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Featured TV on DVD Review: Elementary: Season One

August 25th, 2013

Elementary: Season One - Buy from Amazon

By my calculation, roughly 412% of all TV shows on the air right now are police procedurals. Granted, there might be a flaw in my math, but you get the point. Police procedurals are arguably the most crowded genre in the history of TV and certainly the most crowded genre at the moment. Elementary is trying to carve a path in that field. Does the show try to do anything to make it stand out? And if so, is it enough? If not, can it still thrive while still feeling a bit borrowed?

The Show

Johnny Lee Miller stars as Sherlock Holmes, so the answer to the first question is yes, there is something here designed to make it stand out. This is a modern retelling of Sherlock Holmes with Lucy Liu co-starring as Joan Watson. We meet her first. She was hired by Sherlock's father as a sober companion. Sherlock Holmes is a recovering heroin addict and if he doesn't do what his father says, he will be thrown out of his home. At first the pair butt heads, but they quickly become an effective team and even friends.

In the pilot, Sherlock Holmes is "hired" by Captain Thomas Gregson, who worked with Holmes when Holmes was a consultant at Scotland Yard. I say "hired" in quotes, because Holmes isn't paid. Holmes isn't paid, because that gives him a lot more freedom to work how he wants to work. The first case he works on is a kidnapping. When they arrive, he passes off Watson as his personal valet. He quickly deduces the assailant was let inside and killed the woman and didn't kidnap her, and even finds her body in the panic room, much to the annoyance of Detective Javier Abreu. (After the pilot, the part of annoyed detective was recast with Jon Michael Hill playing Detective Marcus Bell.) He still has to figure out who killed her and why.

For most of the first season, the show is your typical case of the week procedural. However, we do learn a bit of Sherlock Holmes' motivation. Something happened in London with Holmes and a woman, Irene Adler, and this is a major driving force in his life. Partway through the season we learn she was murdered and later on he discovers Sebastian Moran is the man responsible for Irene's death and he plans to capture, torture, and kill him. However...

This is where we run into spoilers.

Elementary is essentially a modern retelling of the Sherlock Holmes with a genderbending casting for Watson. Is this enough to make the show stand out? I'm not so sure. After all, there are a lot of similarities to Monk. Sherlock Holmes is very similar to Adrian Monk, as both have brilliant powers of observation and unstable mental states and both had women they loved murdered in mysterious ways and use their deaths as motivation and both help the police solve crimes. This is not surprising, as Monk was partially inspired by the Sherlock Holmes character. However, Elementary is also similar to The Mentalist with a brilliant man with a murdered wife who uses his powers of observation to help the police solve crimes. House M.D. has the drug addiction angle, as well as the brilliant character with keen powers of observation. Psych also has a brilliant man who uses his powers of observation to help the police solve crimes, but that show didn't have a murdered wife / girlfriend, while the lead was more quirky than mentally unstable. Castle has a brilliant... ish man helping the police solve crimes, but it is the police officer in question whose murdered mother serves as their motivation. That's five other shows that are similar, not mentioning Sherlock, the BBC series that is currently on the air and has the most in common. (There was even talk of lawsuits when Elementary was first made.)

On the other hand, while there are no elements of Elementary that are wholly unique, it is still a well made show. The writing is strong and the acting by the leads is excellent. Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu do have good chemistry together. The overall storyline that develops during the second half of the series does draw you in. There are a lot of reasons to watch this show, but there are also a lot of shows that are direct competition.

The Extras

The extras include a 12-minute featurette on the show's attempt to take a fresh look at the iconic character. There is a second featurette on the first disc, In Liu of Watson, that focuses on Lucy Liu's performance as Joan Watson. On the final disc, there is an 18-minute featurette named Holmes Sweet Holmes that looks at the making of the show. Lucy Liu hosts a short three-minute set tour. Up next, there are eight minutes of launch promos. Finally, there is the Power of Observations, which is a series of six roughly three-minute featurettes on various aspects of the show.

This is a solid amount of extras, but the lack of an audio commentary track or two hurts.

The Verdict

Elementary competes in the most crowded genre on TV and while it can't truly stand out, it is still strong enough to be worth checking out. On the other hand, if you are sick and tired of this genre, that likely won't be enough. Or, even if you love the genre, your plate might already be full of such shows. If you are a fan of the genre, at least give Season One a test run to see if it is to your liking.


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Filed under: Video Review, Aidan Quinn, Vinnie Jones, Lucy Alexis Liu, Jonny Lee Miller, Manny Perez, Tony Shalhoub, Natalie Dormer