Friday, January 11, 2013

Elementary vs. Sherlock

As the first episode of Elementary was aired here in Germany yesterday, I’m finally in a position to compare both new versions of Sherlock Holmes. Of course, comparing six 90-minute-movies to one 45-minute episode (if you cut out all the ads) seems hardly appropriate. Especially the developing relationship between Holmes and Watson will need some more watching.

Off the bat, I can’t see how Elementary could be a copy of Sherlock. Apart from the basic premise of putting Sherlock Holmes in a modern environment (which isn’t new, the first Sherlock Holmes movies made, the ones with Basil Rathbone, did that already), there isn’t much both series have in common. Of course both have a certain set of characters (Holmes, Watson, Lestrade/Gregson). Of course both versions of Sherlock Holmes are able to surprise their surroundings with their deduction skills. But, as far as I can say, that’s where similarities end.

The Sherlock Holmes of BBCs Sherlock is, very much like his original version, strictly asexual, as can be seen in his dealings both with the lab girl and with Irene Adler. He has no interest in people ‘this way,’ no matter which gender they are. He’s a creature of the mind much more than one of the body, foregoing many ‘creature comforts’ while his mind is highly active. The Sherlock Holmes of Elementary, however, is quite a polar opposite. As he explains to Watson early in the first episode, he recognizes his brain and body need sex to function properly, so he obtains it (through a prostitute) when he feels it’s necessary.

Same goes for the topic of drug abuse, which comes with Sherlock Holmes (although it should be noted that cocaine, Holmes’ original drug, was perfectly legal in his time). While BBCs Sherlock does even abstain from smoking (wearing several nicotine patches at the same time to make up for the missing pipe/cigarettes), the Sherlock Holmes from Elementary meets up with ‘his’ Watson only because of a drug habit. She’s supposed to make sure he stays clean this time.

Which brings us to Watson. In BBCs Sherlock, we have a very traditional Watson, whose basic characteristics and background (safe for replacing his brother with a sister) are very, very close to the original. An army doctor, wounded in Afghanistan, looking for someone to share a flat with. A man of action and medical abilities who can assist Holmes in every way necessary (including shooting a murderer before things can escalate too much). In Elementary, we have a female version of Watson (which is a good idea per se), a former surgeon who turned to helping addicts after a patient died under her hands (though it’s questionable whether any doctor would throw the towel after just losing one patient, maybe even one so severely injured survival chances were sparse). She is Holmes’ watchdog in a way, keeping him from straying back to the drugs, but she also is about to become a valuable aide. The Sherlock Holmes from Elementary is more rude and aggressive at times than his BBC equivalent (who, while a sociopath, is more of a cold, emotionless type), so he needs Watson to stop him and provide a softer alternative (which might explain why there’s a female Watson, just saying).

My first impression of Elementary is a good one. I will definitely continue to watch the series and find out more about this Holmes and Watson.

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