name it completely felt like it didn't belong there... Like you said, these characters could be named anything...

I like JLM as an actor I think he always brings something to his roles which makes them watchable. Unfortunately I also think he has made some bad choices in TV projects in the US. I will give it shot just for the fact he's in it. Whether I stick with it depends on the quality going forward though.

With a show like SHERLOCK, you have to ask yourself: Do you want to bone Benedict Cumberbatch? If your answer is 'No', then you're missing the driving force behind 90% of the shows general fandom... ;)

Why do I know you are going to say you adore Moff's Who though?

he's a massive improvement on Matt Smith

I will literally murder anybody who watches this. I'm not joking, I will tear them limb from limb and dump their body in an unmarked grave. I will then dance and urinate on that grave. I will write an email to every family member of the victim and describe in exquisite detail the gory demise of their loved one.

This is a joke, btw.

I hope medicine can cure you one day. :)

I was ready to hate this show alot. I really don't like procedurals except for Castle, and I thought Sherlock was amazing. Surprisingly, i actually enjoyed myself watching it. While alot of people say it will be cancelled, i dont agree, this show runs thurday and 10 and there is literally nothing on that night that is anywhere near as good. Expect it to be CBS hit for this fall.

You have voiced my opinion of this episode perfectly. Now back to waiting for the BBC version.

God God. Apart from being no substitute to Sherlock, it doesn't sound...that bad, really. *gasp*

This has little relevance to the show, but Sherlock Homes isn't a sociopath, higher functioning or otherwise. That's not what that means.

For reals. Google it.

I thought this was enjoyably
undemanding entertainment. It obviously suffers when compared to
Sherlock but the female Watson & relationship between the two,
placing Holmes' addiction centre stage, worked. The downside was a
rather run of the mill style & plot, it didn't feel different
enough from any number of US police procedural shows. But it does
have potential & is certainly not the disaster many fans of
Sherlock hoped(?) it would be.

What a ludicrous thing to say. Ludicrous & totally wrong.

I'm going to give it a month or so to see how it develops. It's ok for what it is.

I like Johnny Lee Miller and I felt he really impressed me in Trainspotting but you are right that despite the fact he is talented, his career has never really taken off in the same way that Ewen McGregor's or Robert Carlyle's careers have.

Nope. Spot on accurate and quantifiable fact. ;p

It felt like a cross between Law & Order: Criminal Intent (which was actually created as a sort of modern day Sherlock Holmes) and House MD. I quite enjoyed it, but it was nothing spectacularly original.


it is a fun, nicely paced, excellently case yank take on holmes. will it ease the pain of waiting for the beeb to get season 3 done? yes. characters are always open to interpretation, this is just one. i liked it.. so there!

My read on it as well. Not horrible, but nothing special. My stream kept getting hung up as I was watching it so that about ten minutes from the end when it got stuck yet again, I just shut it off. I'd seen enough. Jonny Lee Miller is a treat for the eyeballs, to be sure, and it's nice to see a woman of color doing something interesting (if, alas, still the sidekick), but it struck me as a rather standard private eye show with a stock genius-with-issues lead. I predict a single season.

Sadly, even though a lot of you are predicting that this show will be canceled soon, it garnered 10+ million viewers in America on its premiere night.

Excuse me, but you're wrong. I admit there are some who watch Sherlock just because they fancy Cumberbatch but I assure you that the general consensus of the fandom are not that low. Majority of us watch the show for its plot especially the nods to the canon, not to bone someone.

That's it! Elementary is a cheese sandwich, left in the desk drawer a bit too long, but perfectly edible even if not exactly a treat. Best review ever.


Oh thank god, an actual review
I am so sick and tired of the flame war - that seemed to engulf the world - of the "Elementary vs Sherlock"
Funnily enough, when I was firmly in the "it will suck" bandwagon when I first heard of the show. But one trailer later, I was actually pretty excited. And I wasn't disappointed. I knew what to expect, and the show delivered on all points.
"But is it better than Sherlock?"... well, isn't that comparison kind of unfair?... OK, no, no it isn't
But does that make it terrible? Hell no! I could go into detail, but why would I bother when legitimate arguments are rebuffed by sheer blind absolutely out-my-mind-frustrating narrow-mindedness.
And to the people behind the show: Don't pay too much attention to all the stupid blind Sherlock-fanboy-fueled rage and PLEASE give it AT LEAST a full 20+ episode season

I looked forward to this new idea of Sherlock Holmes after seeing the new movies and the series "Sherlock".
However, I quickly realized "Elementary" is just a cheap and extremely booring copy of the series "Sherlock". And It's quite obvious they toke the advantage of a lost season of "House" in an attempt to steal their fans.
It's hard to figure out "Elementary's" version of Sherlock Holmes's sharpness when he cant verbalize his thoughts with that horrible accent of his. He also lacks the artistic and creative touch aswell as the brilliance the main character shows in "Sherlock". I could agree that all these three series have an eccentric main character, but "Elementary's" isn't in the same league as "House" or "Sherlock". Im just waiting on seeing the lebel "Made in China".
If you're under 22 i definitely recommend you to watch "Sherlock" instead or even re watch some old House episodes.

/The Questioning Student

Don't agree with this review seems pretty biased. I'm not much of a fan of Sherlock either. Though hard to beat jeremy Brett, since no ones mentioned him. Both shows pass the time and can't really be compared imo. Looking forward to thursday nights once again and believe this show has an upside.

Spot on review for me too! After the first episode, I didn't think I'd bother with any more, but I persisted, and I am enjoying it. Some stories are better than others, but the bottom line is that there was no need to use the name, other than to give the show some press.

Yup, Went down like a lead balloon by the looks of it....... "Hardest game in the world son!"

Reading these commits almost six months after it premiered is fascinating,

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