September 27, 2013

THE SKED Season Premiere Review: “Elementary”


ELEMENTARY:  Thursday 10PM on CBS

For those of us mildly obsessed with BBC’s superlative Sherlock, it may have been unwise for CBS’s ELEMENTARY (which all concerned agree is not, legally, a knock-off) to bring its updated Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, in its Season 2 premiere, to London.  Kept on their separate continents, Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock and Lucy Liu’s Watson can be viewed as something distinct–lesser, but still entertaining–from the pair of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.  But when touchstones like 221B Baker Street, Mycroft Holmes and Inspector Lestrade come into play, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Elementary is to Sherlock… well, pretty much what Lestrade is to Holmes.

In this rendition, Holmes flies to London in order to find the missing Lestrade, who’s gone on the lam (although actually he hasn’t gone very far) after failing to prove that a tycoon has murdered his wife.  Holmes isn’t supposed to solve the underlying case, but of course he does in moments (it involves a plastic gun submerged in a substance that melts it and makes the resulting goo look like milk, and a nail with a singed tip).  More to the point from the show’s point of view, the episode furthers Holmes’s recovery from addiction as he attempts to make amends with the glory-hungry Lestrade, and reconciles enough with restauranteur Mycroft (Ryan Ifans) that his brother can show up in future episodes.  (Having Mycroft blow up Sherlock’s belongings to get his attention was amusing, although not very sensible.)

Elementary, unlike Sherlock, doesn’t often use plotlines from the original Conan Doyle mysteries, in part because it needs to fill 22 episodes per year, and its crimes and solutions tend to be no more clever than you’d find on any other network procedural.  In addition, since the show is committed to making its Watson a valuable member of the investigating team, the scripts force Sherlock to miss obvious clues (by Sherlock Holmes standards) so that Watson can be the one to recognize them–in this episode, the fact that a blow had been left-handed when the suspect was right-handed, and realizing that scars on Mycroft’s hands indicated recent surgery.  Still, on its own terms the show works fairly well, mostly thanks to the (affectionate rather than romantic, at least for now) chemistry between Miller and Liu, and the strength of their alternate-universe characterizations.  This particular turn with the Holmes mythology, written by series creator Robert Doherty and fellow Executive Producer Craig Sweeny, and directed by John Polson, was, however, less adept than the season finale episodes that brought in Irene Adler and Moriarity.

Elementary will have its work cut out this season, facing the behemoth that Scandal has become (Parenthood, alas, will be an easier foe), and last night’s ratings found the show at an acceptable 2.1, down a third from its premiere last season.  (It fares much better with older audiences.)  That’s just about the level of success it deserves, a mild entertainment for people who want to feel like they’re watching a complex mystery without actually exercising their brains very much.


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."