‘Elementary’: For and against

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Take one measure of literature’s most famous detective and two measures of British telly royalty. What is the result? An almost flawless updating of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s groundbreaking mysteries, of course!

With BBC One’s Sherlock, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss brought the adventures of Holmes and Watson into the 21st century, making their take on Sherlock Holmes unique. Or so they thought…

To very public disgruntlement from Sherlock’s creators and fans, US network CBS are currently shooting a pilot for their own modern-day Holmes project, Elementary.

But perhaps we shouldn’t be so hasty in deriding Elementary before it even airs. Let’s gather the evidence and make an impartial deduction…


The first known film adaptation of Conan Doyle’s stories, Sherlock Holmes Baffled, was created in 1900 by Arthur Marvin and ran for just under a minute. Since then, there have been countless television and film interpretations of the character. So what’s the harm in another one?

From Jeremy Brett’s prolific portrayal of the world’s best consulting detective to Guy Ritchie’s hugely successful action films starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, each Holmes adaptation has endeavoured to take a fresh look at the canon material.

At the very least, Elementary will present fresh challenges for the latest pair to play Holmes and Watson, Jonny Lee Miller (Trainspotting) and Lucy Liu (Charlie’s Angels) respectively.

The involvement of the latter could alone make for intriguing viewing; how might a female casting affect the iconic companionship at the core of the narrative? The pair’s escapades will this time be transported from London to New York, also opening up a wealth of possibilities.

Meanwhile, initial fears of the character being sanitised for a US audience seem to be ill-founded, with Michael Cuesta (Dexter, Homeland) directing the pilot and the makers incorporating Holmes’s addiction problems as a key aspect of the set-up.


Indeed, it is the modern twist in Elementary that prompts discomfort among fans. When CBS made their announcement shortly after the second series of Sherlock earlier this year, even a man who threatens to lower the IQ of the whole street the minute he opens his mouth wouldn’t have difficulty working out what inspired the move.

The fact that CBS are going ahead with their series after having reportedly being refused permission from the BBC to directly remake Sherlock certainly doesn’t help their case.

Imitation might be the most sincere form of flattery, but it takes a certain skill to modernise tales set in the 19th century without tarnishing their original appeal. With Moffat and Gatiss at the helm, every detail in Sherlock has been carefully considered.

A genuine adoration for Conan Doyle’s work enabled the creators of Sherlock to create a respectful programme with a satisfying balance of old and new. With each careless (and, presumably, now legally requisite) alteration, CBS are distancing their series from the original stories. It seems unlikely, lamentably, that Elementary will be able to compete.

How do you feel about Elementary? Let us know below…

> Buy the Sherlock: Series 1-2 DVD boxset on Amazon.

Watch a preview of Elementary