Elementary episode 2 review: While You Were Sleeping

Review Frances Roberts 5 Oct 2012 - 16:26

CBS’ modern-day Sherlock Holmes show continues to get by on the skin of Jonny Lee Miller’s teeth…

This review contains spoilers.

1.2 While You Were Sleeping

Have you ever considered why TV detective shows are in such plentiful supply? It can’t only be down to timid, imagination-lacking networks. It has to be at least partly down to us, the audience, and our quest for ‘a-ha’ moments.

You know a real ‘a-ha’ moment when you experience one; it’s what you felt watching Kevin Spacey walk away at the end of The Usual Suspects, or when Poirot gently unravelled the murder aboard the Orient Express. Real ‘a-ha’ moments are so satisfying, you can’t help but gasp at the deception and applaud the elegance of your deceiver. Real ‘a-ha’ moments work like a model ship’s sails being delicately raised inside a bottle, the result of preparation, and the end-point of a beautifully realised plan. They’re also what CBS’ Elementary, so far at least, really lacks.

The sticking point with Elementary - once you’ve got over those other tedious sticking points about its knock-off existence and tenuous grasp on the Holmes inheritance - is that the conclusions to its cases are flat. No sails are raised, no light bulbs go on, or pennies drop, we’re just unfurled a bit of plot, then a bit more, and then a bit more, until it all comes to an end when the credits roll.

(Incidentally, the opening credits are great aren’t they? That Heath Robinson contraption of snipping scissors, burning candles, crystal balls and Mouse Trap-style cages is stylish stuff, if only it didn’t end on a title shot so reminiscent of Sherlock’s it does the show that follows no real favours.)

In episode two for instance - which, with its Hippocratic-oath breaking Doctor and inheritance-related murder was markedly similar to the pilot -, the suspicion eeny meeny’d clumsily from one twin to the next before reaching its anticlimactic fake coma climax. It wasn’t an ‘a-ha’ moment, just an ‘oh, right, that then’ moment. In fact, if CBS had gone full-copycat and given Elementary ninety minutes of screen time, it’s hard not to feel that the exchange of blame would have kept on rolling to whichever butcher, baker or candlestick maker was written in next, like a never-ending ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ story. 

Putting aside the thud-thud-thud case plots, Miller’s character also suffers from a bad case of post ad-break mouth, the syndrome that causes US TV characters to jarringly sum up an ongoing storyline upon the return from a commercial break. They should really develop a cure for that.

Plot and dialogue niggles aside, what does work about Elementary in these early stages is the chemistry of its two leads, and the attraction of its ticking, fidgeting Holmes. Watson threatening her charge with a thumb tack and his diagnosis of her recent sexual history were fun moments amongst a very workaday series of events.

Miller plays his physical quirks just on the right side of caricature, making his Holmes more interesting to watch than many procedural leads, but thankfully avoiding Captain Jack Sparrow levels of wackiness. Liu makes a decent straight-man to Miller’s chair-sniffing, impatient genius, and trouble has obviously been taken to make her character no pushover, which is a blessed relief. Will spirited bickering and an entertainly oddball performance from Miller be enough to sustain a series though? One fears not.

Perhaps the emotional trajectories of the characters will sustain audience interest where the cases cannot. This episode made clear that Holmes and Watson are both carrying out acts of penance; Watson in her career, Holmes by pushing away people he could become close to following the heavily dangled events of ‘what really happened in London’. When he’s not entering self-induced trances or bothering al fresco diners with metaphorical explanations of attic theory, this Holmes is an emotional chap, and one capable of fellow feeling, even if he’s reluctant to show it.

The appearance of the violin was the newest attempt to tie Elementary’s flapping tent to the Conan Doyle groundsheet, though it being repurposed as an object of sentiment rather than an aide for clear thinking moves this Holmes another step further from his literary counterpart.

Perhaps we should make a deal with Elementary. If it doesn’t come up with a decent reason for peopling its cast with Sherlocks, Watsons and Gregsons by episode six, we’ll rename its characters, retitle it something nicely generic, and all agree to forget it ran around in a Sherlock Holmes hat for a bit. That sounds fair doesn’t it?

Read Frances' review of the season opener, here.

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I think that's an unfair review. It is an adaption, not copy. You only reviewed it on how similar it was to the Holmes cannon (in all fairness, not very) and not on its own merits

It's quite fair. It's an adaptation. If they didn't want to be compared to the original, they shouldn't have adapted it and gone with something original, like John Smith and Mary Jones, because that's how similar these characters are to their originals. You can reimagine something but not to the point where it doesn't resemble the original at all AND want to cash on the fame. How many people would've checked it out if it weren't promoted as a Sherlock Holmes adaptation? You have a free advert. right there.

Considering that it is meant to be a Sherlock Holmes adaptation of a sort though, it's not exactly unfair, in that, if you're a fan, you know there are certain things that are expected even if the setting/era/characters are slightly different.

agreed. and it felt like it was written with the agenda of writing as snarky a piece as possible punctuated by whisps of fairness as disguise. the internet seems to be teeming with insecure Sherlock fans who are at best peevish about this american adaption.

Thanks for writing an insightful review without direct comparison to the BBC Sherlock (except of course for that ridiculous intro picture that looks so much like Sherlock's intro picture that I thought at first that it actually was, and the reference to how this episode might have worked as a 90-minute show: there are lots of 90-minute shows).

