Sherlock vs. Elementary: Six Episodes vs. A Full Season


by Noor Alnaqeeb (@nooralnaqeeb)

While watching the latest episode of Elementary, I was struck by the notion that every week the same major differences are found between its episodes and Sherlock’s. And the reason is pretty simple: Elementary airs every week and has a full season of thirteen episodes whereas Sherlock has had two seasons and a total of nine. What does this mean? First and foremost, it means familiarity.

While watching Sherlock, it is undeniable that the quirky humor and wit is infinitely hilarious and irrefutably amusing, but lately in Elementary, I have found myself becoming sympathetic towards the characters in unexpected situations. From the get-go, I will admit I wasn’t much of an Elementary fan. I had my doubts and my arguments against it, but it has risen to the occasion. Joan Watson’s history is particularly interesting. Roping in her previous relationships and identifying why she became a sober companion was cathartic to watch, especially when Sherlock offered her emotional support. Don’t get me wrong, Sherlock definitely has the impressive moments where Holmes is markedly vulnerable. For example, in “The Hounds of Baskerville,” when Sherlock Holmes succumbs to the hallucinations of a giant, rabid dog – he seems terrified. He says it himself, “Look at me, I’m afraid, John.” But Elementary has the advantage of familiarity; you watch the characters develop weekly for four months and you don’t have to wait seventeen months for the next season.

One difference I’m not entirely sure I agree with in Elementary is the lack of a bromance. To quote Watson in “A Scandal in Belgravia,” “We solve crimes, I blog about it, and he forgets his pants.” That sums it up pretty well. One of the most enjoyable aspects of Sherlock is Watson’s awkward flirtation with various women; namely Mycroft’s assistant. Sure, Elementary delves into the history of Joan Watson’s relationships and her ex-lovers’ discrepancies, but where’s the humor? Martin Freeman delivers the bromance between himself and Sherlock that Elementary can never bring. “The Hounds of Baskerville” comes to mind, where Watson flirts with a client’s psychiatrist in order to get information out of her. It all goes downhill when their dinner is interrupted by a man saying, and I quote, “This is Sherlock Holmes’ PA.” “Well – live-in PA.” When there’s a bromance, room has to be made for romance. Sherlock either doesn’t have the time to show Watson’s relationships blossom or, considering other plotlines, his love life naturally takes a back seat. Whichever is true; this much is clear – Watson and Sherlock’s bromance makes waiting seventeen months worthwhile.

Another major difference, and I assume this is due to budget and production-time restraints, is the epic cinematography behind Sherlock. Every scene looks like it’s been shot for a silver screen blockbuster. As a film nerd I have full license to say this, but the lighting and camera angles are outstanding. Close-ups on Cumberbatch’s half-lit face during the climax of the scene in which Sherlock Holmes needs to be when delivering his grim hypothesis. And unfortunately, Elementary cannot deliver. But what they can give us is Sherlock Holmes with the flu! Let me explain. CBS has the opportunity to explore Sherlock’s life in greater detail with a new episode every week. Although, they haven’t dug as deep as I would’ve liked – I have to keep reminding myself that we are only on the ninth episode. But they have shown us one thing I was glad to see: Sherlock Holmes suffering from the flu. Miller carried out the episode with puffy eyes and a runny nose, adding humanity to Sherlock’s character.

While a sick Sherlock is endearing, there is a downside to having a full season: filler episodes. Oh, how they bore me. They’re the episodes that seem to make no sense towards the greater development of the characters. The plot hits a standstill and it seems like an episode running on a specific formula, going through the notions as opposed to an episode that cathartically gives the audience something back. As a matter of fact, filler episodes do follow a formula. It’s a simplistic version of the Hero’s Journey; the call to adventure (Sherlock gets a case); crossing the first threshold (Sherlock accepts and researches); the approach and failure (Sherlock disproves a theory) and finally, the second attempt and reward. While Elementary has shown signs of filler episodes, Sherlock remains consistently beautiful in the craftsmanship of all its elements, from the scripts to the set and everything in between. As Watson puts it:

W: “Can we please not do this this time?”

S: “Do what?”

W: “You being all mysterious with your – cheekbones. And turning your coat collar up so you look cool.”

