|Sherlock (TV Show)|
Sherlock Holmes (2009 Film Series)
Elementary (TV Show)
Originally, I was going to write a Sherlock v. Elementary article, but now I have thrown in the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films because...well, because I felt like it. I will have some thoughts on Sherlock v. Elementary later, but I'd like to put in additional thoughts on the recent films too. For the purpose of this post, we will stick primarily with the television programs of Elementary (sometimes referred to as 'CBS') and Sherlock (sometimes referred to as 'BBC'). However, mention to the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films will be made, though this comparison deals mostly with the rival television adaptations.
Actually, I think only a small group of Elementarians and Sherlockians have been fighting it out, dragging the rest of us who think well of both shows into their petty Tumblr Wars, demanding that we select one over the other.
Here is my take on all this. Both Elementary and Sherlock work well within their own world. I think both shows have positives to each. I think Sherlock Holmes fans will find something to enjoy in both adaptations, and I think non-Sherlock Holmes fans will find something to enjoy in both adaptations.
I also think this 'war' is being created primarily though not exclusively from the Sherlock side. The BBC series has a strong and vocal fanbase, one that apparently doesn't brook opposition. In my informal poll at the 2013 EPCON I found many people who like Elementary and prefer it over Sherlock. I can't figure why or would bother to guess. It may be because Elementary has more episodes and there wasn't a wait for new stories like there was for Sherlock. However, I found the Elementary fans to be a little less fierce than the Sherlock ones.
|What's all this talk of Sherlock fans|
taking things too seriously?
It is a sad thing when those who love something are the ones who push others away. For the longest time I did not want to touch Sherlock. Part of it did have to do with Sherlock co-creator Steven Moffat, who I believe is destroying Doctor Who. However, another part, a larger part really, has to do with the Sherlockians, the Sherlock fans who have gone way over-the-top with their love of the series.
If I read things correctly, there are some Sherlockians who cry at almost every episode of Sherlock. The biggest tear-fest was at The Reichenbach Fall. So much for that 'stiff upper-lip' stereotype of the British. I for the life of me cannot comprehend all this crying. To misquote Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own, "There's no crying in Sherlock!" (I'd say there's no crying in Doctor Who either, but some Whovians are simply too far gone to help). I can empathize with having some emotional connection with the characters, but really, isn't this going a bit too far?
Sherlockians also have this bizarre belief that their show is THE definitive take on Sherlock Holmes. Other actors who have earned legendary status among Holmesians (admirers of Canon), such as Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett, and Vasily Livanov, are summarily dismissed by Sherlockians as "Not Benedict". Ironically, in an Elementary episode, Jonny Lee Miller's Sherlock Holmes dismissed all other NYPD detectives as "Not Bell", insisting only that particular NYPD officer would suit his needs.
The Sherlockians I've talked to have made it clear that NO OTHER VERSION of Sherlock Holmes exists or could possibly exist. They have even gone so far as to tell me that not only have they never read Canon, they have NO interest whatsoever in reading Canon. One told me she won't read Canon because it's boring and couldn't possibly be as good as Sherlock. She doesn't care one whit about Canon, which is basically irrelevant to her appreciation of Sherlock. In fact, she couldn't care if the name of the character was or wasn't Sherlock Holmes, for she'd love the show no matter what the character was named.
She also stated she does not care if Sherlock Holmes' survival from The Reichenbach Fall is EVER explained. She doesn't need it explained. It's like a magic trick, she said. Unlike us dumb Americans (who need everything spoon-fed to us), she is smart enough to appreciate the genius of Sherlock precisely because it won't explain how Sherlock both faked his death and came back to life. It doesn't matter how he did it, only that he got away with it.
I leave it up to the reader to decide whether any of that makes sense.
Things like that goad me into favoring Elementary or even Sherlock Holmes knock-offs like The Mentalist or House. The pomposity of Sherlockians who think they invented it gets on my nerves. Their arrogance and condescending behavior really is more than I can stand. However, again that is for another time.
Now, what I think I will do is compare the three most recent versions of the Canon adaptations: the BBC television show Sherlock, the CBS television show Elementary, and the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films to see how the all compare. Another time, it will be a battle royale between Sherlock and Elementary.
