Both Elementary and Sherlock offer modern takes on the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Watson. While I watch both shows, I think Elementary is the better one. Here’s why:
Watson is more than just Holmes’ biographer
In most versions of Holmes and Watson, including Sherlock’s, Holmes is the primary mover of the relationship. Watson is there as the audience’s stand-in, someone Holmes can be brilliant next to. He’s there to make Holmes more relatable, but that’s it.
Elementary’s Watson is a stronger, more complex character. She begins as Holmes’ sober companion, becomes his mentee in deduction, and grows into an equal partner in solving crimes.
Holmes is a more complex character
Part of what makes Elementary’s Watson better is the fact that she manages to change Holmes. He starts the series as a recovering addict, oblivious to the feelings of others and convinced of his superiority. Unlike Sherlock’s version of the character, Elementary’s Holmes changes under Watson’s influence, becoming humbler and more sensitive to how his behavior is perceived.
Elementary’s version of Holmes is vulnerable, and knows it, something we never see in Sherlock.
Moriarty finally makes sense
I think Elementary’s portrayal of Moriarty is brilliant. The writers of Elementary managed to finally give a good explanation for the two main problems with Sherlock’s Moriarty:
- Why doesn’t Moriarty kill Holmes? I’ve never bought the “I admire him” argument. What criminal mastermind wouldn’t eliminate a threat as great as Sherlock Holmes as early as possible?
- Why doesn’t Holmes track down Moriarty earlier? Both Sherlock and Elementary have Holmes encounter Moriarty early on without recognizing him, but only Elementary has a good explanation for why such an observant man as Holmes would have a blind spot where Moriarty is concerned.
Update: The Onion’s AVClub agrees that Elementary is the better show.