I recently got into a debate with the Doodletribe founder about the merits of CBS’s Elementary vs. BBC’s Sherlock.
To me Sherlock Holmes is more than just the first great fictional detective, he is the most adaptable of characters, but there was a feeling that by the end of the 20th century, the traditional Holmes, the creature of late Victorian London, was all but played out. I have a tendency to disagree, I do think he could go with being modernised but I don’t think he was completely outdated.
Now Holmes has been revived in two very different television series: Sherlock, the electrifying BBC series starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Holmes and Watson and CBS’s Elementary, which has Jonny Lee Miller’s tattooed Holmes in a New York City brownstone with a female Watson played by Lucy Liu. Both Cumberbatch and Miller are superb, offering two different interpretations of the detective. Cumberbatch plays him as supremely confident; Miller’s Holmes, a recovering addict, is more vulnerable and occasionally uncertain in his new environment.
Which show is better? For me that’s not difficult—it’s like comparing a good chocolate cake to a great chocolate cake. Both are satisfying, I wouldn’t say no to either of them but one is significantly better than the other. Elementary is first-rate American television that sets the viewer up to anticipate the solution to the mystery. Sherlock however, is some of the most dazzling TV ever produced with episodes carrying Holmes to a new dimension. Each show ends with a hint of uncertainty, as if the mystery can never quite be satisfactorily explained. Dread hangs in that London fog in a way it never could in mystery stories set in neon-lit New York.
With its sinister background music, rapid cut scenes and word clues that tell us what Holmes is taking in, is hipper and more sophisticated than any American primetime show could ever be. It is everything we expect from a modern Holmes and precisely, for me, the reason why Sherlock is the better than Elementary.