I think it would be instructive to listen to all three themes, so let's start out in alphabetical order, and up first, Elementary.
Composer Sean Callery received an Emmy nomination for his theme to Elementary, losing to Bear McCreary's theme for Da Vinci's Demons. He explained that he wanted to convey the many thoughts that would on inside Sherlock's head as the complex became simple to him, and the theme shows this with how it repeats over itself. I think it works well and serves as an excellent intro to the show.
Now let us look on the second theme, that being Sherlock.
Interestingly, while Elementary appears cluttered with its theme, with a lot of music going on, Sherlock is remarkably simple. The opening theme is built almost entirely of long notes, with there being shorter (though not short) notes at the end. There is a busy undertone with the drums, but with the dominant theme, note that the notes are held for a long time (no pun intended). The last note is held for four beats, the others a steady two. I have no idea whether this is suppose to be symbolic of anything, but it is interesting that there is a simplicity, an elegance, to the music. It strikes me as ironic that the opening theme is extremely simple and direct and the plots usually so crowded and convoluted (not complex, convoluted).
Finally, the third theme, that of the first Sherlock Holmes film, called...Sherlock Holmes.
Sherlock Holmes received two Academy Award nominations, one for its Art Direction and one for its Score. While it lost both categories I think Sherlock Holmes was worthy of its recognition even though I disliked the film (and thoroughly hated the sequel). This version sticks squarely within its original setting, and the piano (deliberately out-of-tune, I'm told) reflects this as it sounds old and slightly out-of-place. However, Sherlock Holmes is more an action/buddy comedy than a serious interpretation of Canon, complete with supernatural elements (which prove to be false, but still). As such, the theme also has strong undercurrent of spookiness and action, and even a somewhat lighthearted tone.
I like all three themes to Sherlock, Sherlock Holmes and Elementary. I think both reflect their shows correctly. Any good theme does so. If one listens to the I Love Lucy theme, we see that it has a Latin feel (perfect for the Cuban Ricky Ricardo) and is an upbeat, jolly number, indicating people will find the show funny (and for my view, I Love Lucy is the Citizen Kane of television comedies, the standard to which all others are measured). Similarly, The X-Files theme indicates a strange, spooky world, dark and otherworldly. In my view, it is one of the most chilling opening themes ever written.
As I've said, I think all three are excellent and work for their own shows. However, if I had to pick one as the best, I'm going for BBC. Why? Simplicity, my dear readers. Both Elementary and Sherlock Holmes are extremely busy, and while I have nothing against that I do prefer how elegant Sherlock is. What finally tipped it in Sherlock's favor was someone's work in doing a remix: one show's theme to the other's opening credits. Here is Sherlock's theme to Elementary's opening:
It works so well and flows so naturally I could see how it would fit. Conversely, when the opposite was tried (Elementary's theme to Sherlock's opening), I'm not sure it worked as well. It isn't terrible, but somehow it doesn't flow as well as when Sherlock goes into Elementary. That made me decide the way I decided.
If one theme can translate well to the other's show, then that show I think has the better theme.
POINTS: SHERLOCK: 1, ELEMENTARY: 0, SHERLOCK HOLMES: 0
|Mark Gatiss (Sherlock)|
Rhys Ifans (Elementary)
Stephen Fry (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows)
Here I can pretty much eliminate Stephen Fry's Mycroft. First, while I shall always love Fry's Jeeves, I find Fry to be an insufferable pompous pseudo-intellectual. This ex-con holds himself to be a genius on all subjects, but apart from being an anti-Catholic bigot who bizarrely blamed the Poles for the Holocaust he really is an exceedingly smug giant of a man.
Even that wouldn't be a big bother to me if not for the fact that in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, the sight of this old man's ass on a big screen is more horrifying than Linda Blair in The Exorcist. After seeing Big Steve's big butt, I think if I were gay I'd suddenly have an urge to go straight. Well, now to the serious reasons why I think Fry is pretty much a non-starter.
