Elementary Review – “Pilot”

Although not technically genre television, we decided that Elementary probably has enough interest amongst our readers to be worth a review.

Cast and Crew Information

Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes
Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson
Aidan Quinn as Captain Tobias Gregson
Manny Perez as Detective Javier Abreu

Written by series creator Robert Doherty.
Directed by executive producer Michael Cuesta

Availability Information

Currently available on iTunes, both in the US and Canada: CAN


Sherlock Holmes was sent to the US for rehab, and has been assigned Dr. Joan Watson as a sober companion to get him through the first six weeks on the outside. He keeps his mind occupied by consulting for the local police.

High Point

The Doyle fan in me was happy to see the bees make an appearance. In the context of the episode in isolation, I would have to go with the hospital confrontation: it’s nice to see the killer not buckle and claim “you got me” when some small pressure is exerted.

Low Point

The broken glasses. The hard part with Holmes is making him brilliant without making those around him seem like idiots. Moffat and Gatiss pull it off by taking a large amount of time to plan a small number of episodes. The US TV structure doesn’t lend itself to that formula very well. (Even Monk, with only 16 episodes most seasons, took a few years to figure this out.) Finding the base of the second glass is a prime example of Holmes appearing to be a giant only because he was surrounded by dwarves. Hopefully this will not be a common problem in the future.

The Review

Sherlock Holmes is very popular and now in the public domain, which means we’ve got a lot of adaptations coming along these days. Transplanting him with a female Watson in the modern day US definitely counts towards this end. I give it 4 out of 6.

The effects were minimal but effective. They primarily were in the teaser, setting up the initial attack and murder. I give it 6 out of 6.

The story was imperfect, but it’s a hard sell. Detective shows need complex plot structures to be effective, and you also need to introduce the characters in your pilot. On top of that, there seemed to be some extra time on character development for the sole purpose of differentiating this adaptation from others. There are also hints that there is a larger plan to be revealed over time: Holmes never does answer the question about why he does this, and we’re going to need to see something happen over the next “six weeks” to see what Watson does when her contract expires. The mystery itself this week isn’t that great; some elements come too easily, including the motive. I give it 4 out of 6.

The acting was well done. Miller has a frantic energy that has become typical of recent adaptations, but still manages to put his own stamp on it. Liu has an easier time differentiating herself simply from the gender change, but the change in her back story gives her a different depth and approach to pull from. Frankly, she pulls it off. There is no Lestrade (yet?) but there is a pair of US officers who set up a nice dynamic with the believer and the skeptic. (Where have we seen that before?) I give it 5 out of 6.

The production is well done. There is a mix of steadicam and tracking shots, and the angles and camera lenses vary nicely depending on which character is our current point of view character. The heavy use of string instruments also maintains a classic feel in a modern setting. The editing also shifts gears between frantic and calm, matching the mood of our focal characters. It isn’t as stylized as the BBC Sherlock series, but they are working on a very different production schedule. On the downside, that means they can’t craft the individual episodes as carefully as their UK counterparts, but on the upside, that means we can see a lot more than three double length episodes every two years. I give it 5 out of 6.

The emotional response is the one where I suspect we’ll see the greatest variation in viewer reactions. Having seen previews, I did some mental preparation before viewing it. I’m glad I did: had I come in looking for an accurate adaptation of Doyle’s work, I’d have been sorely disappointed (though not as disappointed as I would have expected based solely on those previews.) Instead, I came in looking at this as an original creation that pays frequent homage to Doyle’s work. In that context, the show mostly succeeds. I haven’t yet decided if I’ll follow it for the long term, but I’ll keep watching for the next few episodes at least. I give it 4 out of 6.

Overall, it’s a decent new detective series that isn’t a police procedural, and is worth judging on its own merits rather than judging it solely on the American setting and female Watson. I give it 4 out of 6.

In total, Elementary: Pilot receives 32 out of 42.

8 replies on “Elementary Review – “Pilot””

  1. I agree generally with your review. I think they did a decent job, and I liked the leads. I quibble with the originality. As you note, we have another modern-day Holmes running currently, the plot itself is a more elaborate version of the standard procedural, and we’ve even had a female Watson before, in 1987’s Return of Sherlock Holmes, for one.

  2. I enjoyed it so far. I know a lot of people are hating on it for the very fact that it’s not Sherlock (and to a lesser extent because it’s set in the US and not produced by BBC…), but I’ve always been a fan of Jonny Lee Miller, and he’s doing well so far.

    Lucy Liu tends to annoy me, at least in her earlier work she did, but she hasn’t done so yet here.

    I must confess I haven’t ever watched Sherlock so that could be another reason I like it so much.

    It’s definitely going to be one I keep watching, and my wife said she’s going to watch it as well, and she initially had said she didn’t want to.

    • Yeah,
      I started one of the boycotts on Facebook..
      Love love LOVE the BBC Sherlock.
      It’s Moffat, ya know?
      And he was none too thrilled when the American’s approached him to make Elementary…

      • At least they tried to change quite a bit in the process here – it’s not just a US clone of a UK show like Being Human.

        I’m not sure it’s worth boycotting. There is plenty of room in the source material for them to be distinguishable while still honoring the original.

        Only time will tell though…

        • Agreed. Based on this ep, the BBC are doing a better job of the premise, but this isn’t just an American clone, and I’ll probably catch it again. I don’t know that I’ll watch it every week, though. I try to limit the number of shows I watch regularly, and Walking Dead returns soon…. Followed, after its season ends, by Mad Men. Different night than Elementary, but only a finite amount of time in a week………

      • Dangerous to draw many conclusions from one show, but here how I see it
        “Sherlock” is Holmes, his world, his supporting cast, if they existed in the present.
        “Elementary” is show about a Holmes-like detective with sidekick who happens to be named Watson.

        Where else has there been a female Watson?

        • They only sort of count, but:

          -A really good, but dated movie called They Might Be Giants (1971), about a disturbed man in present-day NYC who thinks he’s Sherlock Holmes and goes off on a case, accompanied by his female psychiatrist, Doctor Watson. It stars George C. Scott and Joanne Woodward.

          -A gay-themed Canadian comedy tv-special had a “Sherlock Homo” sketch (probably not the first, certainly not the last, to use that name) in which Holmes and Watson were lesbians.

  3. I was skeptical in the extreme when I saw this previews for this; but my wife wanted to give it a try, so I agreed to sit through the first ep with her…

    I’m not quite a “FAN” at this point, but IIRC, my reaction was “OK… I’m in for another episode of that.”… It’s not an hour of my life that I would like to have refunded (unlike Last Resort)

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