Elementary… it’s not Sherlock, but at least it wasn’t really trying to be

What constitutes a remake? The term gets thrown around a lot, but like the word “trilogy” there is a specific definition.

If you make a movie or a TV show that uses an other, existing movie as the source of the screenplay or central idea, then you have a remake. Some are good, some are awful.

So, movies that fall into this category are things like...

Cape Fear

Dawn of the Dead

Funny Games

The Getaway

Oceans 11

Psycho

... and many more.

But there is a fairly new phenomenon where movies are being made that are based on books that have already had films made about them. Movies like this include...

Let Me In (new version of the book, not a remake of “Let the Right One In.”)

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

The Lord of the Rings

... and pretty much every piece of classic literature.

Some might call it nit picking, but there is a distinction that needs to be recognized because it does make a difference.

This brings me to the new Sherlock Holmes show “Elementary.”

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When I heard about it, it was described as an American remake of the amazing BBC show “Sherlock,” and that Lucy Liu would be playing the part of Watson. This sounded like the worst idea I had ever heard. Honestly, it sounded like a joke, a bad joke. I won’t go into it here, but I honestly think that “Sherlock,” stands as the freshest, most original, and most daring look at one of the most classic and recognizable characters in the canon of English literature.

So, I went into the first episode of “Elementary,” with my guard pretty firmly up.

What did I think?

Well, three things:

  1. It was resoundingly OK.
  2. Were it not for “Sherlock” I would have probably loved it.
  3. It is not a remake of “Sherlock,” and in fact has nothing whatsoever to do with that show other than the main character.

So, let us discuss.

First off, it’s a decent show that could be really good. Johnny Lee Miller brings something very different to the role of Holmes. Most of his key characteristics are there, but this time he’s kind of... well, cool. He’s got a young, hip, sexy thing going that kind of works in the world the show occupies. I don’t know how much I like it, but I do give credit to Miller for being a bit bold with it. Also, his Holmes is much less disconnected from the world. He actually cares about how his behavior effects other people.

Watson is interesting. Instead of being a veteran, this now female Watson is a former surgeon who was forced out of medicine after losing a patient during an operation. She is damaged and Sherlock appears to be the one person who can help put herself back together. She is far more into the idea of  being a detective than any Watson up to this point (save Ben Kingsley in “Without a Clue,”), and isn’t afraid to call Holmes out for being a prick. She even helps solve the first case.

The relationship and the show are both interesting, and both have potential, but the show feels lacking.

Holmes gets to do some deduction, but there isn’t anything that special about it.

This brings me to my second point. Had this not come out on the heels of one of the best, the most original, and the most entertaining adaptations of Holmes, I think my opinion would be far different.

“Elementary,” is a classic Holmes living in “Sherlock”’s world. Where a few years ago, a more traditional update might have worked, now it just feels flat.

Cumberbatch’s Holmes is a hyper version of the original, and we live in his head. We see the world how he sees the world and in doing so we understand him more. When he says, “What’s it like in your mind? It must be so boring!” we understand, because we have seen inside his and know that he is living in HD while the rest of us are watching a hand cranked 8 mm home movie.

Miller’s Holmes, though interesting, isn’t as available to us, so we don’t have the same ability to connect and understand how he does what he does. What we get feels more like a decent card trick. You know how it’s done, and it’s executed well enough, but there isn’t enough personality in to to really pull you in.

But that, again, is comparison. Sadly, I cannot talk about it in any other terms. I reckon that it would be a really good show if it could stand on its own, as evidenced by the fairly warm reviews it’s received, and I don’t hate it. As it is, it comes off very middle of the road. It could be better, but it could also be a lot worse. Such is its fate.

All this being said, I am now trying to approach it as a completely different animal than “Sherlock,” because, main characters aside, it has nothing whatsoever to do with that show.

“But it’s a modern retelling of Sherlock Holmes and so is ‘Sherlock,’ therefore it has to be a remake.”

Does it? Watch the run of “Sherlock,” and then watch “Elementary,” and ask yourself the following...

How are the characters of Holmes and Watson the same?

How are they different?

How is the style of the show the same?

How is it different?

To answer, in short...

Holmes and Watson are characters of the same name and play a very similar role in each show.

However, “Sherlock,” presents a “functioning sociopath” who is completely oblivious to the emotions of other people. He is uncomfortable interacting with other people and appears to have little use for them beyond their functionality.

In “Elementary,” though... he seems to be far more in tune with other people. He shows kindness towards Watson and has a past that hints at a love that caused a spiral of drug addiction. He is a much more empathetic and human character than in the BBC version.

Watson is far more assertive in “Elementary.” She bosses Holmes around, and he lets her, she asks questions and gets information Holmes can’t, and she notices things that Holmes misses. In this world they... well, they aren’t equals, but they are as close as these two characters can get.

Stylistically, the shows couldn’t be more different.

“Sherlock,” is a hyper stylized redefinition of the character. We see what and how he thinks and follow as the conclusions are drawn. It presents new takes on classic stories and uses the technology of the modern world to make Holmes... well, to make him more Sherlock.

“Elementary,” is a far more standard police procedural. Holmes is still amazing, but he is presented in a far more realistic way without the stylistics or the use of technology to make him the Übermensch he is in the BBC version.

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This show is very difficult for me to write about objectively. It’s good, but not great and it exists in a world where there is a great version of a similar idea which makes this show pale a little bit in comparison. If you haven’t seen “Sherlock,” I can see taking great pleasure in the show. It’s a fresh and new look at a classic character that delivers fairly well. If you are familiar with “Sherlock,” then it is impossible to really appreciate this show if you compare the two. However, if you are able to separate this from the BBC and view it as what it is, a completely different animal with completely different characters and style then you may be able to enjoy it. Just remember, it isn’t the same show and it isn’t meant to be. So if you hate it, hate it on its own merits, not just because it isn’t something that it was never trying to be in the first place.



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