October 4, 2012

THE SKED’S PILOT + 1 REVIEW: “Elementary”

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and the production of episodes for the regular season: a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads. The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting, and even story. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.’

ELEMENTARY:  Thursday 10PM on CBS

Previously… on ELEMENTARY:  New York has a new consulting detective with a familiar name:  Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller).  Not a reincarnation nor a time traveler nor the great-great-great-grandson of the legendary one, but Sherlock himself, who just happens to live in the 21st century.  He’s not exactly the Holmes we all remember, though, being newly released from rehab (he’s been known to take cocaine) after events not yet disclosed in London.  As part of his recovery, he has a live-in sober companion named Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu), a former surgeon who has her own dark past and who is naturally sucked in to Holmes’s investigations.

Episode 2:  Elementary is a procedural, which means apart from the basic premise and the developing relationship (but not romance!) between Holmes and Watson, there’s little of a continuing nature to the series.  Currently Watson is only supposed to be staying with Holmes for 6 weeks, so obviously some plot development will extend that indefinitely, but otherwise the stories are self-contained.  The only substantive change from the pilot is that in addition to Aidan Quinn’s NYPD Captain Gregson (the show’s equivalent of Inspector Lestrade), a new and less sympathetic cop has been introduced in the person of Detective Marcus Bell (Jon Michael Hill), who has the necessary task of doubting each Holmesian insight and then being proved stupidly wrong every time.

Elementary was never going to be dazzling in the manner of the BBC/PBS Sherlock, that much was obvious.  Sherlock ingeniously reworks the actual Conan Doyle stories to contemporary London, and it has the luxury of only producing 3 movie-length episodes per year (there are 6 to date).  A US network television series needs 22 hours of annual stories, which meant the episodic plots would have to be original and fit into 41 minutes of non-commercial program time.  Still, if you’re going to appropriate the Holmes name and franchise, you need to be worthy of them, and tonight’s 2nd episode, written by series creator Robert Doherty and directed by John David Coles, was lacking.

The story of seemingly unrelated murders that traced back to a suspect in a coma ended up being solved via the kind of obvious ruse that any other cop show would feature, and the solution was both ludicrously convoluted and unconvincing.  (Since it also turned on Watson not recognizing something about a medical condition, it had the additional disadvantage of bringing into question the one area of expertise she’s supposed to bring to the crimesolving.)  Doherty and his writing staff are really going to have to do better.

What does work in Elementary is the Holmes/Watson interplay.  Miller, a less frenzied (and also less brilliant) Holmes than Benedict Cumberbatch’s on Sherock, matches well with Liu, who’s a more brittle Watson than the ones we’re used to seeing (including Martin Freeman’s).  Whether or not the show ever turns their relationship into a romance (Doherty claims they won’t), the sexual chemistry doesn’t hurt any.  After all, the bond between Holmes and Watson has always had its undercurrents–even on Sherlock, Watson’s insistence on his heterosexuality is a running gag.  The hostility and growing friendship between this Holmes and Watson may not be as quirky and laugh-out-loud as the BBC relationship, but it’s an emotionally believable one.

Elementary appears, on the basis of its premiere rating, as though it may be one of the few clear new hits of the season (helped in part by the fact that it really only competes against ABC in the hour, NBC having decided to air the barely-watched Rock Center).  The show is solid, but it can only be exceptional if–and it’s a big if–its writers can come up with mysteries that truly require a Holmesian genius to be solved.


PILOT + 1:  Risks Being All Too Elementary

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."