Sherlock BBC vs. Elementary: Stop the War

If Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was alive today, he would be that guy on Tumblr that posts something really stupid late at night and it gets a million notes as he frantically tries to stop people from reblogging it.

So I apologize in advance to Doyle for this post. Really. Truly. Sorry. But whatever yolo here goes nothing.

Okay there is such an inflammatory discussion about these two shows and fans bash and praise and exaggerate and get into all-out Internet wars when comparing them and my thing is I just don’t understand why are you comparing them in the first place?

Both shows are just the latest Sherlock-Holmes-with-a-twist adaptations. And here’s the thing with adaptations: they are not meant to be 100% true to the canon. It’s modifying an original story with the creator’s own thoughts/takes/changes/whatever. In this case, the aforementioned twist is placing Sherlock Holmes in a modern-day setting. The similarities end there.

I am a fan of both Sherlock BBC and Elementary. Each has its great points and its awful points. I like and continue to watch each for a number of reasons. They’re completely different in style, audience, content, and adaptation and that’s why I find it so interesting that people insist on pitting them against one another when they shouldn’t be compared on the same level to begin with.

{for the record, the following comparisons are not meant to establish one show better than the other which is my main problem mentioned above; just to simply demonstrate the different qualities of each and prove they should be judged based on their own merits and the individual’s personal preferences}

Elementary is essentially an American crime drama using one of the most beloved fictional characters of all time as its foundation. The shorter episodes + longer seasons format does give it an overused structure but it also gives the show room to flesh out plot lines and character development. Sherlock BBC on the other hand relies on a long episodes + short seasons format. While this makes every episode like a mini-movie (which is awesome), it also makes much of the character development rushed and implied rather than demonstrated with overarching personal plot lines.

Another differing point is the setting. Elementary takes place in modern-day New York while Sherlock BBC takes place in modern-day London. While Elementary could easily take place in any US city, Sherlock BBC makes the city of London almost a character in itself. This may be due to the fact that the stories in Sherlock BBC are more closely based off of the originals. This is a main criticism of Elementary but that brings me to my next point.

Sherlock BBC is undoubtedly a better page-to-screen adaptation than Elementary as far as case stories go. This is not to say one is better than the other but die-hard SH fans may be annoyed at the fact that without the main characters being who they are, Elementary could basically be any procedural cop drama. BUT (and this is a big but) the writers of Elementary bring in those elements elsewhere in their adaptation. The Irene Adler / Moriarty plot line in Elementary was absolutely brilliant, in my opinion. It was such a fascinating take on the villain, much much different than Sherlock BBC, which took a no-less-brilliant but more traditional approach. Sherlock BBC also applies this approach to the rest of the canon characters such as Captain Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson, and of course Watson. Which brings me to my next point.

I will be straight-up honest here: when I first heard CBS was making a Sherlock Holmes adaptation with Lucy Liu, I was skeptical. I didn’t think it would work. I’m so glad I was proved wrong. Lucy Liu’s Joan Watson is probably my favorite thing about Elementary. It’s a fascinating and refreshingly new dynamic on what could easily have become a cliched American cop bromance.

A reporter once asked Joss Whedon, “Why do you write these strong female characters?”
His response? “Because you’re still asking me that question.”

I just want to apply that same argument to anyone who says “Why is an Asian American woman playing a white male’s role?”
For the first time, Lucy Liu is playing a character that is not defined by her gender or heritage. That is groundbreaking, especially in American television. Of course that’s not the way it was written by Doyle in Victorian London. That is the whole point of an adaptation. And for a modern-day adaptation set in New York, one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, hell yeah it works.

I can understand those people who are avid fans of the original Sherlock Holmes and are purists when it comes to their adaptations. That is totally valid. You are allowed to like your adaptations in very specific ways. What is not okay is openly bashing and criticizing the show for taking a different approach. They have as much right to their adaptation as you do (as long as it does not overstep the boundaries of misogyny and race issues which unfortunately Sherlock BBC sometimes does).

