Brit TV: A Study in Sherlock vs. Elementary



Which one is better the BBC’s Sherlock or CBS’s Elementary? Which actor is the better Sherlock Holmes Benedict Cumberbatch or Jonny Lee Miller? The game is afoot as it’s Sherlock vs. Elementary!

Or is it? Perhaps there’s enough room for both? Portrayed 254 times by 75 different actors in films and television from Basil Rathbone to Robert Downey Jr. the literary sleuth created in 1887 is a popular man. There seems to be enough interpretations to please everyone from the casual fan to the President of the Sherlock Holmes Society.

Even with the many forms of Holmes and Watson comparisons are inevitable. The battle of the ‘best’ Sherlock and the popularity of the character never seemed to fade. What would Sir Arthur Conan Doyle think of his creation now?

In 2010 the BBC scored a major hit with the modern-day reincarnation of the great detective in Sherlock. True to the Arthur Conan Doyle canon Dr. Who writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gattis created six modern, sleek and sexy one and half hour films. Both men were avid readers of the original stories  and huge fans of the Basil Rathbone films. Inspired by their childhood love of Sherlock Holmes Moffat and Gattis created a show about the Victorian ‘consulting detective’ complete with references from the books and films of their youth.

John Watson (Martin Freeman), a military doctor sent home from Afghanistan and Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) share a flat at 221B Baker Street. Mrs. Hudson the landlady mothers the two bachelors as they fight the evil Moriarty, get outwitted by the lovely Irene Adler, and chase after The Hound of Baskerville. All original Doyle characters and plot points brought into the 21st century.


Now the US gets an updated version of the Sherlock Holmes character in the new show Elementary. Instead of London this modern-day Sherlock lives in New York City. Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) now partnered with a female Watson (Lucy Liu) is a ‘consulting detective’ with the NYPD on hard to solve murder cases. This is new territory as many of the characters seen in Sherlock are not present in Elementary including Inspector Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson, and Mycroft Holmes.


Although the new CBS drama does not follow the original stories it does take elements of the Sherlock Holmes character and psyche, but only glimpses of the traditional well-known character surface. Liu and Miller (who is a friend of Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch) are capable and talented actors that do bring a new spin on the Watson and Holmes relationship. Clearly trying to define the relationship was at the heart of the pilot episode of Elementary and the show has the rest of the season to flesh out characters, build relationships and hopefully bring in Sherlock’s nemesis Moriarty.

What about Holmes himself? Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is cranky and socially awkward while Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock is a recovering drug addict (one element of the original canon that has made it into the story so far). Miller’s Sherlock is not yet clearly defined. While quick with his deductions (almost too quick) we don’t see the labored and intense process like that of Cumberbatch’s Sherlock as he goes into his ‘mind palace’. Yet both actors bring something quite different and uniquely their own to the role. Which is amazing considering these two actors share a history and a familiarity as they both stared in Danny Boyle’s London production of Frankenstein swapping roles every night.


Guaranteed to be a hit the CBS drama Elementary is a well acted show, however if the viewer is a Sherlock Holmes fan there may be some disappointment with the lack of details concerning Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s canon. Two episodes into the series Elementary came off more like a spinoff of the current CBS procedural the Mentalist than an updated version of Sherlock Holmes. For those who enjoy a one hour crime drama and are somewhat familiar with Sherlock Holmes Elementary may be the fit they need. While not perfect if CBS decides to keep Elementary into the next television season the show will have a chance to create stronger storylines.

Fans wanting a more traditional Sherlock would benefit from the BBC version. Its charm, wit and devotion to the original material gives viewers a clever show with hidden bits of Holmes mythology.

Whether you prefer the traditional but modern BBC version or the way out-of-the-box CBS version Holmes fans are in luck. The only deduction to be made is this: Sherlock Holmes lives on.

Read More at Anglotopia


  1. avatartati says

    Elementary is a decent procedural, with a quirky protagonist. If I view it like that, I like the show. I can’t view it as a Holmes’ adaptation, though–then it pisses me off LOL

  2. avatarRobSanDiego says

    I’m not expecting Elementary to do well, because American shows just don’t seem to be written very well. A woman as Dr. Watson sounds like a gimmick, and I’m sure we’ll have some romantic tension thrown in as another gimmick.

    I want more Sherlock!

  3. avatarMark Jerome says

    For me, Jeremy Brett remains the definitive Sherlock Holmes.

    Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch is as you say, well acted and funny. However it seems often caught with its own cleverness, and there are elements that remind me of the not very good Guy Ritchie films.

    Elementary has surprised me. I don’t love all of it, but the characters seem to resonate more emotionally for me.

    • avatarSantos says

      Absolutely!! I agree with you. Jeremy Bret is the definitive Holmes. I’ve seen a good deal of the various, different actors. including some of those in the 30’s such as Arthur Wontner. who was highly regarded in his time. But Jeremy Brett remains the best in my opinion. I have enjoyed the Cumberbatch Holmes. It is very entertaining, yet for me, Jeremy Brett is still best.

  4. avatarTina says

    I always have a problem with shows that have a well-loved story stamped on the front but the show itself has nothing to do with that story. “Merlin”, for instance, is a terrific show. On its own, I have no problem with it and enjoy it very much. My problem comes into play when I have to view it as the Arhur/Merlin/Camelot legend. It really has nothing to do with it. I think I would enjoy it much more if it were named something…anything…else. The same is true of “Elementary”. It really has no business being touted as a version of Sherlock Holmes because it isn’t. These shows should be given their own identities instead of being hawked as part of old and well-loved classics. They would be much better that way and I wouldn’t get so agitated. :)

    That’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.

  5. avatarJudith Roseta says

    Cumberbatch & Freeman are wonderful in these roles. Speaking as an American, and used to TV re-creation disappointment, Elementary was what I expected or less.

  6. avatargena says

    I much prefer Sherlock over Elementary. As some have said, Elementary doesn’t seem to have much connection with ACD’s creation. Sure, he’s quick witted and able to deduce things from the smallest of details but he isn’t the Holmes I like. What I love about Sherlock is all the small details they work in to reference or pay homage to Doyle’s detective. And Cumberbatch has the more aloof, quirky, unapologetic approach to being brilliant while still bringing a vulnerability to the role.

  7. avatar says

    I enjoy Sherlock and wait anxiously for its return. Like most American adaptions of British shows Elementary is a poor pretender to the throne of modern Holmes’s dramas I did enjoy Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal. As far as best Holmes, that was true to Doyal’s Holmes, Jeremy Brett has it hands down