Ah, but he does have to do it. Sherlock’s upturned coat and enigmatic cheekbones make Sherlock what it is. London’s private detective with a public image is a mile away from New York’s consultant with a substance abuse problem. It’s all about the way they are perceived from episode to episode; Cumberbatch is always epic, sometimes vulnerable; and Miller continuously has his history thrown in his path. Character development is a joy to watch in both series, but for Elementary to develop further I suggest one thing: Moriarty. After all, what is a hero’s journey without the ultimate villain?


  1. ChrisDecember 10th, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    Was really expecting to hate Elementary considering they turned something BBC has been doing so well into a crime of the week drama but its been pretty amusing and Sherlock is an amusing enough character to get meto watch every week. I know this comes with the once a week episodes but they’re really not going anything I haven’t seen before on The Mentalist or House (both are kind of rip offs of Sherlock Holmes but still they’ve used tricks or deductions that I’m just seeing again watching Elementary).

  2. MayDecember 11th, 2012 at 12:27 am

    It’s refreshing to see a comparison that isn’t grounded in hatred for one or the other. I had always tried to be open minded about Elementary and there are many things I agree with here. I like both series very much! They’re different and I think any BBC Sherlock fan who immediately is put off by Elementary, seems to think that Sherlock Holmes is not public domain and belongs solely to BBC and the writers, Moffat and Gatiss. I understand the initial ‘oh no’ feeling because I had it too, but Elementary is not BBC Sherlock and it stands on its own very well. BBC Sherlock agreeably wins in cinematography, I have to admit, especially in the extra touches of the text messages, blog entries etc, whereas Elementary maintains a standard. It’s not bad but definitely doesn’t have that extra beauty. Of course, it’ll probably be much difficult with its number of episodes and hopefully, numerous seasons.

    There are several things I slightly disagree, however: the thing about Watson in Elementary, is that it’s clear that she’s not just a flatmate at the beginning. She’s a companion and is monitoring Holmes. The bromance isn’t there because it probably isn’t a good idea to get too buddy-buddy when you have a job. We do see some moments where there a bit of snark between Holmes and Watson, like every time Holmes introduces Watson to a stranger or the scene where she pulls out a thumb tack in a counseling meeting. They pay attention to each other, which is nice considering they’re basically thrown together out of necessity. I’m hoping that Watson and Holmes develop the bromance a bit more when Watson can no longer serve as companion. It’s obvious that they stay attached somehow (or else there won’t be a series) so we’ll see how that goes. Sherlock and John from BBC, however, had shown interest in each other from the beginning. Sherlock has no reason to bring John along other than knowing that John is itching for some type of adventure and John has no reason to come along other than his genuine interest in Sherlock’s solving skills and the mystery. They stay together because they become best friends and there isn’t that barrier of ‘doctor-patient’.

    Elementary is also only in its first series. I’m guessing it’ll be a little too soon for Moriarty to be introduced, because from there, Moriarty will create a big cat-and-mouse chase. If Moriarty shows up in, let’s say, the next episode of Elementary, then it might be difficult to have an enemy that’s even better than that when the Moriarty-arc is done. I don’t think anyone would want to see 20 episodes of just cases dealing with him, and when that’s over there might be future seasons that would pale in comparison. BBC Sherlock, with 3 episodes per season is able to make the chase fresh, exciting and dangerous. We see in Series 2 Ep 2, where he isn’t even present in the episode, yet Sherlock hallucinates his presence a bit. It’s frightening because we realise how pervasive this enemy is, so much that it affects unrelated cases, but not so long that it drags into all these other random cases. At the same time, because the series is so short, Moriarty’s end won’t mean the end of BBC Sherlock. There’s still room for the fear of something to linger. I agree that Elementary needs the ultimate villain, but not as yet – maybe at the end of the season or an episode a little closer to the end where there’s a hint of something bigger. (Of course, my comment will be useless if Moriarty was introduced very soon). I already had some off feelings about introducing Irene, especially since Watson was more curious than necessary about her.

    I will say this about Elementary: while I’m happy with the characterisation, the plots sometimes put me off. The crimes just seem so… unnecessarily complicated. I don’t mean that it’s not easy to follow – it’s just logically, a couple of the cases don’t need to have such a trail of ‘No, that’s not right’ and then sudden change of direction to who dunnit. The first episode is the best example. Man hires a flower guy continuously who’s mentally troubled and at the same time forces his wife to go into multiple plastic surgeries. Totally unnecessary and requires so much extra effort. This is probably why my favourite case was the child-kidnapper. It was pretty sick, but much simpler. The ‘twist’ was a good punch without all these extra facts.