Furthermore, I see less people up in arms about the portrayal of Sherlock Holmes’ character in Sherlock BBC as an asexual, rude “high-functioning sociopath.” In this sense, Elementary’s Sherlock is a closer portrayal to the original character. And that is okay. Sherlock BBC has every right to portray their lead character in a different way than the canon. Again, that is the point of an adaptation.

I could write more about the differences between the two shows and where each fails and excels. The bottom line is that they are both vastly different shows based on the same classic adaptation.

You are allowed to like one and not the other.

More importantly, you are allowed to like both.

It depends on what type of show you are interested in watching, what stylistic format you like best, what aspects of the adaptation matter most to you, etc. But the whole one versus the other bash isn’t just silly, it’s utterly pointless. Especially when it crosses the line into bashing female characters and POCs. By all means, debate and compare the two based on their merits and types of adaptations, but stop insisting one is better than the other.

Sherlock Holmes is a classic that will be taken and adapted and molded for years to come. You may hate some and love others. Has it escaped anyone that House is basically a Sherlock Holmes adaptation in a hospital setting? (I think people probably realized that with the last episode of the series but still…) That’s the brilliance of these stories though: the flexibility it gives people to flex their creative muscles and apply their own ideas.

That being said, please understand that all thoughts expressed here are my own opinion. I’m always open to discussion and debate about these shows because I love them both and I love hearing other people’s thoughts.

Just keep it friendly 🙂


5 responses to “Sherlock BBC vs. Elementary: Stop the War

  1. Elementary reminds me of other such shows, such as Bones, The Mentalist, Caste, Monk, etc.

    I wasn’t comfortable with them making Watson female. It creates a different dynamic. I would have preferred if both were female or both male. Sherlock is sexist until Irene outsmarts him. It is only then does he give women their due, so to speak. I think they missed a trick with that.

    I watched all the Elementary and Sherlock episodes. One thing you will notice is that Joan seems smarter in Elementary than John in Sherlock. I say ‘seems’ because Elementary isn’t really that ‘smart’, for lack of a better word. You can pretty much guess who did it and most of the time how (or maybe I watch too much of these sorta shows). With Sherlock, that wasn’t always clear. That and E’s Sherlock doesn’t seem as capable as BBC’s one. And that’s my main gripe with the show.

    I also felt that the Irene/M wasn’t good at all. It spoiled it. I feel that having Irene as his lover spoiled it, just as having Irene fall in love and be saved by Sherlock in kinda spoiled the Irene character in Sherlock. I would say the latter works out better in my opinion than the former. Both ruin Irene, but one more than the other.

    Back to my main gripe. E’s Sherlock should be smarter and faster at deducing things than he is. sometimes Joan comes up with the answer and you think “BBC’s Sherlock would have thought of that”.

    And Mycroft is ruined somewhat in Elementary. He doesn’t seem to be anything like his original source material other than being called “Lazy” or “Fat” by Sherlock. Mycroft is supposed to be smarter but lazier than Sherlock. Maybe they will work that in, but who knows. The other thing that got me is that E’s Sherlock couldn’t deduce that Mycroft was ill and lost his weight that way. Rather it was left to Joan. It makes Sherlock’s earlier assertions that he is the smartest man in the world look like arrogance when Sherlock, while being that does give people their due (in the book he says Mycroft is smarter, and Watson thought he was being ‘kind’ and then Sherlock rebukes him about that).

    I want a smarter Sherlock in Elementary and more interesting and intriguing cases that you don’t solve yourself half way through the episode..

  2. Hi Boris thanks for commenting! I definitely agree with you Joan is much smarter than John, and that Elementary plays out like any typical American crime drama while BBC Sherlock’s mysteries are more in-depth and harder to figure out. However I do still think having a female Watson presents an interesting dynamic. I don’t necessarily believe the original Sherlock Holmes was sexist. More so that he was a creature of his times. Women just weren’t exactly accurately represented in literature until the 1960s really. But that’s just the way I see it.

