Elementary review – 1×01: ‘Pilot’

Courtesy of CBS

One of the most anticipated new series this fall, Elementary has proven to be another buzz-worthy show. But, as we ask of all the new shows this season, does it live up to the hype?

Let’s bitch it out.

I should take a moment to dissect the hype surrounding the show – much of it centered on Elementary‘s relationship to the BBC’s Sherlock, which debuted in 2010 starring the incomparable Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. The fact that Elementary‘s Sherlock is played by Jonny Lee Miller, who co-starred with Cumberbatch in Danny Boyle’s critically acclaimed stage production of Frankenstein, further fueled the fire. But let’s face it, the real crux of the buzz is: ‘Is Elementary necessary, given that we’ve already got Sherlock, which sets up Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation in modern times?” To be honest, as a fan of Sherlock, it’s hard not to come into Elementary without heightened cynicism. I’m doing my best not to compare the two, but I will implore you to seek out the BBC’s version simply for entertainment value. With that said, however, these two shows share very little aside from character names and a modern setting.

Putting it plain and simple: Elementary is a straightforward police procedural. If you’re a fan of these kinds of shows, then you’re pretty much guaranteed to enjoy the series. There are, of course, elements that set the show apart from others from this genre, many of them courtesy of our lead characters, Miller’s Sherlock and Lucy Liu’s Watson. Miller is expectedly brilliant in the title role, adding a real likability and authenticity to Holmes. Watson’s gender switch became another contentious point in the buzz surrounding Elementary, and although Watson exhibits inherently “feminine” qualities, the jury’s still out whether or not the gender switch is a worthy point of contention.

Watson does very well to counterbalance Holmes’ intellectual arrogance, meeting it with leveled and controlled responses. Let’s just say she’s not your stereotypical TV female (ie: governed solely by her emotions). We see this most acutely when Holmes confronts her about the patient she lost under the knife. Amidst the berating that Holmes gives her, Watson is calm and collected, while simultaneously illustrating a deep-seeded pain. Her eyes well up but only slightly as she stands firm, looking at Holmes dead-on.  I love to see conflicting emotions bundled up in a single performance – it seems much more believable and resonant.

Then again, there’s evidence that she’s ‘mothering’ Holmes, when she scolds him during an interrogation and tells him to “wait in the car”. As I said, I’m not quite sure if the gender opposition is going to factor-in more significantly throughout the series, but for now I think this version of Watson and Holmes are nicely balanced. Liu does very well in portraying a layered Watson that I look forward to seeing unfold throughout the season.

Courtesy of CBS

The best scene of the episode occurs in its final act, in Holmes’ holding cell. Exhibiting the potential of the series, Watson makes her stand as Holmes’ partner – his equal – rather than merely his sidekick. She delves further into Holmes’ past, probing him about what happened in London. Watson is now the one doing the deducing, calling Holmes on his BS about being unable to form meaningful connections with people. Both actors are brilliant in this scene, making us feel like we’re privy to a very intimate and – most importantly – genuine conversation. I love how they finally seem to open up to one another, even though a physical barrier is very clearly erected between them. There’s a definite chemistry between them, and thankfully, I don’t find it at all sexual. Instead the chemistry exists in the believability of their relationship: these two connect, even though both remain wary of one another as they should be having just met and under such ‘interesting’ circumstances.

These moments aside, Elementary’s biggest problem is how the Conan Doyle character names feel like arbitrary labels. They may serve as the basis for the characters, but there’s such significant deviation from the source material in this reboot that Holmes and Watson could have been given entirely new fictional names and the series would be just as successful. Attaching “Sherlock Holmes” seems like an unnecessary marketing attempt to get more eyeballs (and it worked!), which does the show a bit of a disservice. Again, we still have more episodes to explore, but ultimately the “Sherlock Holmes” identifiers feel more gimmicky than meaningful.

Other thoughts:

  • The opening sequence is breathtaking. A struggle shown in slow motion with beautiful colour accents (the victim’s flaming red hair, her blue chiffon robe) is quite effective. If we get more cinematic sequences such as this, I think we’ll have real winner.
  • I particularly despised the scene in which Watson and Holmes first meet and he recounts a speech on love at first sight parroted from a nearby television show. It was incredibly awkward and despite having only met Watson a few minutes earlier, I feel that her reaction – dropping her purse in bewilderment – seems completely out of character.
  • I’m really hoping that as the show goes along that it can dispel some of the tired generic tropes of the police procedural. Why do the regular detectives always have to be so clueless? It would be far more interesting (and realistic) if they weren’t standing around slack-jawed waiting for Holmes to come in and solve everything.

What did you think viewers? Did Elementary show you enough potential to keep you interested? What do you think of Watson being a woman? And for that matter, what about the choice of having a British Holmes? (Aside from Miller being British, they could have had a New York Holmes…or maybe a Brooklyn Holmes?) Hit up the comments and let us know what you think.

Elementary airs on 10:00pm EST, Thursdays on CBS.

About tvangie

Angie is a TV addict currently pursuing a PhD in media studies. A freelance researcher and writer on the side – she really misses talking about her favourite shows because none of her friends watch them. Help her out.

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