    Good article. Again, really nice to see someone compare the two pretty fairly.

  3. NoorDecember 11th, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    Thanks for the feedback guys. Chris, I definitely agree Sherlock is an amazing character to base anything around so they do have a great character to keep audiences amused. And thinking about it May you’re right – Moriarty would be wasted as a character brought into the series now, but I still wish undertones of his scheming would come through some plotlines to give the series a less “crime drama”-esque direction.

  4. Juliana MendesJanuary 10th, 2013 at 7:54 am

    I would agree with you about some quality of Elementary, until I watched “A scandall in Belgravia” two days ago…sincerelly, is a masterpiece. I cannot remember the last tv show that made me restat to see the episode as soon as it finished. After that, Elementary became “tasteless” and very difficult to watch. Due to quality production issues is unfair to compare them. Elementary has a timing problem. it shoud be made before 2010 or after the upcoming last episode of BBC´s Sherlock, but never at the same time.

  5. LivingInClipJanuary 11th, 2013 at 10:28 am

    I started watching Elementary and found it dull and predictable. It reminded me of every other US based crime show. Got the BBC Sherlock series and am amazed by it. Every single thing is better. Production, storyline and acting. Every thing. I am going to pick Elementary back up now that they are bringing in Moriarty, but I doubt it even compares to Sherlock.

  6. GaryJanuary 14th, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    One thing about BBC’s Sherlock that bugs me is that it’s mystery elements are based entirely on story fragments in the Conan Doyle stories … although I really liked the ending of the first BBC Sherlock story (a Study in Pink). Anyway I don’t want to see endless rehashings of “the Sign of Four”, “the Final Problem (aka the Reichenback Falls)” or “the Hound of the Baskervilles”, no matter how brilliantly staged or acted. On the other hand, I like the some of convoluted plotlines of “Elementary” … OK, some of them are rehashes of plots from “Monk” and “the Mentalist” but occasionally there are unexpected and (to me) original “twists” that I’ve never seen on a crime procedural show before… eg. in “the Leviathan” it thought it was so clever how the second team of safe crackers worked out how the first team did it (can’t say much more if you haven’t watch this episode). It’s like Elementary has 13 chances of coming up with an original plot idea whereas poor BBC Sherlock only has 3 chances per year.

  7. Will RobinsonJanuary 20th, 2013 at 7:44 pm

    Elementary seems like it take a word-of-mouth idea of who Holmes is and tries to put that into a show, and while the show is impressive in it;s own right, it most certainly isn’t Holmes.

    Sherlock it more true to the original Holmes, even going so far as to ‘pepper’ the show with ‘call-backs’ to the original stories.

    Sherlock 5/5 for making the show near believable, or at least, watch again to see what you missed.
    Elementary 3/5 for just taking an idea and running with it, and having most of the clues out of sight which defeats the object…

  8. Christopher ChrisophertieMarch 17th, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    BBC’s Sherlock has six episodes, not nine.

  9. UmmMarch 18th, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    Let’s not forget that each eppy of Sherlock is 90min, so three vs. thirteen episodes is apples and oranges. 90min allows the stories to be more intricate and fleshed out better but the weekly aspect of Elementary allows for a more following based likeability. For me it’s a unique intelligent artistic show versus a mild-mannered average crime procedural as if we don’t have enough of those.. IMO

  10. RezaApril 12th, 2013 at 1:46 am

    After watching Sherlock and Elementary, it just doesn’t really seem you can compare them.

    Yes, the main characters have the same name but Elementary pretty much follows every other US crime procedural you can come across. Sherlock at least isn’t that. I wanted Elementary to be more than what it is because I like Johnny Lee Miller. I didn’t really care that Watson was a woman other than I don’t rate Liu as an actress and I think the way they have written her character isn’t great (or maybe its her acting).

    The other fact is, were Holmes in Sherlock would have figured things out sooner or seems to have more of a broader knowledge than Elementary’s Holmes. I did enjoy stuff like Marcus knowing about the Mahjong tiles but then there are some things Holmes completely misses that Joan picks up on which if it was the Holmes of Sherlock, you feel he would have spotted that already.

