It's an opinion that seems to be unpopular on the internet no matter where you go. Sherlock - by default of being a BBC production and arriving on the scene two years earlier - is seen as the superior show. In many cases, the person claiming that hasn't even watched Elementary, because "Ew, American version. Bound to be shit. Won't bother."
But in adopting such an attitude, people are depriving themselves of something wonderful. Personally, I prefer Elementary, due in large part to the writing on Sherlock, which I was unable to get past. So I totally understand having a preference for one or the other. I just wanted to put down on paper (pixels?!) some of the reasons WHY I feel the way I do, rather than just making a sweeping statement and not backing it up with evidence.
For a lot of people, it seems like their major problem is that Elementary strays from canon. It uses the names and natures of the characters, and puts them into new scenarios in a new location. While the essential core characters - Holmes, Watson, Mrs Hudson, Irene Adler and Moriarty - remain, the other recurring characters are new.
To me, however, this is where the show finds life. It's difficult to take a series of 120-ish year old short stories and dump them directly into the modern world. Sherlock itself proves that - while each episode may be based on a story taken from Doyle's canon, the plots are changed to fit the modern world. The Sherlock episode 'The Hounds of Baskerville', for example, features a drug created on a military base that leads people to hallucinate giant dogs. The original novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles, in contrast, features a large dog that's been covered in phosphorus to make it look all creepy, and which is used to scare people to death. So while the basic concept may be canon, it does not automatically follow that the eventual episode is.
|Hounds of Baskerville hallucination. Source|
Elementary, by distancing itself from Doyle's canon stories, can explore new territory with ease. It can deal with subjects that simply weren't discussed in Doyle's time - rape, human trafficking, assassins for hire. Despite the American setting, not every case comes down to confronting the suspect at the point of a gun.
Where Elementary really shines, however, is the characters and their relationships. The show is nothing but character development from the get go. Sherlock - perhaps not surprisingly, given Steven Moffat as showrunner - features a limited number of characters who are female or people of colour. When it does, they tend to be stereotypes. Similarly, the relationship between Sherlock and Watson is guilty of constant queerbaiting - long, lingering looks between characters and jokes about how they're definitely absolutely not gay in any way, designed to play on the interests of fangirls when the showrunners have no intention of going anywhere near the development of a homosexual relationship.
Elementary is commonly criticised for the genderbent role of Joan Watson, with claims that "the Americans did this so they can introduce a sexual relationship easily!". If you watch the show, however, you'll see that nothing could be further from the truth. Sherlock and Joan start out in a client/practitioner relationship, and gradually move towards friendship. They are a literal broTP. Similarly, the genderbend allows for the introduction of a competent female character, who is Sherlock's equal in many ways.
I have yet to see a stereotype in Elementary. While Joan's mother is still the Asian mother who wants what is best for her daughter, she is far from the "you will do what I tell you" stereotype that is seen far too often. Detective Bell's race is never mentioned. Alfredo and Detective Bell's brother demonstrate that people are not what they first appear, that anyone can redeem themselves given time and motivation. And Ms. Hudson's biological gender is barely even noteworthy. Neither Sherlock or Joan are bothered. It is simply accepted without a second glance, without any "Oh God, what pronoun do we use?!" or "Wait, a BOYFRIEND?".
|Detective Bell. Source|
The acting in both shows is phenomenal, but what sells it for me is Jonny Lee Miller. He's brilliant as the recovering drug addict, pouring himself into his work. He brings emotion, wit, and depth to the role. Miller's Sherlock is able to admit that he's wrong, that others may know more than him. The mannerisms he brings - bouncing on his toes when mulling over a case, running his fingers over his thumb in a style reminiscent of violin fingering when putting forth a hypothesis, making decisions that seem logical to him but bizarre to other characters - take the character to the next level, creating a real person. Elementary's Sherlock is flawed, which allows the other characters to play a significant role, filling in key details that he - tunnel-visioned as Holmes tends to be throughout canon and all adaptations - can't see.
At the end of the day, though, it doesn't matter. Because the die hard Sherlock fans will never watch Elementary, deeming it a rip-off and not worthy of their BAFTA winning attention. And in doing so, they're depriving themselves of a treat. Because - despite appearances - the two shows are dramatically different and can't really be compared. Because despite the apparent war between the two shows - which are notoriously polarising - it is possible to watch and enjoy both.
Have you seen Elementary? Have you seen Sherlock? Which did you prefer and why?