Monday, 3 November 2014

5 Reasons Elementary is More Original than Sherlock

As you can guess, I haven't been blogging the last month or so, but I am back again, with an article I wrote for another place  - which ultimately never got used - but which I am quite proud of.

I love the series Sherlock,  with its fast-paced editing and visuals, its funny, clever scripts and Benedict Cumberbatch giving that wonderful, ever so English, electric performance. I am a fan, and when Elementary was first announced years ago, I must admit I shook my head and sighed mockingly. How could it compare to the beloved BBC's Sherlock? It was set in America for starters! Sherlock Holmes was British! It wouldn't take - it wouldn't be as good.

So, imagine my joyous surprise when I finally watched the series and discovered that, firstly Elementary was brilliant, and secondly, that it was more original than Sherlock. Yes, do not adjust your computer screens Sherlock fans, I honestly think it is!

I'm not saying one is better than the other, but rather Elementary did things differently. Whilst the BBC series is essentially the distilled spirit of the old stories shot straight into the 21st century, Elementary dared to take the characters in new directions, to adapt them to a more modern world and to try out new ideas. 

Warning though! SPOILERS ahead!

1] Watson is a Woman

Perhaps one of the biggest changes Elementary dared to make. Turning Watson from the traditionally male, slightly bumbling British sidekick, into a smart, sensible female Chinese-American surgeon. In retrospect the leap is quite dramatic, particularly when you consider that this is probably the first time there's ever been a female Watson on television, let alone one that isn't British!

It was also rather risky. By making Watson female the series so easily could've fallen into the 'will-they-won't-they' trap, much like Starbuck and Apollo in the new Battlestar Galactica. Yet the relationship between Joan and Sherlock is spot on, and is believably and obviously platonic - in fact there are more romantic sparks between Cumberbatch and Freeman's Holmes and Watson, if you believe the YouTube videos.

Played brilliantly by Lucy Liu, in the longer series format Joan Watson also seems to get more developed in Elementary with a tragic past of her own, as well as a life outside of Sherlock and the brownstone. Here we watch her come into her own as a character, developing and learning throughout the series.

2] The New Dynamic

In Elementary Watson and Holmes are brought together with more purpose than in Sherlock. In the latter series Holmes merely requires a room-mate at first to share the rent on Baker Street. Whilst in Elementary, Joan is a sober companion, hired to help Holmes readjust to living outside of rehab, creating a slightly new dynamic between the characters.

Now, instead of Watson just being dragged into Holmes' world basically through proximity, we find she actually has a reason to be at his side all the time. This also causes extra tension between them, because Watson now has a more powerful role. As Holmes' sober companion Joan has expectations and goals for him, to help him back into normal life. Meanwhile Holmes of course, is unwilling to participate, seeing very little purpose in AA meetings and sponsors. It also means that in the first series we are never fully certain if Joan and Sherlock will actually team up - Joan is only meant to spend a few weeks with Sherlock, so will she stay or go at the end of the series?

3] Holmes' Addiction

Holmes' habit of using drugs was only vaguely hinted at in Sherlock, but never discussed out loud or head on, despite the detective's tendency to use drugs being present in the original stories - though, remember back in Victorian England the drug laws weren't anyway near as restrictive as now.

Here however, the writers do not shy away from this, and instead take the opportunity to give Holmes a darker backstory, an extra layer to his character and a good reason to move him out of England - by having him fall into a full on heroin addiction. Admittedly when the series starts this has happened in the past, but of course the vigilance required to stay sober, the damage he has done to others and his continued recovery all keep the shadow of his addiction in the foreground - there is always a danger he relapses.

This not only adds more emotion and drama to the series, but it gives the series a more grown-up, modern feel. Elementary deals with the fact Holmes takes drugs, and not only brings it up to date, but tackles it in a more open, mature and realistic way than Sherlock does.

4] Holmes' is More Human

We've always know that Holmes is a detached, antisocial genius who's main interest lies more in the puzzle than the people - and that is true of Holmes in both series. Nonetheless, the Holmes in Elementary displays more emotion, more sympathy and warmth, than his counterpart in Sherlock. He is more considerate, more vulnerable and most importantly, he did truly fall in love Irene Adler.

In Sherlock, Holmes is obviously attracted to Irene, but it's more a meeting of wits and sexual tension - and at the end of the day he never admits to any feelings like love. Meanwhile in Elementary, Holmes does fall genuinely and completely in love with Irene, much to his own surprise - and freely admits it too. It is only when it ends badly that he decides never to let such an emotion distract him again, quite understandably.

Although this diverges slightly from the more traditional, almost emotionless Holmes, making the character more empathic and open does allow the show to explore avenues that colder versions of Holmes cannot - such as the isolation of being a genius, and the fear of destroying or burning oneself out.

5] Irene Adler is Moriarty

This was not only an incredible twist, but incredibly clever. Again whilst Sherlock stuck to a firmly male Moriarty who was just rather camp and on the crazy side, Elementary totally shook up any expectations we had, combining Holmes' only love interest with his arch-nemesis - giving a whole new meanings to their rivalry. In Elementary Moriarty toys with Holmes' emotions in a way Sherlock's villain never could - lets be honest, strapping John to a bomb is scary, but pretending to have been violently murdered and tipping your lover into a heroin addiction is just on a completely new plane of torture. In this series Moriarty, though somewhat accidentally, destroyed Holmes and his life in London from the inside out - you can see just in the way he reacts to finding Irene alive how much this has impacted him.

The other thing that makes this new direction such a stroke of genius, is that you've basically created a love-hate relationship between Holmes and Moriarty, but where the 'love' was at one point literal. The emotional mess the past causes for both characters means that future encounters are not only going to be a battle of wits, but a struggle of emotions. Holmes has more reason to want to stop Moriarty in this series than in any other. She is not only a criminal mastermind, casually killing people to aid her own vast schemes, but she screwed him over emotionally - a reason for a personal vendetta doesn't get much more personal.

So that's my opinion.... but what do you guys think? Write in the comments below!