Remake vs. Original: Sherlock vs. Elementary


Graphic by Shannon Lin

Nikki Suzani, Features Editor

When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published “A Study in Scarlet” in 1887, he could have never anticipated the cultural phenomenon that his main character, Sherlock Holmes, would one day become. The book has spawned multiple TV shows and movies, including “Sherlock” (2010) and “Elementary” (2012). Although Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock remains a classic, its remake, Elementary, provides a unique take on an old story.

The characters of Elementary are more representative of diversity in the modern world and have concrete character arcs that depict both their flaws and their strengths to a far greater extent than “Sherlock.” One thing that’s always been known about Sherlock Holmes through every adaptation, is that he trades off being a genius for lower social skills. This is explored in “Sherlock,” with Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the main character, using his physicality and frantic, unexplained movements to explore Sherlock’s quick thinking, but also his inability to work with others or pick up on social cues. “Elementary” follows that same example. Sherlock, played by Jonny Lee Miller, isn’t perfect at solving crimes; he often makes mistakes and beats himself up about it, his partner can be the person to solve the mystery and, especially when it comes to Moriarty/Irene Adler, Sherlock can be completely dead wrong. This is what makes him far more likable than Cumberbatch’s interpretation. Miller portrays Sherlock as just another human. It’s these sorts of fully explored character arcs that allow each character to really suck at times that make the show so watchable. Yes, Cumberbatch’s Sherlock may inspire watchers to feel bad for him, but Miller’s Sherlock has human issues and explores them effectively.

In terms of plot, “Sherlock” episodes are longer and fewer in number, so it becomes easier to follow one story while “Elementary” focuses more on everyday lives. In “Sherlock,” the length of the episodes means one story becomes a big deal, and it is easy to leave the watcher on edge in suspense. The perpetrators of the crimes often aren’t obvious either, and can come out of the blue. Also, Sherlock isn’t afraid to “go there” and even ends a season on a huge cliffhanger, leaving the audience unsure of what just occurred. On the other hand, “Elementary” episodes are shorter but cover interesting and innovative cases. They can explore everything from snake venom in a chef’s food to the dangers of being in a gang. One does end up with a sort of “Spidey sense” for who the killer is. Still, it’s a good thing that the person who committed the crimes is often involved early, since it eliminates the frustration that accompanies the surprises in “Sherlock.” Both shows follow interesting crimes and have good plots, but the biggest difference is whether or not the watcher can figure out who committed the crime before Sherlock does.

Overall, both shows have their bright moments and their downfalls. “Sherlock” is exactly what one would expect after reading “A Study in Scarlet” and stays true to its foundations. “Elementary’s” modern take introduces diversity and explores characters to a new level. When it comes to the best of the best? I’d have to cast my vote for “Elementary”.