Elementary review – 1×03: “Child Predator”

Courtesy of CBS

Elementary returns after a week’s break with a slight deviation from the episodic formula it established in its first two episodes. Is the show finding its legs and exploring new boundaries, or is it quickly falling into a rut of formulaic tediousness?

Let’s bitch it out.

As far as procedurals go, there’s a consensus that Elementary is absolutely nailing it, and, for the most part, I agree. There’s enough satisfaction going through the case-of-the-week formula because of our eccentric protagonist, Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and his unorthodox methods coupled with the slow reveal of interesting tidbits regarding our main characters’ backgrounds. These small moments give us just enough to want to come back for more. But with the plethora of serials seemingly overtaking prime time dramas, it’s difficult to see Elementary in the same league as its complex counterparts (e.g. pretty much anything on premium cable networks). For the most part, I quite enjoy each episode as I’m watching it, but a few hours later, it’s disappeared from my consciousness. There simply isn’t anything for me to hold on to. I do see true moments of spectacular potential in the show, which paradoxically makes it more frustrating that Elementary can’t be what it could be.

‘Child Predator’ shows the most potential of Elementary‘s episodes so far, primarily because of the cat and mouse interplay between Sherlock and baddie of the week, Adam Kemper (played superbly by Johnny Simmons). We get our formulaic “they had the killer all the time but didn’t know it” that we’ve seen in previous episodes, but there’s something about Adam outsmarting Sherlock that’s deliciously intriguing and – more importantly – fresh and interesting. I (foolishly) even got excited that Adam might get away with his child-killing and continue to taunt Sherlock in future episodes. What’s so refreshing about Adam is that he’s the one character (aside from Sherlock and possibly Watson) to exhibit some kind of intelligence. Could Adam become Holmes’ famed nemesis Moriarty? Sadly, it’s unlikely as Holmes finds a loophole in Adam’s immunity agreement, sending him off to the big house for a murder he committed solo. There is a slight ray of hope in Adam’s parting words “It was only one murder, and I was abused. I’ll be out soon”, suggesting he’ll soon be back on the streets and ready to match wits with Holmes again, or *gasp*, even outsmart him.

Adam’s arc unfolds brilliantly, managing not only to trick Holmes, but presumably many of those watching at home (myself included) with his murderer disguised as victim ploy. If we can continue to see smart characters whose motivations aren’t predictable such as Adam, Elementary might transcend its procedural trappings. If anything, Adam’s interplay with Sherlock illustrates the dramatic potential we’d see with Moriarty should he ever show up (the sooner the better if you ask me).

Courtesy of CBS

That’s not to say that we don’t still get many of the paint-by-numbers plot points that I outlined last week , but this slight deviation is enough to show me that Elementary might have the chops to break free from a cycle of redundant episode after another. ‘Child Predator’ is a glimmer of hope, enough to keep me tuned in. Let’s hope we get more of these moments as the series continues.

Other observations:

  • I’m becoming increasingly disappointed with Watson’s (Lucy Liu) role. Although I did appreciate the acknowledgement that Holmes essentially explains the case to her (which in turn explains things to us viewers), she’s really starting to feel more like scenery as opposed to a true sidekick. I liked these two more when they were partners on equal footing. Instead, Watson is a step away from housekeeper/maid/mother – she gives Holmes coffee, cleans up after him, and nags him to sleep, eat or exercise. She would be a much more believable character if she wasn’t just Holmes’ lackey. Bring back the Watson we saw in the pilot.
  • I’m continually shocked at how idiotic the NYC police force is. Not only do they allow a “consultant” to openly badger and/or insult potential suspects and witnesses, but I am flabbergasted at how Holmes figures almost everything out in a mere matter of seconds while at a crime scene. This week has to be a record: he figures out how the little girl was abducted and how to get an eyewitness account in a less than two-minute walkthrough of the kitchen. Perhaps in between cases Holmes could give workshops to NYC police force on how to do their jobs better.
  • Gone is the “antagonistic” Detective Bell (Jon Michael Hill) that we were introduced to last week. This week, he’s ordered around like a commoner. This man is a Detective, and while he’s in the middle of getting eyewitness accounts on the street, all Holmes needs to do is shout his name and snap his fingers, and Bell comes running. I think I preferred it when Bell was butting heads and rolling his eyes at Holmes’ methodology. As tedious as that was, at least he had some confidence in his abilities.
  • Complaints aside, I always love that one moment of comic relief we get in every episode. This week it comes via tandem squats between Watson and Holmes. Gold. Pure gold.
  • On the whole, the acting continues to be stellar from most of the core cast. Miller continues to be the star of the show, presenting a nuanced Holmes that you can’t help but be fascinated by. Although Liu and Aidan Quinn have significantly less to work with, it’s clear that these actors are exceptional at their craft. The jury is still out on Hill, but if he were given more to work with he might have the opportunity to break through his one-dimensional character.
  • Any bets on how long it will be before we get a case that “hits close to home” wherein one of the secondary characters (Watson, Detective Bell or Captain Gregson) is put in mortal danger and Holmes has to “work faster and harder than ever” to try and save him/her?

What did you think viewers? Are you enjoying the primarily straight-forwardness of everything, or are you, like me, yearning for something more complex and meaty? Do you think Adam will return in a future episode? What did you think of Holmes’ story about being bullied at boarding school? Was it true? Does it matter? Hit up the comments to let us know what you’re thinking.

Elementary airs at 10pm 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.

One thought on “Elementary review – 1×03: “Child Predator”

  1. This will be the curse of Elementary, I suppose. They’re too good and, especially, have way too much potential for a network show (as they genuinely try to create a character-driven series with its own deep mythology, propelled by the work of a truly great actor) but because they have to abide by the terrible conventions of network television, such a show can no longer compete for the intelligent viewing audience because of all the cable shows we have now that don’t have to abide by those conventions and have much more leeway to take chances and do all the creative things they want.

    It’s really too bad. This version of Holmes already has a such a huge amount of depth. In three episodes he’s run through a range of mental and emotional states that most tv actors don’t get to exhibit in six years of a series. And there’s so much more they could do with him and the other characters and the world they’re trying to create *if* they didn’t have to crank out 22 43-minute shows in a season with a thrilling procedural mystery that nobody’s seen before in the hundreds of procedural-mystery shows and films that have been cranked out over the decades. And every one of their procedural mysteries must not only be totally new and fresh but *must* be solved by the end of the 43 minutes — and in a way that’s neither too fast nor too slow nor too reliant on Holmes’ genius powers nor too little reliant on them — or the audience will stop tuning in because while they may kind of want a character-driven show they must also have the same show be a perfect, totally original procedural mystery.

    It’s all very well to hope that you can create something new in the network space, but I’m beginning to think that it’s probably not possible.

    Somebody please cast Miller as the lead in a cable show so he can be in something where the writing doesn’t have to take a back seat to everybody’s hidebound expectations of network tv, which apparently we simply can’t escape.

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