    Also, most of the cases seem run of the mill and most do not surprise me with the way they turn out. I can tell 90% of the time the way it would end.

  11. Subhayu MukherjeeMay 6th, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    I think somewhere in this entire article and comment thread, someone has to mention Jeremy Brett somewhere? I still think he was the best….

  12. SarmadJuly 7th, 2013 at 12:48 am

    I’m neither British nor American, I watched the 1st season of both shows, and there mere comparison between the two shows is ridiculous, Sherlock far supersedes Elementary in everything, screen writing, acting, directing, …..all the elements that creates a show….. and it’s a crime to consider them in the same bowl.

  13. Ian MillerSeptember 25th, 2013 at 8:40 am

    I’m a bit side-eyeing the declaration that Sherlocks’ 6 episodes are all high-quality. Blind Banker is offensively awful, and Hounds of Baskerville is more than a bit limp.

    Agree that Brett is amazing, though.

  14. JuliaFebruary 18th, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    It’s not about the NUMBER of episodes, it’s about the quality! Take Pretty Little Liars, for instance, it was great at the beginning, but through season 3 there were too many episodes and in some of them, absolutely NOTHING HAPPENED!! Now I’ve stopped watching it, cuz I’m tired of wasting my time. But Sherlock? There is only one episode (s1 e2) I don’t like, but the rest of them are BLOODY BRILLIANT!! Benedict’s Sherlock I think represents the character of Sherlock Holmes MUCH better than Jonny Millers, cuz besides the fact that Benedict is a much better actor than cbs’s Sherlock, he goes into character better, in my opinion. To end, two facts that make BBC Sherlock much better: 1- ITS SUPPOSED TO BE IN BRITAIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 2- WATSON’S NOT A FREAKING GIRL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! OH GOD THE PAIN

  15. JuliaFebruary 18th, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    I think it all comes down to the fact that Sherlock is the series based in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, and Elementary is the series of a guy who’s an addicted crime solver who is partners with a badass girl, with the same names Arthur Conan Doyle created, and the rest of it? CSI.

  16. evilangelMarch 12th, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    first of all there are reasons that watson is a girl its because bbc was worried that Elementary was going to take all the viewers away from sherlock and CBS did things the way they did because they wanted to respect copyright laws and also possibly because then there could be a romance that wasnt offensive to people even though in reality there is no romance between sherlock and watson it was assumed many many times that they were a ‘couple’ and some people find it offensive i however dint see anything wrong with that kind of ‘romance’ and everyone saying that Watson shouldnt be a girl i dont mean to offend anyone and i am not offended by this and i dont mean to accuse anyone of being this way but it sounds sexist that you all think watson cant be a girl i was skeptical at first but i didnt put up a mental block against watson being a woman like alot of people might have you need to be open to suggestion and the fact that a lot of people think that Johnny lee Miller is not as good an actor is because he is in real life he is american not brittish

  17. BJune 24th, 2014 at 2:10 am

    As a lover of BBC’s Sherlock it’s hard to turn the other way with the beautifully crafted scripts, the quality of that handiwork is flawless. It shows good humor with lots of laugh-out-loud moments and the chemistry between the actors is great. Moffat’s writing is (yes, at times really unbelievable to some people) but to me, ingenious. This version of Sherlock is both modernized to suit today’s world and at the same time keeping along the line of Conan’s plot. But, a little creatively goes really well with the audience. Sherlock portrays our pipe smoking hero at his best.

    Elementary is in my opinion a little splayed at times. Some scenes with gory details that Sherlock could have avoided with a shake of a funny bone. The scripts are moderately well written, with a few holes here and there. The situation is mainly tense, I don’t blame them cause, hey! There’s a murderer on the loose! But giving more humor makes it generally more entertaining for the viewers at home.
    It’s great that Elementary wants to portray more strong-minded women in films but the fact that Moriarty was a woman and that she had kids with Sherlock is just…Well it tones down the situation and with the discovery that Mycroft is in fact just a good public speaker and not a person working for the government goes way off script. Sherlock changed their script to suit the modern world but they never bounced that far away. In fact Sherlock’s mysterious father is the one in charge!

    Overall, I think I have clearly stated why I don’t agree with Elementary, not that I hate it but it just didn’t appeal to me as much as witty Cumberbatch did.

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