So, a little late to the party, I’ve been watching the TV show Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. It surprised me that there are only 10 episodes so far, and I have now seen 5 of these. These episodes are almost entirely based on the original Arthur Conan Doyle works.
In contrast the Elementary series has 78 episodes, and features Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock and Lucy Liu as Joan Watson. This series takes place almost entirely in New York and is much less based on the original source material, but instead has new cases with some familiar names.
I have been watching Elementary from the beginning, but never got around to seeing Sherlock until just last month. The differences between them are quite staggering and my preferences have ended up quite different to what I expected.
Elementary on the other hand has taken some rather radical departures from the source material. Casting a female Watson played by Lucy Liu and setting the series in America could easily have proved a disaster. And yet, some rather good acting, novel plots and an excellent turn from Lucy Liu makes it compelling viewing.
Sherlock is by far the more acclaimed series, having won numerous high profile awards. Much of this indeed is justified as Cumberbatch is good in the role as Sherlock, the sets and direction is good and Martin Freeman is extremely likeable.
And yet…I can’t actually enjoy it for reasons I will explain below.
The biggest problem with the Sherlock story is that the main character is completely unlikeable. At no stage in any of the 10 hours or so I’ve watched so far has the character done anything human. Now of course, Sherlock Holmes is written this way, and clearly is autistic or similar, but in a TV show the main character’s likeability is important. What’s worse, I never understand his relationship with Watson. At no point so far has Watson ever done much other than be the stand in for the audience. Sherlock dismisses him, deliberately mistreats and denigrates him to the point that I do not understand why he is even there. The stand in for the audience has to be better served so that we the viewer get something out of it.
The other main issue with Sherlock is that the writing is done by Steven Moffatt and Mark Gattiss, writers whose work on Doctor Who has often annoyed me. The result is that the stories are often long-winded, overly complex and resolved by ‘twists’ which are not very entertaining.
Now, this is not to say Elementary is perfect or even vastly superior. About a quarter of the episodes also suffer from being overly complicated or uninteresting, but overall I found myself engaged more by it than in Sherlock. Watson in Elementary is actually a useful character who shows growth and learns to do things on her own. The police in Elementary are rather more effective and likeable whilst the supporting characters are usually better too.
So it is some surprise that I’ve discovered that I don’t like Sherlock, and that I might not even bother watching the third season, so little has it interested me so far.