In 2010, PBS aired the BBC series "Sherlock," a modern-day version of Sherlock Holmes, the iconic literary detective. "Sherlock" was a critical and commercial success, and was quickly followed by a second season with plans for a third.
No wonder CBS introduced its own modernized version of Sherlock Holmes, "Elementary," which premiered in the fall of 2012. How do the two series compare? Are they too similar? Or are they different and distinct enough to give viewers reason to watch two modern reinterpretations of the same characters?
The Holmes and Watson relationshipIn "Sherlock," Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a self-described "high-functioning sociopath" who has replaced his pipe with several nicotine patches. Watson (Martin Freeman) is a bachelor and an Afghanistan war vet who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. The two become roommates by chance when a mutual friend brings them together.
The Holmes and Watson of "Elementary" seem more damaged as characters. Holmes (Johnny Lee Miller) is still British, but has moved to New York and is a recovering drug addict. Watson (Lucy Liu) is not only Asian-American but also female. She's a former surgeon haunted by the loss of a patient. The two meet when Watson is hired by Holmes's father to ease his transition from rehab back to everyday life.
Modern-day settingBoth shows take place in the present: "Sherlock" in London, "Elementary" in New York. "Sherlock" was the first to introduce the idea of a modernized Holmes and subsequently tackled the challenge by knocking viewers over the head with the presence of technology. Watson writes a blog. Holmes texts a group of reporters during a press conference and has a website called The Science of Deduction.
"Elementary" benefits from the present-day template "Sherlock" established. No one's blog or website has been mentioned, although a cell phone is the primary evidence in the premiere's mystery. The show simply gets to take place in the present without working so hard to establish that fact.
References to the books"Sherlock" creates new mysteries that often reference original Sherlock Holmes stories like "Hound of the Baskervilles." It introduces familiar characters like Holmes's brother Mycroft and his female adversary Irene Adler. PBS airs three, 90-minute episodes each season, commercial free, making each season feel like a movie or miniseries.
"Elementary" follows the typical crime-procedural format popular on CBS. With 22 episodes to produce each season, the show will likely create stories and characters outside the original books. In fact, Holmes's arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty, who is a major character in "Sherlock," won't make an appearance in "Elementary" anytime soon, according to Executive Producer Robert Doherty. Nevertheless, "Elementary" is a brand-new series, and part of the fun of watching a new interpretation of well-loved books is waiting to see when and where favorite characters or references might show up.
Will viewers watch two shows about modern-day versions of Sherlock Homes? Sure. Both are fun, new interpretations of the famous fictional detective. Fans have kept Sherlock Holmes popular for more than 100 years. We obviously can't get enough.
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