From my memory of A Game of Shadows, Mycroft didn't play a big part (odd given how fat Fry is...couldn't resist). I never was convinced this Mycroft was Sherlock's equal, let alone superior intellect. Should there be a Sherlock Holmes 3, I wish they'd kill Mycroft off.
That leaves us with the television versions: Mark Gatiss as Mycroft in Sherlock and Rhys Ifans as Mycroft on Elementary.
Both Mark Gatiss and Rhys Ifans have good and bad qualities as Sherlock's older brother Mycroft. Both are correct in that they are older than Sherlock (Gatiss is ten years older than Benedict Cumberbatch, Ifans five over that of Jonny Lee Miller). In terms of Canon Sherlock's Gatiss is closer than Ifans (the government functionary who works behind the scenes versus the MI6 operative).
However, if memory serves correct Mycroft is suppose to be a far more intuitive being than his younger brother and would have made a better detective if not for his lethargy. Gatiss' Mycroft is not like that at all. Certainly BBC is exceedingly intelligent, but he is also smug, uppity, and full of himself. In short, no actual acting required for Mark Gatiss, who is essentially playing himself. Also, BBC could easily be bamboozled. HE certainly never figured Mary Morstan was a secret CIA agent, and HE certainly never figured that Irene Adler was very much alive (or that his little brother went to rescue her in Afghanistan or Pakistan or wherever women are beheaded nowadays). I think BBC is only superior whenever the plot requires him to be.
Ifans' Mycroft on the other hand was a major part of Season Two. He wasn't being used as a prop to bounce ideas off, but was a real person. CBS was secretive, manipulative, sometime playful, sometimes oddly human (though Joancroft is still a subject of fierce debate among Elementarians, let alone Holmesians). However, when he is forced into the Witness Protection Program, I felt that despite their differences Rhys Ifans and Jonny Lee Miller's characters could be REAL brothers, brothers with REAL emotions who did genuinely love each other.
Love, however, is something completely foreign to BBC. This I think is why I have such difficulty with Sherlock overall, for it insists on treating the characters as emotionaless beings rather than as real people. CBS treats its characters like actual people, with flaws and virtues. If the situation that CBS had were placed on BBC, I don't think Gatiss' Mycroft or Cumberbatch's Sherlock would care at all about the other's fate. The fact that I genuinely cared about Ifans' Mycroft and Miller's Sherlock, that I believed it, and that despite all the crying Sherlockians have over every episode I was more emotionally involved and moved with CBS than anything BBC ever gave makes my choice an easy one.
POINTS: SHERLOCK: 1, ELEMENTARY: 1, SHERLOCK HOLMES: 0
|Andrew Scott (Sherlock)|
Natalie Dormer (Elementary)
Jared Harris (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows)
I think Harris was good as the bad professor. Certainly he was never playing it as camp and made to look overtly ridiculous. However, the material was not there for him. That knocks him down a bit, though he's certainly still in the hunt. However, I think we can trust that we have two, for lack of a better word, 'better' candidates.
Here again I would turn to Elementary as a better version of Moriarty despite the passion Sherlock's version elicits. I think there is really no contest.
Andrew Scott's Moriarty never struck me as a criminal genius of any sort. I think part of the enthusiasm for Scott's Jim Moriarty was that he was so deliberately camp, screaming to show he was insane, or at least allegedly Sherlock's equal, a consulting criminal. I however never took to Scott, thinking him comical in his lunacy. If I can't take the villain seriously, how will I take anything about him seriously?
I also am tiring of pointing out the ridiculousness of the whole "Richard Brook" business. No one who thought on The Reichenbach Fall/The Empty Hearse logically could embrace the story. Was there no one in Britain who had seen "The Storyteller" on DVD and thus vouch that this 'twist' was plausible? No, Andrew Scott may be beloved by Sherlockians, but I always thought he was more idiot than master criminal.
