I watched the entire CBS series, Elementary, starring Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Joan Watson, shortly after the series wrapped up in 2019, if I recall correctly. When the series first began in 2012, I watched the first couple of episodes, and I was not immediately impressed. I had been a big fan of the BBC's Sherlock, and at the time, I was under the impression that no actor could quite match Benedict Cumberbatch's take on the famous character. However, when I gave the series another try a few years later, I began to see that Elementary had some advantages over its British counterpart. Over the course of seven seasons, Liu and Miller were able to develop their portrayals of Holmes and Watson to a degree that Freeman and Cumberbatch could not achieve. Meanwhile, some of the supporting cast of Elementary were given a great deal of development over time that most of the supporting characters on Sherlock were not given. Finally, while Elementary continued to get better and better over time, and ended up the series at the top of its game, the quality of Sherlock declined noticeably in the fourth (and so far, final) season.
Now that the entire series of Elementary is streaming on Hulu, I decided over this Christmas break to watch a couple episodes, and then decided to re-watch the entire series! I've just finished the first season, and it's absolutely as good as I remembered it having been. Lucy Liu is particularly excellent, I think. And Jonny Lee Miller displays a great deal of versatility in his portrayal of Holmes. Again, the more extended format over many seasons, seems to have allowed both actors to grow in their roles to an extent that their British counterparts did not.
I shan't be reviewing the entire series, as I've been doing with the Granada TV adaptation starring Jeremy Brett, but I may share my thoughts from time to time. Meanwhile, I'm thoroughly enjoying experiencing Elementary again (even if I still have to watch ads, one of the downsides of the Hulu platform).
This morning I finally finished the journey I began way back in Fall of 2012, shortly after the CBS series Elementary first began. As I recall, I didn't initially like the show: I had been so impressed by the BBC's Sherlock, and I just didn't think Jonny Lee Miller's version of Holmes was as compelling as Benedict Cumberbatch's performance as the same character. I also thought that the "Watson is a girl" premise of Lucy Liu's character was too gimmicky. But I gave the series a second chance, and I'm glad I did. Over the course of Elementary's seven (six and a half?) seasons, I now believe that Miller and Liu were able to inhabit their roles as the famous detective and his loyal sidekick to an extent that no other actors have been able to achieve.
And as far as the way the creators of the two shows wrapped up their series, I think the finale of Elementary was far more satisfying than the mess that wrapped up season 4 of Sherlock. (Yes, I know there continue to be little hints that maybe, just maybe, the BBC may pick up Sherlock again. But that season 4 finale really felt like a series finale.) By the end of the BBC series, Sherlock and Watson had become little more than parodies, whereas the end of the CBS series seemed to be to be completely appropriate to the characters we had come to know and love across the years.
Just in case there is anyone reading this who took even longer to finish Elementary than I did, I won't give any spoilers. Suffice it to say that I also enjoyed many of the little tidbits that were mixed into the last half season. References to the Garridebs, or Ronald Adair, were entertaining gifts for longtime fans of the Sherlock Holmes canon. Elementary provided such references from time to time, but it seems to me that they included significantly more canonical "shout-outs" in these last several episodes.
I see that the series actually ended in August of 2019, so I guess it didn't take me too much longer to watch the entire series than it should have (four months late is better than never, I guess). I guess I'm fortunate to live in the age of Hulu, so I could binge watch the series in a handful of extended viewing sessions. Overall, despite a very few episodes that I didn't enjoy as much, I think Elementary was one of the most successful Sherlock Holmes adaptations ever to grace the screen. This Sherlockian has found it immensely satisfying, at least.
One of the great things about Elementary and Sherlock, and even the Guy Ritchie films, is that the character of Watson has finally broken out of the Nigel Bruce mold. Not to completely denigrate Nigel Bruce's contribution to Holmesian film history, but he made the stereotype of Watson as an old bumbler the standard for an awfully long time. Watson ended up being a comic figure, almost the polar opposite of the brilliant figure of Sherlock Holmes. But now we have Jude Law--brave, intelligent, handsome; we have Lucy Liu--a female twist on the character, but a brilliant detective in her own right; and possibly the best actor to ever play Watson, Martin Freeman, whose depth and nuance are really astounding.
And it's more than simply casting fine actors as Watson; the balance of Sherlock Holmes and his trusty companion has been restored. In the canon, Watson is an essential element of almost all of the cases, and Holmes trusts him completely. There is a mutual admiration between the characters that is wonderful. Not that Watson isn't sometimes critical of Holmes, though...I think the recent versions mentioned above have all grappled with Watson's frustration with Holmes. Sherlock in particular has explored a very complex give and take between Holmes and Watson, wherein John becomes devoted to Sherlock as his friend, but is sometimes very angry with his callousness and his inhumanity. In Elementary as well, Lucy Liu's Joan Watson can be highly critical of Sherlock, while he can be quite cruel to her at times; but the mutual admiration and trust are always there. Jude Law's Watson seems to have a short fuse when it comes to Holmes and his idiosyncrasies, but he and Holmes still seem to respect each other.
After all, what do we know about Watson from the Conan Doyle stories? (We don't really know his middle name, but that's a subject for another time...) We know he was an army doctor, wounded in battle (in either the shoulder or the knee, or perhaps both.) We know Holmes trusts him completely, so much that when the King of Bohemia suggests in "A Scandal in Bohemia" that he would rather talk to Holmes alone, Holmes says, "It is both or none." We know that Watson is continually amazed at his friend's deductions; however, Watson never seems to have any problem following Holmes in his reasoning, and he certainly does an excellent job of recording those deductions for posterity. We know that the two men are close enough friends that, even after the good doctor gets married, he still spends a considerable amount of time with Holmes, and always seems ready to drop everything to accompany him on cases. And when it comes to the much publicized issue of Holmes's use of cocaine, Dr. Watson does not hesitate to make his displeasure known to the detective. So it makes sense that portrayals of Watson on film and TV shouldn't distill the character down to a bit of comic relief.
I realize there have been other actors in the past who haven't followed Nigel Bruce's lead in their portrayals of Dr. Watson. David Burke, the first Watson in the Granada TV series which featured Jeremy Brett as Holmes, was a particular favorite of mine. But Brett's Holmes was so brilliant, I often thought Burke, and Edward Hardwicke, who replaced him, were often overshadowed a bit. The lovely thing that's happened in the recent film and TV incarnations of Sherlock Holmes and Watson is that Watson, be it John or Joan, has emerged from Holmes's shadow, and gotten a fair share of the limelight. And interestingly enough, when Watson gets his (her) share of that light, Holmes shines all the brighter.
I'm a stay-at-home dad, and Director of Music Ministries at a United Methodist Church in Mt. Juliet, TN, and a longtime fan of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.