Wednesday, October 16, 2013


As a child, I found some of my grandmother's furniture to be fascinating. She had a number of barrister book cases filled with books. I spent many hours examining and reading the books in my grandmother's library. I actually wore some of her books out by reading and re-reading them. One set of books that I almost demolished was a two volume collection of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. Thus began a lifelong fascination with Doyle's great detective. I have read and re-read all of Doyle's stories multiple times; I have watched many (but not all) of the Sherlock Holmes movies and television shows; and I have listened to every Sherlock Holmes radio play I could get my hands on.

Although I found some of the television and movie portrayals of the great detective to be unwatchable, I thoroughly enjoyed the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce movies. Rathbone became the cinematic Holmes against whom all subsequent Holmeses are measured. The latest movie series with Robert Downey, Jr., is quite good, although not quite what Conan Doyle had in mind. The television series with Jeremy Brett was good, but I found Brett to be a little too heavy to be a convincing Sherlock Holmes. Many have played Holmes on radio, but none better than Clive Merrison in the BBC series.

Now we have two competing television series about the great detective--Elementary on CBS and Sherlock on BBC. Although they both bring Holmes to the twenty first century, they give very different portrayals. Elementary's Holmes (Johnny Lee Miller) is a recovering drug addict who lives and works in New York City, while Sherlock's Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a self-proclaimed "high functioning sociopath" living at the venerable address of 221B Baker Street in London.

Cumberbatch's Holmes seems to me to be closer to the original than Miller's. For example, Cumberbatch's Holmes is ridiculed by his enemies as a virgin, while Miller's Holmes seems to be quite promiscuous. Cumberbatch may be a little too close to the original Holmes; he sometimes comes off as a caricature of the original. I like both Cumberbatch and Miller as Holmes.

While both Cumberbatch and Miller are reasonable facsmiles of the original Holmes, Elementary's Watson is nothing like the original. First, he's a she (Lucy Liu). Second, Elementary's Watson is not a disabled veteran with PTSD. She's a surgeon who lost her nerve when she lost a patient on the operating table. Despite the fact that she's nothing like the original Watson, Liu carries off the part of Watson quite well. She's no dunce, and she becomes an indispensable colleague of Holmes. Sherlock's Watson (Martin Freeman) appears to me to be the second coming of the original Watson. He's a combat wounded veteran of the war in Afghanistan, and he's quite capable of handling himself in a scuffle. He's nothing like the bumbling Watson created by Nigel Bruce. Although I liked Bruce as Watson, I prefer the more capable Watsons portrayed by Liu and Freeman.

When we come to Irene Adler, we stray far afield from the original character. Sherlock's Irene (Lara Pulver) is a thoroughgoing scoundrel, somewhat on the same plane as the Irene Adler from Robert Downey's Holmes movies. The original Irene was a resourceful woman who lived somewhat outside the law, but she was not a villain. Elementary's Irene (Natalie Dormer) is a far more complex  character than either the original Irene or Sherlock's Irene. As with the Irene Adler from Robert Downey's Holmes movies, both Sherlock's and Elementary's Irene Adlers have a connection to Holmes's archnemesis, Moriarty. I think I prefer Sherlock's Irene Adler to Elementary's.

The original Moriarty was a professor of mathematics and the Napoleon of crime. Neither of the new Moriarties are professors, and aside from the fact that they are both brilliant the sole resemblance they have to the original Moriarty is their thoroughgoing criminality. Sherlock's Moriarty is as nutty as a fruitcake, while Elementary's Moriarty seems to be a more interesting, complex character. I was glad to see the original Moriarty go over the Reichenbach Falls, and I impatiently awaited the demise of Sherlock's Moriarty. I didn't like the character in the original stories, and I haven't liked him in any of his subsequent reincarnations--until Elementary. When offstage Elementary's Moriarty was the embodiment of evil, but when onstage was someone for whom you could feel sympathy. I didn't want to see Elementary's Moriarty die.

Both Elementary and Sherlock thoroughly reworked Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's older and smarter (and heavier) brother. In Elementary, he is a skinny restaurant owner. Sherlock's Mycroft, although he is also thin, is much closer to the original. I liked Sherlock's Mycroft.

Both series abound with sly allusions to the original stories by Doyle, and it is fun picking them out. I do believe, though that Elementary far surpasses Sherlock in the area of plotting. The story line for the first two seasons of Sherlock veered into the surreal, with some of the characters, Moriarty in particular, engaging in irrational behavior. I'm not going to say that Elementary's plots were more realistic, but they did seem to be less unrealistic and the characters behaved rationally for the bizarre situations they found themselves in.