This I cannot say about Dormer, who stunned me when she unmasked herself. Now, the idea that Irene Adler AND Moriarty being the same person has divided Holmesians. The majority of Elementarians embrace this twist, but the non-Elementarians are pretty much appalled (though less appalled than they are over Joancroft, but I digress). However, for myself when I learned her true identity, I was shocked, and it's not often a television twist comes as a genuine surprise. Dormer I think understood what Scott (and Sherlock) don't: a villain never sees him/herself as a villain. As such, there was no need for Natalie Dormer to be over-the-top or idiotically 'evil'. Her Moriarty was a cool, calculating figure, one who toyed with Sherlock in more ways than one but who had full confidence she was the smartest person in the room.
Season Two watered her down a bit by giving her a child and a mentor (which as far as I know we don't know anything about yet). Dormer's busy schedule may also mean that her Moriarty may not return, and given another outlandish twist that Sherlockians will eat up there is no way Scott's Jim Moriarty should come back. Elementary, for whatever faults it has, at least was smart enough to hang on to two Canon figures, even if they wrapped them up in one.
I can believe Natalie Dormer's Moriarty to be a Napoleon of Crime. I cannot believe that of Andrew Scott's Moriarty. Maybe the Clown Prince of Crime...
POINTS: SHERLOCK: 1, ELEMENTARY: 2, SHERLOCK HOLMES: 0.
BEST IRENE ADLER
|Lara Pulver (Sherlock)|
Natalie Dormer (Elementary)
Rachel McAdams (Sherlock Holmes)
I think we have three different takes on The Woman, and think that a knock-down drag-out fight is unnecessary.
I am puzzled why Pulver's Irene is getting wild praise. She is a hooker. You can dress it up (or undress it) any way you like, but at the end of the day, Pulver's Irene Adler is a prostitute. A high-end one who caters to royalty and enjoys bondage, but a prostitute nonetheless. How to make out that she's this master criminal when she is just a whore?
Moreover, she is far from a strong woman. She works for Moriarty. She is "Sher-locked" (something so patently idiotic I had figured that out long before Sherlock did, because it was so obvious). She is also in the end a 'damsel in distress', someone who needed Sherlock to rescue her from being beheaded. That isn't The Woman I know. She was The Woman because she was able to outwit Holmes, not because she aroused any great passions within him (apart from a grudging admiration).
Finally, she is the only Irene Adler on our list to be completely outside Canon in that she is not American. No one seems bothered by this twist, and while I don't think it's a dealbreaker I am puzzled (again) why this is considered brilliant while other changes (noted above and below) are blasphemous.
Dormer's Irene Adler at least sticks to Canon in that she is American (or at least is suppose to be). An art restorer/thief, she does show she is a master criminal. Elementary is different from Sherlock in that in the latter, Sherlock is allowed to have emotions and passions, while in the former he pretty much is locked into being only a cold, logical thinking machine. Holmes is that, but he does have capacity to feel.
However, into this wild mix is one who I think is the best Irene Adler. To perhaps the shock of the audience, it's Rachel McAdams' version. First, she is American. Second, she is an adventuress (a thief rather than the opera star from Canon), but one who appears to be able to outwit Holmes. Third, she is playful and fun while being able to play all angles. McAdams' Irene is someone who may be bad or good, depending on the situation. Yes, she too was in cahoots with Moriarty, and perhaps she has been killed off, but I do hope that if there is a Sherlock Holmes 3, she returns, because she was a highlight of a bad series.
In many ways, the relationship between Rachel McAdams' Irene Adler and Robert Downey, Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes reminds me of that between Catwoman and Batman: sometimes adversarial, sometimes flirtatious, sometimes united.
I do believe we have a winner.
POINTS: SHERLOCK: 1, ELEMENTARY: 2, SHERLOCK HOLMES: 1
BEST DR. WATSON
|Lucy Lui as Dr. Joan Watson (Elementary)|
Jude Law as Dr. John Watson (Sherlock Holmes)
Martin Freeman as Dr. John Watson (Sherlock)
Here I have no doubt as to who is the clear-front winner is, but more on that later.
It is clear that Sherlock stays closer to the Canonical Watson than Elementary. It's eerily similar in fact. Both Canon Watson and Sherlock Watson are Afghan War veterans, haunted by what they saw. Both are military doctors, injured in the line of duty, and chronicle the adventures they have with Sherlock Holmes.