    I can totally understand your main gripe – that Elementary’s Sherlock just doesn’t seem as capable as the BBC’s. I read an opinion somewhere that both shows represent Sherlock at different times. That BBC’s Sherlock is more arrogant and full of himself and Elementary’s Sherlock is based of what he would be years later, post-Reichenbach, ego deflated a bit, etc. It’s an interesting way to look at it. Not that it takes away the fact that the “mysteries” in Elementary need more of an intrigue but the theory helps put each character into perspective sometimes.

    To be honest, I disliked the Irene plot line in BBC’s Sherlock more than the one in Elementary. I thought having Irene be Moriarty was pretty original, not necessarily spoiled by being his former lover but rather emphasizing the theory I just mentioned further. But in the BBC version, having Irene fall in love and be saved by Sherlock was so contradictory to the original character… There was a certain misogynistic ring to how it all played out that just didn’t sit well with me.

    As for Mycroft, I was surprised as well that Sherlock hadn’t been able to deduce his illness in Elementary. I like the character of Mycroft much better in the BBC version. Maybe Elementary will play more to it in later episodes (after all, he’s only been in about three). But we’ll see!

    Again thanks for reading! 🙂

  3. I do like both. However-as far as the mysteries go. What “mystery” was really in The Great Game? It’s Moriarty attaching bombs to people. Yes, Sherlock has to deduce clues-but there’s no mystery. In A Study in Pink, I think most of the viewers knew the killer was a cabbie long before Sherlock did. What was the “mystery” in ASiB? For that matter, what was that whole episode about? What was the “mystery” in TRF other than how Sherlock survived? You can’t hide the culprit in every show of Elementary, when there are only two guest stars. It doesn’t take a mental genius to suss them out. And maybe that’s part of the problem. So many people have seen so many detective shows, that you really can’t fool an audience anymore. But that’s also a problem with Sherlock. No doubt the explanation as to how he survived the jump, will be stupid and infantile. I like both shows, but I prefer Elementary, because the fanbase is far less annoying. Oh, and the character development is awesome. And, Mycroft. As much as I love MG’s version, RI’s version is now shpaing up to be much, much more fun.

    • Hi Michele thanks for reading and providing your insight! I definitely see where you’re coming from. Some of my more intuitive friends were able to figure out the mysteries in Sherlock BBC pretty quickly but for the most part, I at least find myself more on my toes than during the typical crime mysteries in Elementary, which as you mentioned are pretty easy to figure out. Then again, two totally different versions so to each their own! I’m holding on to the hope that the return of Sherlock BBC will be satisfying in its Reichenbach explanation but who knows… And I agree, Rhys Ifan as Mycroft is really growing on me. I hope they do more with his character in upcoming episodes! Again thanks for reading 🙂

    • The mystery how Connie Prince was killed, the mystery why the painting is a fake (in both cases you could figure it out if you paid attention, but I bet not many people did), well, I guess everyone who ever read the stories knew how someone ends up at the tracks without using his ticket. That was, btw, partly the problem with ASiP, too…not only did we see all those Taxi’s at the beginning, everyone who ever read the original knew that the murderer was a cabbie (a problem Elementary naturally doesn’t have, since the show has nearly only original stories). But did you also figure out that the last victim had been at a place with wind and heavy rain? I certainly didn’t, and I saw the same details Sherlock saw. They even spelled them out for us.

      The mystery in TRF was, btw. what Moriarty’s big plan was. But I bet you figured it out from the get-go and naturally also knew that the Code was just fake, right? And how Sherlock survived…I would love to hear your theory. It’s not like a whole fandom hasn’t thought about it for two years. And if you believe the people who saw the screening, the explanation is believable. Those kind of judgemental post is the reason why the “war” (which was created by the CBS as a marketing campaign imho) will most likely never stop.

      To be honest: Every time I read “I don’t like something because of the fandom”, I can’t help thinking that this is a stupid reason for disliking something. Either a show is good or it isn’t. I wouldn’t watch a show for a nice fandom either if I don’t like the show in itself, so why should I not watch it just because some fans annoyed me? Never mind that no matter what show, there are always nice and fanatic fans. There is no reason to go where the fanatic fans are (read: Twitter and Tumblr).

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