A few years later, and we were worried all over again when we heard those pesky Americans had got their hands on the Great Detective. Even more troubling was the rumour that Watson was to be played by that woman out of Ally McBeal. In New York.
You’ve no doubt deduced where we’re going with this. The makers of Elementary claimed that their version bears no copyright troubling connection to the BBC’s update, and while that’s not exactly true (even the title card image looks similar), CBS have created their own brilliant and innovative beast.
Producing 24 regular-sized episodes a year rather than BBC’s occasional three-feature length outings gives the writers more space to breathe. True, you’re trading Sir Arthur for something that’s more generically police procedural, but the significant charisma of the leads and the elegant wit of the scripts (which impressively, is often less showy that its Brit cousin) make for a genuinely compelling drama. It’s engaging, too, that if you’re paying enough attention, there’s an outside chance you sitting at home might make the same deductions as Sherlock himself.
The first episode is a very loose retelling of ‘A Study In Scarlet’ – so loose, in fact, that it might be entirely unintentional – but otherwise has the neat trick of not fussing itself too much about clumsy exposition and introduction of characters. Instead, we leap straight in, and within the first hour, any fears and concerns you might have had are swiftly allayed. The chemistry between Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu (who are both genuinely brilliant in what might very well prove to be career-defining roles) is very engaging, and familiar backstory (such as the history of ‘The Woman’ interwoven into the season in a way that humanises Sherlock for American audiences without troubling Conan Doyle purists).
Gatiss and Moffat’s Sherlock, as suggested by the title, is often about Sherlock himself and the circle of reverence that surrounds him. Unsurprisingly the US take, again evidenced by its title, is more enamoured with the cases themselves.
It’s not precisely CSI Baker Street, but there’s less awe and hero worship of the main character. This is all to the good: Liu’s Watson, as Holmes’ ‘sober companion’, has the right and privilege to tell him exactly what she thinks of him. This can lead to some neat deconstruction of the myth: when challenged on a particularly impressive piece of deduction, Sherlock acknowledges the banal truth – he used Google.
Where Elementary really soars, however, is tackling one – forgive us – element of the original Conan Doyle that Sherlock generally ignores. There’s perceptible glee on Miller’s face as Liu’s Watson begins to apply his methods.
Amusingly, there’s more sexual frisson between Cumberbatch and Freeman in London that there is between Miller and Liu in New York. Apart from one overplayed gag in the pilot, it’s clear that this series is refreshingly free of a ‘will they / won’t they’ subplot. This clears the decks for a relationship of, if not exactly equals, then professionals that can learn from one another. This has the somewhat surprising result that Miller’s Sherlock appears on occasion smarter than Cumberbatch’s, if only because he’s more willing to accommodate others’ methods (such as Watson doing squat thrusts to clear her mind) simply because he allows for the possibility that he might be able to learn from other professionals might who what they’re talking about.
Put aside any concerns you might have, and don’t waste time considering if you need to choose Team Cumberbatch or Team Miller. The leads are good, the scripts are good. When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. And the truth is: Elementary is rather extraordinary.
Released on DVD on Monday 23 December 2013 by Paramount Home Entertainment.
Watch a preview for Elementary, featuring clips from the show and interviews with the cast and crew…
What did you think of Season 1? Let us know below…