BBC “Sherlock” or US “Elementary”: Which Adaption Is Suited For You?

Perhaps one of the most common things I hear in the Sherlock-Television-Adaption group is whether Elementary or Sherlock (both currently airing) is better. There are many posts choosing one from the other, and labeling it as a obsolete choice. I beg to differ; they are two different shows, aimed at two completely different audiences, and the ultimate preference is personal. It’s a matter of accepting both shows offer a mixed-bag of things that are exclusive to your tastes.

This isn’t a post telling you “Sherlock/Elementary is better,” but listing the elements of both shows, and hopefully providing a reference as to which adaption’s better for you. 

As discussing television shows is a broad subject, I am choosing to focus on the components of the story, characters and plot; as if the shows were books. Of course, it is plausible your mind may change depending on the characters, scenes, and elements of camerawork.

BBC’s “Sherlock”

This was the first Sherlock adaption I ever watched, and wonderfully written. It is exactly as the title implies; the mysteries revolve around the titular character and their adventures, dragging along a reluctant Watson. Perhaps one of the greatest element of this show is the fast-paced, thrilling plot that changes drastically every couple of minutes or so, providing an endless amount of on-the-edge-of-seat entertainment.

It is aimed, I believe, for a more mainstream audience who love unpredictable plots, love guessing the mysteries (that are always present), and somehow falling in love with Sherlock, despite his obvious oddball nature. There is a clear answer in each plot, a wonderful story, that is always focused on the main character. This isn’t always a positive thing, as there are times (such as John’s wedding) where more emphasis was placed on Sherlock, rather than John himself. But, somehow, it works –especially when there’s always an underlying mystery in the background.

The plots and complications are fresh, and somehow directly correlating to Sir Conan Doyle’s original The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, but with more modern advancements. There is little diversity, which I believe was purposely done to match the original Sherlock Holmes better. It’s set on the streets of London (unless I’m mistaken) and provide unpredictable, fresh new twists on the original story (and many English tales, which I believe is a wonderful addition).

Despite Sherlock being the most robot-like human I’ve watched in a television series, there were the occasional reveal of character quirks, moments of humanity, and a non-verbal friendship between himself and John. Some of these peculiarities are not related to the original series, but makes the character more human –and compelling. The fact there are only 9 episodes (!) makes it a easy watch. Many of the scenes had extensive, almost cinematic-quality editing and the special effects were stunning.

There are, however, a couple of things I personally didn’t like about BBC Sherlock. Although I’ve mentioned above that 9 episodes is a great way to attract an audience –quite watchable– fewer episodes offer little time for character development, and cause greater emphasis on weaker episodes (which are nonetheless still enjoyable). Sherlock feels like a robot, and the relationship between himself and Watson is inconsistent, and switching heavily.

Having a show influenced specifically by the main lead can be a great feat, but fails sometimes. There are occasions where I wonder why everybody puts up with Sherlock, even after his oblivion to human emotion and calculator-personality. It appears almost everyone around him is infatuated with his personality, despite his intellect being the only likable thing about him, and frequently puts the people around him in danger. In the way of characterization, I wouldn’t rate it highly on the scale. Especially when we are reminded (through John, Molly, and basically everyone around him) that he’s highly intelligent. But I need to award a point to his brother, Mycroft, because the dialogue between them is both delightful and entertaining.

Sherlock is a compelling watch, one that keeps your heart racing and eyes stuck to the screen. It has excellent writing, wonderful and bouncy dialogue, and flashy, bright lights. However, once the episode finished, I didn’t think about the show much. It was out of my mind completely, but the cliff-hangers got me. The cliff-hangers, humorous dialogues and the sense of thrill at every corner… Sherlock succeeds as a dazzling adaption, one that has me anticipating every episode, but doesn’t play with my emotions.

Elementary 

Like many of BBC’s Sherlock fans, I was reluctant to watch Elementary. With the amount of praise I offered above, it seemed hardly needed. In fact, I didn’t notice any of the flaws in Sherlock (for me, personally) until I began watching this show. There are many reasons why you might be reluctant to start Elementary, and I would like to address a couple of them: “Joan” Watson, Sherlock’s companion, is a woman which may ultimately ruin the platonic relationship between the main characters; the show itself is set in New York, which doesn’t correlate with the original works and the diversity of the people around them is unfamiliar in most other shows, and definitely not present in the original works.

While we are discussing negatives, I’d also like to point out that the plots are quite predictable (the murder cases are occasionally extremely simple), the lights aren’t as flashy, and quite mundane in comparison to the thrilling, exciting Sherlock, and definitely not as fast-paced. It’s not as popular as Sherlock, and has a smaller fan-base. Almost everyone will claim Sherlock is a lot better. In fact, if you don’t look closely enough, it’s simple to dismiss it as another crime show (something along the lines of The Mentalist and House).

So what kind of audience would like Elementary? A audience who adores, craves and loves being shocked by characters.

