Nothing Fun About Elementary

Q: Are we having fun yet? A: Nope.

I cannot stand to watch Sherlock Holmes on Elementary.

He’s a humorless snot with no redeeming value and I’m amazed that this show has found an audience.

Maybe they’re tuning in for Lucy Liu’s Jane Watson, who is the best part of the show. I certainly hope so. I’ve read or watched just about every incarnation of Sherlock Holmes in books and movies and this show’s version of Holmes is the only one I actively dislike.

It’s not that Jonny Lee Miller’s Holmes is arrogant. Arrogance is an essential part of Holmes’ personality, as is a certain disregard for other people’s thoughts or feelings. But what Miller’s Holmes is missing is that essential charm, some elemental curiosity mixed with mischief that makes Holmes fascinating to watch.

Holmes isn’t interesting because he’s got a nice body, as the Elementary pilot unnecessarily showed us that Miller does.

Holmes is interesting because solving crimes is part of his DNA, his makeup, and he cannot help himself. That’s more compelling than six-pack abs.

There’s a scene in the first episode of Elementary where Holmes gets down on his hands and knees to look for clues. It looks silly. It always has whenever Holmes does it, even in the original stories. The trick is that Holmes is the kind of person who’s so invested in doing what needs to be done to solve the crime that what others think is silly is immaterial. He will have his curiosity satisfied because it’s what he lives for, much as Lois Lane lives for the big scoop.

This Holmes is glum and sullen. There’s no charm and there’s not enough intensity. He’s not the most arresting person in the scene most of the time.

He’s no fun.

Even Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes, who was really Downey going steampunk detective rather than a version of Holmes, was fun.

I can only contrast Elementary’s Holmes with another television detective I’ve been watching a great deal in reruns: Robert Goren of Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

As in Elementary, Goren has a female partner and some serious personal problems, along with a heavy dose of arrogance. Goren, played by Vincent Phillip D’Onofrio, does not look like the whippet-thin Holmes. But D’Onofrio uses his large frame to his advantage, to intimidate people holding back information or to provide protection to those who are being bullied or intimidated.

Vincent D'Onofrio

Solving crimes isn’t what Goren does, it’s who he is. There’s intensity in his eyes while he’s interrogating a witness, he’s dedicated to justice, and he loves matching wits with the criminals.

To him, that’s fun, and it comes across on-screen. It’s impossible to take an eye off Goren during any scene he’s in.

He’s far more Sherlock Holmes than the imposter on Elementary.


Corrina Lawson is a writer, mom, geek and superhero, thought not always all four on the same day. She is a senior editor of the GeekMom Blog on Wired.com (www.wired.com/geekmom) and the author of a superhero romance series and an alternate history series featuring Romans and Vikings in ancient North America. She has been a comic book geek all her life and often dreamed of growing up to be Lois Lane.

Read all posts by Corrina Lawson for Criminal Element.

Comments

  1. Michael Papagermanos

    I don’t know why, but I would have to agree with you. I have been watching this show ever since it premiered, and I am disappointed that CBS moved The Mentalist out of that time slot so that Sherlock Holmes could be seen instead. There is something missing. Maybe that’s why I keep coming back, hoping that eventually, that something will be revealed. In many ways, the Sherlock we have seen is just a “Mentalist” with a British accent and that, for a fan of “The Mentalist” the most annoying thing… You already had a show like that, Why create a new one, and move the old one to a death slot?

  2. Deborah Lacy

    You nailed it. I totally agree. I’ve even felt guilty about it. The BBC version is just so much better.

  3. Terrie Farley Moran

    I differ. I enjoy Elementary. Originally I suspected the concept of a modern Holmes in NY with a female Watson would be ridiculous but once I watched an episode or two, I really came to enjoy the modernization and the interaction between Watson and Holmes. In fact, I appreciate the entire cast. They all do an excellent job. As a bonus I get to see NYC and Aidan Quinn–what more could I ask for????

  4. Laura K. Curtis

    I’m of two minds. I love the scenery — like Terrie, I’m a NYer and a fan of Aidan Quinn as well as Jonny Lee Miller — but I don’t think the writing is good enough. No matter how good the acting is, it can only do so much. I don’t HATE Elementary, I just can’t be bothered to watch it. It bores me.

  5. Clare 2e

    Great post, Corrina! Love a throwdown!
    I actually think RDJr is my least favorite recent version.

    I confess to enjoying Elementary, too, but not because it’s another Sherlock. I think Jonny Lee Miller’s a fine actor, and I find him to have the most interesting reactions of most of the people he’s sharing scenes with. I like the very small movements and moments. I enjoy the rest of the cast, too, and it’s a clever enough procedural Since there’s always a desire for those on the networks, I’m happy if the older franchise torches get passed to a new flavor of solve-the-case-in-an-hour-please show.

