Early in the 2012-2013 television season I went on record as calling Elementary the best new show on TV. Midway through the 2013-2014 season, I can say that the hit CBS drama has only gotten better. In addition to the central characters, Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson, over the course of the first one and a half seasons we have also been introduced to some of the supporting cast from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes stories, including Inspector Lestrade, Mycroft Holmes, Professor Moriarty, and Irene Adler.
The first few months of Elementary were devoted to Holmes’ transition from a rehab facility to living on his own. While there was some good character development there, the story was in danger of stagnating at that point. Fortunately, the writers were bold enough to move the story onward at a solid pace. Joan is no longer Sherlock’s sober companion; she is a partner in his (largely pro-bono) consulting detective business.
Elementary is, admittedly, formulaic. Every episode follows the same general routine. Body is found, suspects are located and eliminated, the real bad buy is identified, the final piece of incriminating evidence is revealed, roll end credits. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It works. The revelations are well paced. The deductions are believable. The motivations are fleshed out. And there are always one or two subplots carrying over from episode to episode to keep us hungry for more of Sherlock and Joan.
The mid-season finale left Holmes reflecting on what a jerk he can be and how that may — despite his previous insistence to the contrary — be a problem. Detective Bell’s serious injury will clearly have a lasting impact on Holmes. Unlike most episodic crime dramas, which essentially reset every week, Elementary‘s characters ebb and flow from week to week and their actions have lingering consequences.
The above analysis notwithstanding, Elementary is a series of self-contained stories linked by a larger narrative. That means that any given episode is a satisfactory jumping-on point for new viewers. While there certainly is a fair share of ongoing subplots the basic premise remains accessible regardless of the water under the bridge — Sherlock and Joan are detectives who help the police solve the most baffling of crimes.
While Elementary is not quite as good as PBS’s amazing Sherlock* in terms of sheer storytelling, it scores higher than its Public Broadcasting counterpart in one very important way — there are 867% more episodes of Elementary in a year than there are in Sherlock‘s mini season of just three 90-minute episodes. That, plus the fact that Lucy Liu makes a more attractive Watson than Martin Freeman does, gives Elementary the edge over Sherlock on the top of our weekly DVR list.
* Season 3 of Sherlock, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role, is scheduled to premier on January 19th. Look for a preview/primer here in the next few weeks.