I think, however, that that is as far as the comparisons lie. Martin Freeman is squarely in the Nigel Bruce mold of Watson, as a bumbling idiot who really has very little idea of what is going on. His military record and post-traumatic stress disorder isn't a big part of the story nowadays, and most of the time he looks genuinely confused about everything.
One thing that haunts me from His Final Vow was that Freeman's Watson focused on the fact that Sherlock Holmes had a girlfriend rather than on the information Holmes was giving him about the adversary. I don't understand why Freeman and Sherlock want to make their Watson into this blundering buffoon. One Sherlockians told me that while she has no interest and/or knowledge of Canon, she was told that Freeman's idiot Watson was exactly like ACD created in Canon.
I beg to differ. Canon Watson was never as sharp as Holmes, but he was not a moron.
|True, but odds are she can |
kick his hobbit ass...
Lucy Liu's casting as a JOAN Watson outraged some Holmesians, and enraged Sherlockians who immediately suggested there would be a romance between Joan and Sherlock (an odd argument given how Johnlock, the erotic pairing of John and Sherlock, is a virtual Sherlockian requirement). However, in the two seasons of Elementary I think Liu is one of the show's highlights.
Joan started out as a 'sober companion' to help ease Sherlock into recovery from heroin addiction. As the series progress she has evolved to being his protégé and his equal. She is not a stooge to Sherlock, nor is she his lackey. Unlike Freeman, Liu's Watson doesn't suffer Sherlock's arrogance gladly. She isn't there to admire him and is more than able to hold her own, down to telling him when he's wrong.
It is rare for Freeman's Watson to point out where Sherlock is wrong (intellectually or emotionally). He is perfectly fine to being almost shot more than once, almost being burned alive, and emotionally tortured, all because Watson holds Sherlock up to the pedestal Sherlock believes himself to occupy. Liu's Watson, conversely, wouldn't tolerate any of that. When she was abducted, the ramifications between her and Sherlock were addressed. It was perhaps the final straw in her decision to look for a room of her own, to coin a phrase.
That really differentiates Lucy Liu's Joan Watson and Martin Freeman's John Watson. The former wants to be her own person and break from Sherlock Holmes, not completely but be able to stand on her own two feet. The latter appears in desperate need to be in Holmes' shadow and does all he can to be close to Sherlock. There are other differences (such as that Joan Watson can put things together while John can't), but by and large Joan Watson is a real person. John Watson is an extension of Sherlock and appears to have no life outside the Great Detective.
I'd like people to imagine Joan and John switching roles. Do you think Joan would tolerate Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock: his arrogance, his casual cruelty, without at least slapping him once and telling him how full of it he was? Conversely, do you think John Watson would want to learn how Jonny Lee Miller's Sherlock puts things together and WANT to solve crimes as a partner rather than his admirer?
You'd think I would pick Liu, but for me, when it comes to the BEST Dr. Watson, for me, like the Highlander, "There Can BE Only ONE"... There is only ONE Dr. John Watson who combines the best of all Watsons. He is an intelligent man and a man of action. He is one who loves life and loves women but also loves his friend. He is one who considers Sherlock Holmes both his friend AND his partner, who tolerates his friend's outrageousness but can tell him off with equal sincerity. He's sometimes the muscle. He's sometimes the heart. He's sometimes fun. He's sometimes serious. He's a loyal friend who also can call The Great Detective on his foolishness.
Out of all the interpretations of Doctor John Watson, one stands high above them all...
BEST SHERLOCK HOLMES
|Jonny Lee Miller (Elementary)|
Robert Downey, Jr. (Sherlock Holmes)
Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock)
Why don't you just ask me to name my favorite child.
This one really is a toughy. Each version I think has been excellent, and I'm hard-pressed to say one is better than the other.