    Miller’s Sherlock may not be fun–I’d find all of them a strain in real life–but I’m not sure the glittering mania of Brett’s or the casual cruelties of Cumberbatch’s strike me as much fun either. Also, I guess I don’t really compare the BBC version to this one. The latter’s a few episodes of glorious budget-stretching adventure every year (and a half ish). It is so craftily assembled and surprising and yummy on rewatch. But this is a Big 3 weekly program that’s going to do more than 7x that number of episodes each year and which is not structured like save-the-world high-concept adventure (true to Conan Doyle’s originals), but as a procedural. Set in NYC, which offers chances for scale and glamor, but still at heart, it’s a nuts-and-bolts police procedural.

    I think Elementary’s sleuth has reduced himself, in a way, to becoming a Swiss Army knife at the service of the police. He pursues cases out of boredom, sure, but then why principally for the police, therefore without pay? It seems to me like a kind of guilty penance, with no chemical escape allowed anymore. Is it any wonder he seems slightly more like a grim (residually punk) monk than like a real boy? I do see him as something of a self-made prisoner that way, and I’m interested in that, but I wouldn’t be bothered at all if they didn’t call him Sherlock.

  6. Carmen Pinzon

    @clare2e – I, on the other hand, would prefer it if it wasn’t called Sherlock. The first few episodes disappointed me, especialy in comparison with the BBC version, but then I resolved to consider the names a mere coincidence and I’ve been enjoying the show ever since.

  7. sell

    Translate portuguese fron Brasil,ok?
    Tentei assistir, mas como fã de Goren de CI, simplesmente não deu. Fico o tempo todo comparando o quão semelhantes ( e dessemelhantes ) os personagens parecem e Goren de D’Onofrio é anos-luz melhor que esse ” Sherlock’ ( e Eames como Watson também é melhor).

  8. Terrie Farley Moran

    I think Bungluna has nailed it. If you don’t think of this character as being THE Sherlock Holmes, it’s an interesting series.

  9. Marian Lanouette

    I didn’t know if I’d like the new Holmes but it grew on me. He is a bit overbearing–if CBS wants it to continued they need to humanize Holmes a bit

  10. Michael Papagermanos

    I read your blog post and this sentence struck me head on this time around:[quote]He’s a humorless snot with no redeeming value…[/quote]Nailed it in 8 words. The other thing I wanted to add is this. The replacement for “The Mentalist” is a Mentalist without humor. Is that catchy?

  11. Rosemary Arellano

    I watch “Elementary” faithfully for many of the reasons given by Clare2e and because I like the modern setting for Holmes’ persona. As for the “Mentalist”, he was more and more annoying each week. We stopped watching because of that.

  12. Mary Saputo

    I guess you’d say I’m pretty stringent because I watched Elementary once and didn’t find it enjoyable enough to watch again. As for Mentalist, I “heard” they were going to take it off. That’s OK with me. If I have to watch him walk into another person’s home and help himself to tea, I’ll scream. I also stopped watching awhile back.

  13. theresa norris

    I love Elementary and watch every show. I think the new take on the Holmes and Watson relationship is great, both actor’s bring something new and enjoyable to a much loved classic.

  14. CatBookMom

    Yes. Thank you. My husband likes Elementary, and I watch sometimes, but you are exactly right that the Holmes character is really missing something. Lucy Liu carries the show past that gap. But I keep waiting for something, and it never seems to emerge.

  15. sg911911

    I’ve been enjoying Elementary. I agree that Holmes is missing a certain something but I think it works as a plus. The character has room to grow in the future. I find the Watson character to be more charmless and humorless. Again, she also could change.

    Jeremy Brett and Benedict Cumberbatch are more unlikeable as Holmes than Miller. Let’s face it, there hasn’t been a Holmes as brilliant as Basil Rathbone yet.

  16. Sally

    The first 2 lines are exactly how I feel about the show. Watched it tonight to see if my opinion would change, but no, still can’t like it. I also miss Bobby Goren (Vincent D’Onofrio) on Law and Order, Criminal Intent. I would love to see him come back, if just for a few episodes.

  17. Corrina Lawson

    Yes! He is like Simon Baker without the humor. Or maybe he’s more like House without whatever Hugh Laurie does to make that character work.

    Most of the people who like Elementary like it not because it’s Holmes but for the other parts of the show. I wish I had a Jane Watson, addiction counselor show. That would be different and I find Lucy Liu more compelling than Miller.

  18. swanpride

    Personally I think it’s so grating because this Sherlock Holmes doesn’t really have much to be arrogant about. A character who makes stunning deductions, has invented his own job and does what he has to do on his own has the right to be arrogant. One who lives in the house of his father (while complaining about him), has barely a grip on his life and needs a babysitter should better should up, especially as long as his deductions are so obvious, a child could make them

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