An avid BBC fan, when SHERLOCK came out my initial reaction was to die of excitement before ever even watching a single episode. Then I watched it. Then I became obsessed. It’s brilliant, clever, interesting, full of talented – and beautiful! – actors, it’s superbly written with great characters and character development, and every episode is unique and charming. How could anyone not love SHERLOCK? Moreover, how could anyone watch ELEMENTARY when SHERLOCK is out there?
And then I watched ELEMENTARY. And then, again, I became obsessed.
ELEMENTARY, like SHERLOCK, is full of intrigue and mystery and some quite fabulous characters. Set in modern-day New York with a former-doctor-turned-sober-companion-Watson, it’s a well-known fact that the creators of ELEMENTARY worked extremely hard in differentiating themselves from SHERLOCK and they did quite an extraordinary job, really.
While ELEMENTARY is designed for primetime American TV and has many of the same qualities of an CSI-type show, it captures the charisma of Holmes and Watson at their best. Combining the classic elements of the Sherlock Holmes we all know and love, he’s been through hell and back fighting addiction and is now sober working as a consulting detective with the NYPD.
There’s no doubt that SHERLOCK is truly a gift to television, but lately I’ve actually started to wonder if I don’t like ELEMENTARY’s Holmes/Watson more. (For confusion’s sake, here on out they will be referred to by the actors last names – SHERLOCK’s Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, ELEMENTARY’s Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu – because it’s super difficult however way you spin it.)
I do quite firmly believe that SHERLOCK is a superior show in most aspects: the stories, the acting and the technical merits are all far above that of ELEMENTARY, however in getting to know Miller and Liu, I find their relationship much more satisfying than that of Cumberbatch and Freeman.
SHERLOCK’s entire schtick is that Cumberbatch is the smartest man in the world and Freeman is just his sidekick; Cumberbatch solves the case, Cumberbatch is endearingly self-involved, Cumberbatch walks all over Freeman (and Freeman lets him), Cumberbatch is oblivious and for all intents and purposes, pretty douchey. We see and understand that he cares about Freeman and his “high functioning sociopathy” is quite a key point in all of this (though I tend to believe the Aspergers theory more than the sociopath one). But the point is, we the audience forgive him because he’s a genius and it’s clear that he loves Freeman!…right?
ELEMENTARY, however, actually shows Miller loving Liu. Not in any romantic way (sit down quietly, JohnLock shippers. SHERLOCK’s gay love is not the point of this post!), but in a true sense of the word friendship. While Miller is of a genius-level IQ, he doesn’t rub it in Liu’s face every episode, or consistently make sure that everyone knows that he’s so clever and they’re so idiotic.
Miller treats Liu as an equal, teaches her (HER!) how to be a consulting detective, gives her lessons and reading and even gives her cases to figure out herself. When she needs help, he doesn’t put her down, but he helps her find the answer for herself. When she goes through a crisis, he is there for her. Miller offers to accompany Liu to visit a grave of someone she knew, he sits and keeps her company with her when she’s upset, he reaches out and talks to her about her feelings, and more importantly, his.
Yes, again, I understand about the sociopathy and Cumberbatch makes quite a few enormous sacrifices for Freeman, but do those life-threatening experiences excuse his crass behavior every other minute of every other day? Cumberbatch and Freeman have some sort of bond, some sort of love between them that doesn’t make sense and that we accept whole-heartedly because of their undeniable chemistry, but looking at their friendship outside of Moriarty’s ultimatum or Magnussen’s threats, Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is seemingly incapable of showing any real affection to Freeman’s Watson. All this being said, there was huge progress in Season 3 because of the nature of the story arc, but it just felt as if it wasn’t enough; especially when I have an equally clever and exciting, really beautiful Miller/Liu relationship to compare it to.
Is ELEMENTARY a better show? No. Do I like it more than SHERLOCK? Hell no. But I do very much appreciate how Miller/Liu’s Holmes and Watson relationship was crafted to resemble that of a partnership and not a dictatorship. Now here’s to hoping they don’t ever ruin it* with romantic feelings and an absurd love story.
*“It” being ELEMENTARY’s Holmes/Watson. There is no arguing with JohnLock. Partially because they’re totally gay for each other, but mostly because fangirls will murder you if you try. [See Tumblr for more information. Tread carefully.]