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'Sherlock' vs. 'Elementary': How the US drama compares to the UK hit

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CBS key art: Elementary

© CBS

Next week, US TV viewers will finally get the chance to size up Elementary - the contentious CBS take on a contemporary Sherlock Holmes has attracted a fair bit of criticism, but come Thursday, September 27 (and a little later on Sky Living in the UK) we'll be able to decide whether this modern-day take on Conan Doyle's work is a worthwhile pursuit or just Sherlock-lite.

Steven Moffat, before deciding that he'd said all he was going to say on the matter, criticised the conduct of CBS - who'd previously been denied the right to remake Sherlock outright - calling their behaviour "pretty remarkable".

But fighting in Elementary's corner is CBS president Nina Tassler, who's insisted that Sherlock is "a wonderful show [but] very different from ours", adding: "I think there's plenty of room for another Holmes in our world."

Meanwhile, Benedict Cumberbatch's view of his new 'rival' is a little sketchy - first he wished the project luck, then he appeared to admit that he was "cynical" about the casting of his Frankenstein co-star Jonny Lee Miller, before then claiming that his apparent criticism was a "misquote".

The Week in Geek actually got a preview of the Elementary pilot a while back, so whether you're a hardcore Sherlock fan who's already written the show off or a cautious newbie still considering whether or not to give Miller's 'tec a try, this writer recommends checking out this handy comparison guide before jumping to any conclusions...

Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) vs. Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller)
Sherlock in The Hound of the Baskervilles

© BBC

Poster for 'Elementary'

© CBS


While Cumberbatch portrays Sherlock as a frequently cold and distant figure - in the actor's own words, "a complete sociopath and low-spectrum autistic" - Miller's Holmes is a far warmer character. He's not above making a quip and, while the obsessive behaviour and lack of social skills are still somewhat present, the Elementary model is far gentler than his predecessor.

John Watson (Martin Freeman) vs. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu)
Dr John Watson in Sherlock

© BBC

Lucy Liu and Johnny Lee Miller filming on set for 'Elementary' pilot series in New York

© Rex Features / Curtis Means


Beyond the obvious gender difference, there's actually surprisingly little that separates these two characters, aside from the fact that Joan is assigned to our hero as his 'sober companion' while John sticks around simply out of friendship. There's certainly tension in both relationships, though judging from the pilot episode, sparks are set to fly between Elementary's leads in a way they never did between the heroes of Sherlock - no matter what certain regions of the internet might suggest.

Sherlock's friends and foes...
Jim Moriarty, Andrew Scott, Sherlock

© BBC

Roger Rees

© Rex Features / Gregory Pace/BEI



No sign of Moriarty in the Elementary pilot, so no poor actor has to compete with Andrew Scott's incendiary Sherlock turn quite yet. Though we have heard of plans to introduce the 'Napoleon of Crime' to the US series, with Elementary co-creator Rob Doherty describing his take on the villain as "a spider at the centre of the web of crime".

But whatever becomes of his greatest foe, it certainly seems that Elementary is taking a different tact with Sherlock's family. Mycroft Holmes - played so wonderfully by Mark Gatiss in Sherlock - is nowhere to be seen in the US series. Execs have instead suggested that we're more likely to meet Sherlock's father - perhaps played by West Wing actor Roger Rees?

You know my methods, Watson...
Lucy Liu and Johnny Lee Miller filming on set for 'Elementary' pilot series in New York

© Rex Features / Curtis Means

Richard Castle and Kate Beckett from Castle

© ABC


Of course, the biggest bone of contention for Sherlock fans - the one that once threatened to lead to a lawsuit - is does Elementary *feel* like its rival? Do the shows share a similar structure or feel? A visual style?

Here at least the answer is a resounding no. This isn't intended as a criticism of Elementary, but it lacks Sherlock's visual flair - while the directorial flourishes perfected by Paul McGuigan have made the UK series a beautiful thing to behold, the US show is a more straightforward beast.

And in terms of tone or 'feel', Elementary more closely resembles a Bones or a Castle than it does its UK counterpart. There's little of the darkness that pervades Sherlock - instead there's snappy dialogue, spirited performances and a sense of fun.

Sherlock and Watson in The Hound of the Baskervilles

© BBC



Overall, Elementary's timing could be better - CBS rushing its own contemporary Sherlock Holmes series into production so soon after apparently being denied the rights to Sherlock can't help but feel a little seedy.

But put the show's dubious beginnings behind you and what you'll find in Elementary is a perfectly serviceable procedural crime drama. This writer loves Sherlock but this show isn't that show - and that's most definitely a good thing.

Are you willing to give Elementary a chance? Did this guide help change your mind? Let us know below!

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