I have to agree that Elementary (which apparently lost 2 million viewers for the second episode) just might be better received if the character names didn't demand a comparison with the original Conan Doyle stories. Without that anchor dragging down the episodes, there would be much less to distract from what is another one of the usually successful CBS procedurals.

You are right that the violin is used in a very different way. So are the bees. Rather than being an interesting retirement choice for the countryside, there seems to be a completely different narrative meaning for the poor bees jammed up on a roasting hot city roof with their hard-collected honey leaking away from them down through the building, presumably attracting rats and roaches. It's really quite a powerful metaphor for just how degraded Holmes has become after his terrible unnamed event, but it's certainly not Conan Doyle.

But dear Den of Geek, as much as I love you, I really must point out that having Holmes tell Watson he can tell by her walk when she last had an orgasm, and then twice in the hour bring up his belief that she, a woman, wouldn't be so "moody" (his word for her justifiable anger with him) if she would have sex with a man were, for this older viewer, not really "fun moments." They were sad moments: they recall many years of same-old, same-old sexist, derogatory workplace claims that a woman's feelings must depend on her sexual relationships and just couldn't possibly be real feelings generated by real work-place concerns. I'm sorry Watson has to listen to that.

A really snide review. Elementary maybe
doesn't compare favourably with the BBC's Sherlock but it is an
enjoyable crime drama. There are certainly elements which relate to
Doyle; the case itself with its focus on mysterious siblings &
inheritances could have come straight out of the Victorian era &
the rather misogynistic comments made by Holmes towards Watson are in
keeping with the detective's attitude towards women.

The review is spot on. There is no point in basing it on Holmes and Watson if you aren't going to do an adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. That last paragraph is completely correct. Commenters... chill.

Something about that last paragraph feels like double standards. If it were a man in the role would you say anything? The fact is, to Holmes, it doesn't matter who you are. He'll identify and then say it. There's almost no separation between man or woman in his head. He gets to treat everybody equally in that way.

To be honest, I really enjoy the show, I never expected a rival to 'Sherlock' and to be more honest, I think some geeks may have. If you want Conan Doyle then obviously watch or read something else and leave this show to it's entertainment.

Really? You must not have seen many of the countless Holmes & Watson movies/tv shows over the years that have been very successful, eg The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939)

By adaptation, I mean changing the stories the world and the settings and even coming up with new ones? totally, go for it. But to change the characters on top of all that means it has no right to the name. it doesn't sit well. make him a her, make him an alien, a time traveller, whatever. but if you don't keep what makes the characters what they are based on, what's the point? call him bob the detective have sally the sidekick and call the show investigation!

I'm not saying the character CBS Holmes is sexist (though certainly the Conan Doyle character Holmes was); I was noting what the writers chose to put in because they thought it was funny.

Are you asking me If there were a man in the Watson role, would I say those comments recall the stereotyped accusations used to put down women in the workplace? Maybe, but I'd have to add that it's odd to hear them turned against a man. Would I say those are the kind of stereotyped comments used over many years to put down men in the workplace? No, I wouldn't say that, because it isn't true.

Uhmm...(really sorry) but do you know what an adaptation is? It is making a part of a book(because Elementary is claiming to be adapted from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels and gave life to him in the 21st century) into a film or tv series. So basically, an adaptation is /somewhat/ a copy of the book it is based on. It is expected to be a little /like/ the /book/. So you can't blame the writer of this review for comparing it to the canon. I'm a purist myself so almost all adaptations(including BBC Sherlock) makes me cringe. But at least they respected some of the canon facts(except maybe to that Asylum Holmes, *cringes*). Elementary, on the other hand, violates the canon. Jonnylock(that's what I'm going to call him) burned his violin; something the true Sherlock Holmes wouldn't do. And that's only one of the long list of violations it did and will do on its run time(the Rob Doherty said they will have more original cases).
Now, if we strip out all things related to Sherlock Holmes in Elementary, we will be judging it as a procedural crime drama. I'm a fan of procedurals. I have almost watched all tv series under the genre. And I agree with the reviewer when he says that the cases lacks an 'a-ha' moment. It is very predictable and generic. You can see what will happen even before they show you the solution. As an another procedural, it is not exemplary but it's not bad either. It's average at its best. Rob Doherty himself said that they're going for Sherlock Holmes' life and relationship with Joan(John) Watson which was praised by the reviewer as the greatest thing in this series. So I don't agree with you when you said that this is an unfair review, my lovely dear.

Sorry but a lot of crime dramas today have a lot of that premise so I really don't buy it.

I know exactly where you're coming from and in normal circumstances I'd agree, but in my head I'm separating the groups here as Men, Women and Sherlock Holmes. That's why he's such a good character to portray. He gets to live outside of all of the lines and just be Holmes, critiquing and analysing anything and everything in front of him. He's not being sexist or racist when he says things, it's purely just a fact when he says it. He wouldn't be one to make the watermelon remark above. He would only comment on it if you had the undeniable stain of watermelon on your t-shirt or something, whether black or white he will point it out.

Another harsh review, and comments from rvrtyone else. Stop watching if you don't like it, and I echo McBrides cpmments leave it to our entertainment.

This rather beautifully sums up my feelings, thank you.

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