The crimes, as mentioned above, are quite predictable –but the motives never are, and neither are the brilliant deductions in order to unravel the culprit. There have been many cases where I sat, stunned, because the murderer’s point-of-view seemed disturbingly reasonable and fitted my own state of mind. The cases aren’t the typical “she murdered you just for the sake of it,” they are complex, and occasionally extremely moving cases.

The main character has flaws of his own (way too many to count on one hand), and provides a human, broken, and occasionally wrong Sherlock Holmes. Not to mention, he makes the occasional bad decision (entirely justifiable when considering his own mind) but unlike BBC’s Sherlock, is broached with the issue and suffers the consequences, that impacts the relationship between characters and trusted ones.

I should also mention that Watson does not admire Sherlock with a burning passion (unlike the original works) but occasionally acknowledges his expertise. And, somehow, that’s enough; we don’t need the constant approvals from the people around him. Also, this Watson is actually of use, and intelligent enough to solve cases on her own near the end of the first season. Sherlock ultimately adopts her as an apprentice, and I find the inevitable friendship consistent, wonderful and one of the many qualities of the show. And, I’m happy to say, the relationship remains platonic (something I believe is vital for the plot).

Which brings me to another point: the diversity of the characters. I’ve read articles that describe the diversity as a poor attempt to differentiate Elementary from other Sherlock adaption. I assure you, having characters of different races does not change anything. These characters blend into the everyday life of New York because that’s exactly how it is. Ignoring the existence of other races, unfortunately, will not provide a realistic scope of such a large city, and this was considered as most of the characters differ from the television norm.

But the greatest thing was, the heritages blended so efficiently; nobody cared who was from where. I have yet to see another show that mixes people differing from the “standard American television characters” with such a simple, “it’s normal” kind of gesture, without remarks about their culture or nationality. This isn’t a show trying to rip off situations and make them appear more “edgy,” but a truly thoughtful, insightful adaption of Sherlock Holmes. Although many things are changed, they still contain the heart of Sherlock Holmes, and the deduction, the characters, and the interactions are all the same; you just need to look a little more carefully to realise just how beautiful this show is, because it’s easy to give up within the first episode. (UPDATE: I have a friend with an Elementary blog that you can check out)

***

It’s probably obvious by my post I prefer Elementary, but I under no circumstances claim it to be “better” than BBC Sherlock. This post is not a subjective one, and I can admit it, yet I can identify the key points (both good and bad) of each show. I am a fan of both shows and love them for different reasons, as outlined above.

If you are after something brilliantly filmed, eloquently written and dazzling (with a large fan-base, I should add), Sherlock might be the show for you. However, if you’re after something thought-provoking, a little morally challenging and brilliant characterisation, I recommend Elementary.

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10 thoughts on “BBC “Sherlock” or US “Elementary”: Which Adaption Is Suited For You?

  1. I prefer Sherlock, and in fact generally prefer British adaptations to American adaptations of stories. Having read most of the books, and seen the old B&W movies starring Basil Rathbone, I quite like the cleverness of the Sherlock episodes.

    • Thank you for stopping by! I haven’t watched Basil Rathbone’s version, but have watched Jeremy Brett’s. Also, whether I like the American/British version depends entirely on the show itself; although, like yourself, I usually prefer the British (although in this instance, I prefer the American). And the cleverness of Sherlock episodes is wonderful. 🙂

  2. Agreed. Sherlock is brilliant. I grew up with Doyle’s stories and loved the early Rathbone/Bruce adaptations as well as the (rather more recent) Downey/Law movies. I think Sherlock is more witty and brilliant for its writers and outstanding actors.

  3. BBC’s ‘Sherlock’ is the best adaptation for me. British shows tend to pull me in more. The show is amazingly well written ( by Mark Gatiss), and stays true to the books as well. The cleverness, and angst, with sarcastic comedy is wonderful.

  4. Excellent post! I’m an avid fan of both shows.
    Good call on saying that the two shows appeal to two different mindsets. In my mind they’re like apples and oranges, equally tasty, but very different.

  5. Oh my good lord, I just read this and it was brilliantly described. I am undoubtedly with you. Initially a Sherlock fan, I was a little hesitant about elementary and how it was going to make its own little space in the realms of television shows. But when I started watching it, the detailed and so well-thought out characterisation engrossed me. Sherlock and Joan are realistic characters (unlike Sherlock in Sherlock) and they have flaws which they are willing to accept. That’s what I love about it! As I have probably stated before, the dynamic between Jonny and Lucy is so wonderfully amazing that I never just seem to let go. But yes, honestly elementary deserves praise for what it has been able to achieve and especially what it will achieve in the future. I intend on writing a comparison of Sherlock vs elementary post soon enough and all thanks to you for inspiring me!
    And also, you are an incredible person to include my blog in this beautiful post of yours. You really are! Probably the most kindest and selfless person I have ever met 🙂

    • Aww, this made my day. ❤ You are absolutely welcome. 🙂 (I really love your blog/writing style, so I really hope you reach a vaster audience 😀 )
      Ooh, remind me; tomorrow in physics, I want to show you some ways to reach more of an audience. And I'm really looking forward to your Sherlock VS Elementary –can't wait until you post it! 😀 (Tell me if I forget, okay? 🙂 )

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