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




  • Toby O'Brien

    I was curious how this would stand on the Barrometer, and I'm surprised that the curve went in the direction it did. I thought the second episode wasn't as good as you thought, but that the third episode was an improvement.
    Oh well. It suits my purposes – a murder mystery over breakfast once I get home from work in the morning….

  • Toby O'Brien

    I was curious how this would stand on the Barrometer, and I'm surprised that the curve went in the direction it did. I thought the second episode wasn't as good as you thought, but that the third episode was an improvement.
    Oh well. It suits my purposes – a murder mystery over breakfast once I get home from work in the morning….

  • Toby O'Brien

    I was curious how this would stand on the Barrometer, and I'm surprised that the curve went in the direction it did. I thought the second episode wasn't as good as you thought, but that the third episode was an improvement.
    Oh well. It suits my purposes – a murder mystery over breakfast once I get home from work in the morning….

  • I thought episode 2 was more Sherlock Holmes than before and there was more mystery. Episode 3 was pretty obvious and there was really nothing to it that couldn't have been in any other procedural.

  • Toby O'Brien

    I guess for me the second episode suffered in comparison to a similar episode from 'Monk' in its early years. And maybe I'm thick but that plot twist in the third I did not see coming……

  • Toby O'Brien

    I guess for me the second episode suffered in comparison to a similar episode from 'Monk' in its early years. And maybe I'm thick but that plot twist in the third I did not see coming……

  • Toby O'Brien

    I guess for me the second episode suffered in comparison to a similar episode from 'Monk' in its early years. And maybe I'm thick but that plot twist in the third I did not see coming……

  • Whilst I am not entirely uncritical of 'Sherlock', it is nevertheless undeniably a 'Sherlock Holmes drama'. My objection 'Elementary' is not that it is procedural but rather it ain't a Sherlock Holmes drama. If it was called something else entirely then it would be a serviceable albeit by-the-numbers crime-buster.

    It is a bit like making a re-imagined 'Mike Hammer', but instead of being a hardboiled PI, he is a gay cheese maker and the show is set in a Belgium rather than gritty inner city USA.

    Well ok, it might even be a great show but it will never be a 'Mike Hammer' show. And Elementary is not a Sherlock Holmes show.

  • I made a similar but not identical point in my original review

  • To which I can only add… great review!

  • Thanks!