Sherlock Holmes has been a star detective for almost two centuries now. Many adaptations have come and gone, many stars played the legendary sleuth. However, two contemporary adaptations stand out.
Sherlock Holmes. The name is familiar to anyone who loves the mystery and crime genre. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle surely penned the legendary detective in the late 19th century, but the impact reverberates through the years. From various literary adaptations to on-screen ones, Sherlock Holmes has found ready takers every time he has decided to grace our screens.
However, of late, contemporary Sherlock has been ruling our hearts. The same accent, the same streets of 221B Baker Street, and the same sleuthing skills with dear old Doctor Watson, but the setting is in the 21st century. Two shows have been able to get that right.
Sherlock and Elementary: Vintage sleuthing in the current times
Sherlock Holmes enters our world in Doyle’s ‘A Study in Scarlet,’ as an eccentric young man with his weird science experiments. These, more often than not, spook others. Watson, on the other hand, is a war veteran dealing with his own demons. Sherlock’s eccentricities do not intimidate him. Instead, it intrigues him. This whole setup of 221b Baker Street, the iconic Holmes resident, and office premises, then witnesses a whole lot of action for the tenure of roughly 4 books and fifty-six short stories.
Watch: History of Sherlock Holmes, the world’s greatest detective
Since then, multiple adaptations and variations have come up, but only a few manage to match up to the brilliance of the original. However, screen adaptations are a different case. While the pages manage to capture the imagination of the literary lovers, the screen is where the visuals come alive, capturing a new set of audience.
Sherlock Holmes on the screen
When BBC launched Sherlock, it was the first of its kind take on the vintage sleuth. One wasn’t sure how the old tale would look like, set in contemporary times. But one episode in, and the fans went berserk. This also made the series gain a new set of popularity, with the market for the books skyrocketing again. Benedict Cumberbatch’s perfect grip on the British detective and Martin Freeman’s portrayal of slightly clueless but mostly loyal John Watson was embraced wholeheartedly. The original plots were cleverly adapted to modern times. This made the fans connect even more. For instance, ‘A Study in Scarlet’ became ‘A Study in Pink.’
Watch: Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes meets Martin Freeman’s Dr. Watson for the first time in A Study in Pink
So, what does ‘Elementary’ offer, then? For starters, it only takes forward the characters and references; the plotlines are completely different, with a bit of reference and episodes thrown in at times. While ‘Sherlock’ is a book-to-screen adaptation, ‘Elementary’ offers everything novel. It is good in a way that the fans get two different takes, and the masters of mystery get different stories. However, the flavor of the character remains the same.
Sherlock or Elementary, if you wish to pick one, it depends on what you are looking for. Pick ‘Sherlock’ if you want the same stories. Pick ‘Elementary’ if you wish to be surprised every time.
Benedict Cumberbatch or Jonny Lee Miller, another ‘Sherlock or Elementary’ dilemma
Another ‘Sherlock or Elementary’ dilemma lies in the choice of actors. How do you decide who can play to the whims of a character as complicated as Sherlock Holmes? Well, the makers of both the shows definitely had their priorities straight. They cast actors that literally sunk their teeth right into the core of the character. While ‘Sherlock’ makers went with Benedict Cumberbatch, the ones at ‘Elementary’ picked Jonny Lee Miller. Both starkly different from each other, yet playing the same character to finesse.
Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock has a slight edge over Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, in the way that his eccentricities capture the character slightly better. Now, this in no way undermines the skills of either. Instead, one can see a clear demarcation of how these are the two different characters, written for two different series. Yet, they stem from a common source. Benedict’s ‘Sherlock’ is a sociopath who seldom indulges with humans. On the other hand, ‘Elementary’ often explores the humane side of Jonny’s Sherlock. The original Sherlock’s indulgence in drugs is also explored in the two series very differently.
Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock has a slight edge over Benedict Cumberbatch’s, in the way that his eccentricities capture the character slightly better.
There is no better Sherlock here, it’s the writing which makes them different on two equal levels. While ‘Sherlock’ explores the more traditional storyline by making Holmes borderline anti-social and quite rude, ‘Elementary’ makes its detective an indulgent one who is eccentric, yet willing to share his eccentricities.
Sherlock or Elementary: The perfect Watson
John Watson. He can also be a ‘make or break’ deal for you as you make your ‘Sherlock or Elementary’ choice. The famous sidekick who entertains the whims of Holmes completes the series and writes them in a way Sherlock doesn’t often approve of. The narrator of the stories, thus, has to be a special one. And here’s where both ‘Sherlock’ and ‘Elementary’ differ considerably.
While ‘Sherlock’ has the talented Martin Freeman stepping into the shoes of a veteran army doctor who enters the world of Sherlock, we have a twist in ‘Elementary’. In the latter, we have a Joan Watson, a gender flip that garnered a variety of reactions. Changing the ethnicity and gender of a famous character was a calculated risk and it paid off, with Lucy Liu living it up.
Another stark difference between the treatment of both the characters is the original Watson was quite inept at the skill of deduction, and merely existed as a base to prove how Sherlock’s skills were superior to other humans. We see the exact portrayal, in ‘Sherlock’. In ‘Elementary,’ however, we see Joan Watson as a former surgeon turned trained consulting detective whose skills flourish under Sherlock’s training. Here, Watson and Holmes are equal partners, none undermined.
Watch: Media Exposure scene from Elementary
Lastly, the myth of ‘Elementary, My Dear Watson’
Let’s end it on busting a trivia. Did you know that the most famous line was never actually a line in the original texts? No. ‘Elementary, My Dear Watson,’ became famous solely on the basis of its screen adaptations.
So, Sherlock or Elementary? We’d say if you are a reader who doesn’t want to differ from the page much, go for ‘Sherlock.’ On the other hand, if you don’t mind creative take on legendary storytelling, go for ‘Elementary.’ The screenplay, acting, and stories are excellent in both cases. Happy sleuthing!