In the final analysis, both shows are entertaining and very watchable. As the saying goes, "Though he might be more humble, there's no police like Holmes."


  1. I prefer Elementary in every way except for the portrayal of Mycroft who is more of a distraction to me than actually adding anything to the story on Elementary.Elementary is far more "realistic" in certain ways and also with a far "nicer" Sherlock.I think Elementary's ace-in-the-hole is the casting of Lucy Liu as Watson with her acting as more of a real partner instead of as a sidekick.As Far oriarty is concerned I actually predicted that He would be played by a She just simply based on the fact that Watson was cast as a woman and made sense to change things up.I preferred Elementary's Irene Adler/Moriarty until tonight's episode of Elementary which left me cold.I could care less if Moriarty is played by a woman or not.I was initially excited that Sherlock's nemesis would be played by a woman but as a quasi love interest, no.Still, Moriarty on Elementary is better by far than Sherlock's ridiculous entry.Irene Adler is better on Sherlock except for the fact that they reduced a brilliant woman to being a damsel-in-distress.Both Shows are better than the Downey jr.'s Sherlock that only gets the martial abilities of the character right and everything else is kind of a mess.Since Sherlock has been recently ruled to be in the public domain (which I disagree with) perhaps I write my own variation of the story one day because, in my opinion, we have yet to see a truly definitive, modern Sherlock Holmes not counting Jeremy Brett's brilliant turn of course.

    1. Cumberbatch/Sherlock's Adler never impressed me as a damsel-in-distress even when she was about to have her head chopped off. The classic damsel-in-distress has done nothing to contribute to the predicament she finds herself in. Adler, however, had her head on the chopping block as the result of voluntarily playing a dangerous game, much like the Downey/Sherlock Adler in "Game of Shadows."

      I like Joan Watson, but you must admit that Martin Freeman is much closer to the original Watson than Lucy Liu in more ways than simply being a man.

    2. Sherlock's Adler WASN'T a Damsel-in-distress until the final act where all the good things about the character, brilliant, independent were stripped from her including her very occupation.Adler, as written by Doyle, with all the conventions of that time, seemed more modern than any interpretation I've seen.The Final Act of 'A Scandal in Belgravia' exists not merely to show the consequences of Adler's "dangerous game" but to illustrate Holmes' absolute superiority to her which was not the case in the original story.
      I FREELY admit Martin Freeman's Watson, played excellently by the way, is closer to the original Watson but if they can change Adler they're free to change Watson as well.

    3. Looks like "Elementary's" latest episode shows how a damsel-in-distress should behave. I've never liked any incarnation of Moriarty in any rendition of the Holmes saga--except "Elementary's" Moriarty. (Although Orson Welles did make a pretty good Moriarty in the BBC' series starring Gielgud).

    4. Agreed.Natalie Dormer illustrates what can be done with that character when written properly.Sherock's Moriarty has to be the absolute worst I've seen and not because Andrew Scott is a bad actor, but because of the ridiculous writing - Moriarty isn't just 'evil' but apparently insane as well, but they've all been pretty bad.I don't think Doyle gave as much thought as he perhaps he should have in the creation of Moriarty from the outset.Based on a real person but created mainly as a means to an end - Sherlock's end with little identity of his own.Yes, Orson is precisely the kind of actor that would make for a good Moriarty.

  2. The why I'm disliking SHERLOCK is because of too much "gay" jokes
    I've read all the books, since I was a child, I remember I love Sherlock Holmes, because he's like emotionless, he got no feeling for men or women, so I don't like how attached to Watson in SHERLOCK's version

    I know they're friends, on the books Watson would always risk his life on a mission or whatever, I just don't like the gay thing (there are lot of those jokes on season 3, I guess it's for the fangirls, I got nothing against gays, but I don't want those delusional girls that know nothing about Sherlock Holmes-never reading a book before- to turn my hero into...)

    Besides, SHERLOCK got like an hour and its story sometimes it's kind of rushed, so I get confused and I really disliked the way they portrayed Mary, like on the movie, she's like an nuisance to their friendship, but she's supposed to be more important than like, since she showed up in a whole epic novel The Sign of the Four

    People always know Irene (just one chapter) and nobody cares about Mary (someone explains me?)

    Although, Mycroft on SHERLOCK is better, is darker, more mysterious.
    Mycroft on ELEMENTARY is kind of ordinary, however, he has something between hands, so let's wait for new chapters to see if he's planning something or not...

    I choose ELEMENTARY, maybe I'm wrong, I never pictured Sherlock Holmes being innocent at all, just an uncaring man about feelings. The characters on the US version is best developed and Natalie Dormer made a great acting as Irene/Moriarty