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October 2013 Issue

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Clash of The Titans: Sherlock vs. Elementary

By Ed Swanson

I have been a fan of Sherlock Holmes since childhood. Whether reading the original stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or watching a Holmes film on television, I was enthralled by the deductive abilities of Sherlock. No super power or magic was required by this hero to perform his amazing feats, just the ability to notice the minutiae and make accurate deductions from them.

Arthur Conan Doyle, while a young doctor, met a surgeon named Joseph Bell who had an uncanny ability to deduce the occupation and character of his patients as well as their affliction, based on his observations. This doctor served as the basis of Sherlock Holmes. Apparently, Sherlock’s first name was taken from a famous cricket player at the time, and the last name was taken from America’s Oliver Wendell Holmes. (The fact that the last name of a famous jurist was used for Sherlock Holmes reinforces my belief that every attorney should be a fan of the detective, since he, like good attorneys, relies on careful analysis of all data available; I’m certain that Holmes would have a perfect score on the LSAT.)

There have been many movies and television series based on Sherlock Holmes. I vividly remember watching reruns on television of the films of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, who made 14 Sherlock Holmes films in the forties. I loved Rathbone’s Holmes, though I was not a big fan of the somewhat inept Watson represented by Bruce. In 1954 and 1955, Ronald Howard (son of Leslie Howard, whom you may recall from Gone With The Wind) and Howard Marion-Crawford played Holmes and Watson in 39 TV episodes. Many fans of Sherlock Holmes believe that the television series produced by Granada Television between 1984 and 1994 for British television, and shown in the United States on PBS, is the best screen adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. Jeremy Brett provided an outstanding Sherlock in the series, while David Burke and later Edward Hardwick replaced the bumbling image of Dr. Watson created in the Rathbone/Bruce movies with the competent companion found in the writings of Doyle. The long-running series adapted 42 of the 60 Sherlock Holmes stories written by Doyle.

Robert Downey, Jr. starred as Sherlock Holmes in two movies, one in 2009 and the other in 2011. Although the two movies did well at the box office and received mostly positive reviews, they do not reflect the Sherlock Holmes of which I am a fan. To each his or her own, I guess.

This brings us to the two current series on television, Sherlock (BBC and PBS) and Elementary (CBS). Both are modern-day versions of Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock, the first of the two to appear, first was shown on BBC in 2010. The series was the brainchild of two writers for Dr. Who, Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat. During their train rides to and from the production location for Dr. Who, they discussed the idea of bringing Sherlock Holmes into the 21st century. Three episodes of approximately 90 minutes, each based loosely on a story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, appeared in 2010, and were an immediate critical and popular success. These episodes were followed in 2012 by an additional three episodes. Episodes 7 through 9 were filmed earlier this year, and will appear in the UK this fall and in the U.S. early next year.

Sherlock is intelligent, witty, and a total joy to watch. The cast is particularly impressive. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Sherlock Holmes. Cumberbatch had been a virtual unknown in the U.S. until Star Trek: Into Darkness was released earlier this year, in which he plays the brilliant nemesis Khan. The role of Watson is played by Martin Freeman, who now is known to all Peter Jackson fans as Bilbo Baggins, the hero of The Hobbit. Freeman’s Watson is a loyal and intelligent companion to Sherlock, much like Doyle’s original character.

The series has received numerous awards and nominations, and its only drawback is that it takes so long for new episodes. Worse for fans of the series, the blossoming film careers of Cumberbatch and Freeman may make it impossible financially or schedule-wise for the making of future episodes. On the plus side, however, the nine episodes that have been produced encompass approximately 13.5 hours in total, fairly comparable to watching the extended version of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

When preparing for this column, I watched for the first time the unaired pilot for Sherlock, a one-hour variant of A Study In Pink. Ironically, the original, shorter version of this episode is, in my opinion, far superior to the version that officially introduced Sherlock. Sherlock’s brother Mycroft does not appear in the pilot, and the second half of the plot, regarding how the criminal is first identified and what happens, is far more consistent with the persona of Sherlock Holmes and consequently makes for a far more satisfying version of the story. I heartily recommend the pilot, which is contained in the DVD set for season one.

Elementary is a CBS series using the Sherlock Holmes character of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The series premiered in September of 2012, with a total of 24 episodes, and has been renewed for a second season. When the series first was announced, many fans of Sherlock cried foul. Indeed, there were threats of a lawsuit against CBS if the CBS series was too similar to Sherlock. However, the CBS series is quite different. First, Sherlock Holmes has moved to New York City. The biggest change, however, relates to Watson, who is a woman rather than a man in the CBS series. Lucy Liu plays Joan Watson, initially the sober companion of Sherlock (a recovering drug addict) at the request of Sherlock’s father; Joan’s profession slowly transforms into becomes Holmes’ partner in solving crimes.

Like many other fans of Sherlock, I initially was irate when Elementary was announced, and refused at first to watch it. However, once I finally succumbed to watching the show, I quickly became a fan. No, I do not think it is as good as Sherlock, and I do not particularly like the transformation of John Watson, a military doctor returned from the battlefield, into a woman who is Holmes’ sober companion. Nevertheless, once I get over that personal prejudice, the series is quite entertaining, sort of an “alternate Sherlock Holmes universe.” Jonny Lee Miller, the British actor who plays Sherlock Holmes in Elementary, is a friend of Benedict Cumberbatch, the “other” Sherlock Holmes. To paraphrase Cumberbatch, there is room for more than one Sherlock Holmes, even in the 21st century.

Elementary has both the benefits and downfalls of an American television series: On the plus side, it provides a quantity of product with which Sherlock cannot compete. There already are 24 episodes that have aired. Assuming that 15 minutes of each one-hour episode is taken by commercials, this leaves 18 hours of programming, an amount that will double if the series continues for a full second season. This allows the producers to cover far more territory and focus on far more detail and development than can be covered by Sherlock. However, on the down side, there is neither the time nor the budget for the American series to provide the thoughtful, well-crafted scripts and excellent production standards from which Sherlock benefits.

While I strongly prefer Sherlock to Elementary, I enjoy both, and hope that each will have a long, successful run.


Congratulations to David Feldman, Richard Hartley, Bob Brink, and Andria McGovern, who each knew all or most of the answers to the prior trivia contest featuring hits from 1957. Thanks also to the many other readers who dropped me an electronic line to say hello. The correct answers to the contest are as follows:

1. Jailhouse Rock was by Elvis Presley

2. Bye Bye Love was by the Everly Brothers

3. Great Balls Of Fire was by Jerry Lee Lewis

4. Blueberry Hill was by Fats Domino

5. Peggy Sue was by Buddy Holly and the Crickets

6. Chances Are was by Johnny Mathis

7. Rock & Roll Music was by Chuck Berry

8. At The Hop was by Danny and the Juniors

9. Love Letters In The Sand was by Pat Boone

10. That’ll Be The Day was by Buddy Holly again


Thirty years ago I was a young partner of Wyman, Bautzer, Kuchel & Silbert and in charge of their summer associate program. This meant, among other things, forcing myself to take summer associates to Magic Mountain, rock concerts, even the Summer Olympics. It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it.

Try to identify all or some of the artists whose 1984 hits are listed below, or just email me to say hello. The email address remains Good luck!

1. Like A Virgin

2. When Doves Cry

3. What’s Love Got To Do With It

4. The Reflex

5. I Just Called To Say I Love You

6. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go

7. Time After Time

8. Hold Me Now

9. I Want A New Drug

10. Legs

11. Footloose

12. Karma Chameleon

13. Jump

14. Uptown Girl


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