Last week CBS premiered its new Sherlock Holmes series Elementary. Before it came out it had a lot of people asking “Why?” and a lot of other people responding “Because look.” Elementary premiered in the wake of Guy Ritchie’s successful 2009 film Sherlock Holmes, a 2011 sequel to that movie, and an unaffiliated BBC miniseries called Sherlock penned by Doctor Who writer Stephen Moffat. Sherlock stories have been abundant lately (check your Netflix instant), and Elementary is only the latest to cash in on the success. Luckily for us, it’s actually good. Just like all the rest of the Sherlocks.
Can a single set of 19th century detective stories find success in three vastly different iterations within only the last three years? We broke it down for you, deathmatch style:
Closest to the original Conan Doyle
Of these three Sherlocks, one takes place in 1890s London, one in contemporary London, and one in contemporary Manhattan. Yet surprisingly the period piece is not the truest to the original stories and novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Winner: BBC’s Sherlock. So far the miniseries has provided six episodes, each one based on an original Sherlock short story or novel, i.e. “A Study in Pink” is based on Conan Doyle’s first novel A Study in Scarlet, “A Scandal in Belgravia” on the short story “A Scandal in Bohemia.” Watson’s return from Afghanistan in the first episode mirrors the original Watson’s return from the Second Afghan War. Characters mostly stay true to their 19th century versions.
Sherlock Holmes is the kind of smart that knows how to beat up people. Like actually scientifically where to hit them in order to damage their physical bodies. This happens maybe once in the BBC show, and it hasn’t happened in Elementary yet (but we’ve only seen one episode so far, so give it time). In the Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, the fighting plays a much larger role. As do the magic and superstition and action-y sequences. Is it distracting? Sort-of, but also it looks cool! Movies!
Winner: Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes. All the Sherlocks know how to fight, but only one of them is a member of a shirtless fight club. Also he’s Iron Man.
Most Radical Update
To make a new movie or TV show out of a classic book series means that you’d better have something to add to the discussion. Sherlock Holmes and its sequel brought a bit of Hollywood flair and action to the series, and Sherlock brought it to the 21st century so that you can know what it’s like when Watson is blogging all of Holmes’s adventures.
Winner: Elementary, because all of the following: Present day. Make Sherlock a recovering addict. Keep him British, but put him in New York City. Make Watson a woman–Joan. She’ll be his sober companion. Make her a surgeon–or, well, ex-surgeon. And her last operation didn’t go well so her spirit’s damaged. Elementary drifts away from Conan Doyle’s stories considerably, but never in a way that seems gaudy or disrespectful.
David Arnold, who scored the last five James Bond films and served as Musical Director for the 2012 London Olympic Games, does the music for Sherlock, esteemed music composer guy Hans Zimmer did the music for Sherlock Holmes, and both are really beautiful and heavy on the violin (Sherlock’s instrument of choice) and harpsichord. Both the series and the movie are already visually brilliant, but the music is what pushes them over the edge into the territory of “excellent.” Elementary takes a different route. The pilot included recent indie pop songs as well as some clever/cheeky humor with songs like Elvis Costello’s “Watching the Detectives” (because you the viewer are also watching the detectives! Whoa, meta!).
Winner: Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes. Mostly because Hans Zimmer.
The announcement that Elementary‘s Watson would be female initially caused a bit of a stir (on the internet, probably not in real life), but fortunately the show has forgone any potential “will they-won’t they” romantic entanglements between Liu’s Joan Watson and Miller’s Sherlock. The pair still works together splendidly, though, as all Holmes + Watsons must. Surely Robert Downey, Jr.’s and Jude Law’s relationship is charming as well. The movies–fittingly considering their frequent action sequences–feature a lot of playful physicality between the two, and also a lot of throwing each others’ belongings out of stagecoach windows. The films also touch on Sherlock’s tendency to cockblock Watson’s romantic relationships.
Winner: BBC’s Sherlock. The BBC series paints Sherlock as a loner and borderline sociopath, brilliant but terrible at social interaction. John Watson serves as his roommate and the only person suited to be his companion. The two bicker like an old couple, but John admires Sherlock’s intelligence and drive, and Sherlock feels something back at John. If nothing else, Internet fangirls feels loads for the two of them together.