May 16, 2014

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “Elementary”


Luckily for ELEMENTARY, appearances by the BBC’s celebrated Sherlock are so sporadic and brief (this season’s 3 episodes were the first in 2 years), that the two series only infrequently need to be judged against one another.  Those comparisons aren’t to Elementary‘s advantage in terms of conceptual brilliance and sheer inspiration, but then Elementary is really in a different business–churning out 22 episodes per year of about 45 minutes each for a US broadcast network has little to do with the luxury of 3 90-minute mini-movies every couple of years.  On its own terms, the US Holmes, now at the close of its 2d season, is a classy and reliably entertaining bit of mystery fun that plays with Arthur Conan Doyle’s creations without embarrassing them.

Since Elementary is above all else a CBS procedural, most of the season’s episodes are mystery-of-the-week hours, in which Sherlock (Jonny Lee Miller) comes up with a bit of deduction or his Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) provides some practical knowledge to neatly solve the crime before the last commercial break.  (Even more than in Season 1, the police played by Aidan Quinn and Jon Michael Hill are merely around to dole out cases to Holmes and Watson and order BOLOs when suspects are identified.)  What makes the show work isn’t so much the ingenuity of the puzzles, which aren’t much more complicated than those on any of the network’s other procedurals, but the performances of Miller and Liu.  Each of them has a spiky, somewhat reserved charisma that works well for their characters, and as a pair, they’ve navigated the difficult path of being a close TV team without any romantic aspect exceptionally well.

Elementary is usually at its most absorbing when it rubs up against parts of the Sherlock Holmes mythology.  There was unfortunately very little of the show’s version of Moriarity this season (Natalie Dormer is rather busy these days, what with Game of Thrones, the upcoming Hunger Game movies and plenty else on her plate).  The one episode that did feature her was probably the season’s highlight.  There was a fun arc with ex-Inspector Lestrade (Sean Pertwee), here a drunk who at one point ended up moving in with Holmes and Watson (that hour also featured a live chicken in the apartment, the subject of one of Holmes’s experiments).  The most substantial arc of the season, though, featured Sherlock’s brother Mycroft (Rhys Ifans), and concluded in tonight’s Season 2 finale.

The hour, written by series creator Robert Doherty and Executive Producer Craig Sweeny, and directed by John Polson, was as usual weak on amazing deductions (Holmes did figure out that an Iranian murder victim had been stoned to death by the husband of the woman he’d been sleeping with).  Mostly, it dug into the double and triple reverses that lay behind Mycroft’s secret stint working with MI5, which as it turned out was something he did partly to protect Sherlock from an unknowing association with terrorist associates while he was still on drugs.  The identity of the real MI5 mole, and the fact that it would all have to end with Mycroft, framed as the mole, faking his own death, were pretty obvious early on, and CBS didn’t do the show any favors with a “Previously On” montage that spoiled the reveal of Sherlock retrieving the heroin packet he’d filched from an earlier case.  Ifans and Miller, however, were excellent together, and there was an effective set-up to Watson moving out of the Holmes apartment next season, as well as Sherlock himself volunteering for MI5 duty.

Elementary is potentially getting a bit of a break from the scheduling gods next season, because rather than continuing to face the powerhouse Scandal, it’ll air instead against the new How To Get Away With Murder.  Of course, that’s another entry from the Shonda Rhimes House of Hits, and from the look of its trailer, it’s going to be pretty formidable itself.  But the Elementary audience, while only moderately sizable, is fairly loyal, and the series seems to established itself as a dependable member of the CBS procedural family.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."