Robert Downey, Jr. has the added burden of being an American playing British, but bless him, for he's doing a great job of it. I think he is one of the best things in the series. My only dislike about Downey, Jr. is that he sometimes makes Sherlock into an action figure rather than a man of towering intellect.
|Not JLM, but a remarkable simulation...|
Miller had a disadvantage as well, in that he was seen as an interloper to Cumberbatch's Sherlock. However, I think Miller has done extraordinary work. He has made Sherlock more human, more accessible and more fallible. This is one of the biggest strikes against Cumberbatch. His Sherlock Holmes is TOO perfect, TOO correct in all his interpretations and unwilling to admit error of any kind. Just by the way someone wears his watch Benny's Sherlock knows whether the man has murdered someone. This infallibility pushes Cumberbatch down tremendously.
Miller on the other hand, has flaws as Sherlock Holmes. He's still prickly, arrogant, sometimes maddening, but he also has a heart, a need for people. Miller's Holmes is one who makes clear he needs people, needs not just their applause and acclaim but also their support. He respects people's skills such at of Detective Bell and Captain Gregson. Miller's Holmes is not perfect and that is why he is so good.
|Ah, 'Mr.' Holmes, I presume?|
This isn't to take away with what Cumberbatch has done as Sherlock. In turns brilliant and almost comic in his inability to understand people Cumberbatch keeps a solid balance that makes Sherlock an enjoyable thing to watch. Some of the best moments in Sherlock are when we get to see underneath the mask to see that there might be an actual human beneath his 'highly-functioning sociopath'.
Truly, I think each one is excellent, and while I believe there is only ONE undisputed Sherlock Holmes interpretation, I think all three have done excellent work and will not pick favorites. Later on I will make a case as to why I think one of the two television Sherlocks is more believable, but I can't say one is 'better'.
SHERLOCK HOLMES: 3.
I can't say I LIKE the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films. I like some things in them, but on the whole I find them a sad waste of great material.
If push came to shove I would say that Sherlock is better but Elementary is the one I like more. Does that make sense? Elementary is a police procedural, and I find nothing wrong with that. I enjoy it because we do have more time for character development and because they, unlike Sherlock, aren't diving into outlandishness.
Elementary, for examples, would not 'kill off' Sherlock and then once brought back never offer a reason how he survived. The Sherlockinan I talked to about this says she doesn't care if it's ever explained. Like a magic trick, she said. Something about how Sherlock can be allowed to get away with leaps of logic, even within its own world, strikes me as insulting to my intelligence.
Elementary maybe a police procedural, but Sherlockians should admit that Sherlock is pure fantasy and not meant to be realistic, even in its own world. Sherlock isn't logical, it isn't realistic, and truth can be fast and loose. Sherlock is fantasy, and while it might be well-made at the end of the day I prefer reality over magic (to misquote Blanche DuBois).
In short, this long war between Sherlockians and Elementarians must end. These are two different shows which occupy two different worlds and should be appreciated on their own merits. I am not a fan of Sherlock and prefer Elementary, but see that Sherlock does have its positives. Sherlockians refuse to see anything good about anything that isn't THEIR show. It doesn't just go to Elementary.
They refuse to acknowledge that Jeremy Brett is good.
They refuse to acknowledge that Vasily Livanov is good.
They refuse to acknowledge that Basil Rathbone is good.
Some refuse to acknowledge that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is good!
Some Sherlockians hold that Canon can't possibly be as good as Sherlock, and I wonder why are they watching a show based on ACD when they don't care one whit about Canon. I've been told by some Sherlockians that they will NEVER read Canon.
Their loss, and their arrogance.
|Sherlock fans fanatical? Perish the Thought!|
I do wonder why WOMEN who dress up as the male characters get angry when a woman is cast as Watson.
I hope that Sherlockians and Elementarians will see that both shows can be enjoyed. Besides, it's not like Elementarians are as crazy or fanatical as their Anglophile counterparts. You wouldn't see Elementary fans dressing up like the characters....
|I stand corrected...|
Sherlock, Elementary, and the Sherlock Holmes films can be enjoyed. I have my favorites, and you have the right to your favorites. Each has their pluses and minuses, and I hope that people are allowed to enjoy one, two or all three without others insisting their version is the ONLY version.
Besides, hate to break it to you, but ultimately, I believe there to be only ONE Sherlock Holmes...
|Actually, I'm the one amused...|