Third-episode verdict: Elementary (CBS/Sky Living)

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, CBS
In the UK: Tuesdays, 9pm, Sky Living. Starts tomorrow

Three episodes into CBS’s Elementary and I can conclusively report that Steven Moffat has nothing to fear from CBS’s modern-day Sherlock Holmes retelling. Now this isn’t just because the two are so radically different that beyond the names Holmes and Watson, there’s very little in common. No, it’s because although Sherlock is itself flawed, Elementary just isn’t as good.

The show’s biggest problem, as I remarked in my first episode review, is that it’s a procedural. Nothing wrong with that in itself, because in a sense, the Sherlock Holmes stories were procedurals. But problematically for Elementary, which is a crime procedural, the Holmes stories were mystery procedurals: a mystery that needs solving – strange behaviour, a secret code, etc – rather than a killer that needs to be found. A lot of the time, the perpetrator of the crime is known in the Holmes stories – it’s what he wants and how he’s doing the crime are what have to be revealed, and that are the unusual and interesting aspects of the story.

Elementary, however, mostly just uses Holmes’ headline inductive/deductive powers to work out what happened at a crime scene so that the not-especially-interesting killer can be revealed. Not always – the second episode is more of a mystery than a crime procedural – but largely this is the same old CBS police show with a twist, in the same vein as The Mentalist.

The show is also very Holmes-lite. Apart from his deductive skills and his drug-addiction, there’s very little of the man himself in this Holmes, with the writers adding a little reference or quote each episode from the original, just to reassure you that this still is Holmes, even though there’s been nothing quite as brilliant as even Conan Doyle’s weakest observations in the originals.

Disappointingly, just as Jonny Lee Miller isn’t an especially charismatic Holmes, albeit one who takes his top off a lot to show his tattoos, Lucy Liu is a somewhat bland Watson, the producers giving her very little to do beyond talk about Holmes’ drug addiction. Attempts to make them a sort of Odd Couple really just aren’t working. And the supporting cast are practically non-existent, with even Aidan Quinn’s Captain Gregson largely there just to say ‘Yes, Holmes’ and, more frequently, ‘No, Holmes.’

But it’s not terrible. It’s no worse than any random given episode of any other CBS procedural. If all you want to do is unwind at the end of the day in front of the tele, you could do far worse. But don’t expect to have your brain challenged in any way.

Barrometer rating: 3


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.