ByKatie Granger, writer at
MP Staff Writer, come to bargain.
Katie Granger

With Benedict Cumberbatch's startling rise to fame since Sherlock first began, it's no real surprise that finding time to coordinate his schedule between those of co-star Martin Freeman and writers Moffat and Gatiss is proving tricky. It's been nearly two years since Sherlock Season 3 aired and any show that didn't have such a dedicated fan following would've died long ago with such large gaps between three-episode seasons.

Co-show runner Steven Moffat has confirmed that production has been pushed back to early 2016 due to scheduling conflicts. Which means that if they continue the tradition of releasing the new seasons every New Year we probably wont get to see the next season until 2017. The most recent news from Moffat is that shooting will begin "April-ish" of 2016, so at least we have an "ish" date confirmed, right?

And let's not forget Watson's moustache
And let's not forget Watson's moustache

On the other side of the pond however, Elementary shoots ever onwards with Season 4 set to start airing next month on November 5th.

Sherlock first aired way back in 2010 and Elementary followed suit in 2012, a new take on the mythology by CBS after being snubbed by the BBC to remake Sherlock. Surprisingly Elementary proved to be a very enjoyable - and very different - take on the classic Conan Doyle tales, and has proven a hit both in America and abroad.

The Episodic Design

One of Sherlock's strengths, the feature length episodes which allow larger narrative scope for exposition and resolution within an episodic space, is also it's greatest weakness. Whilst this can work to it's advantage, a weak narrative strand can collapse an entire episode - amounting to an entire third of a season crumbling. Season 3 was a good example of this, an underwhelming performance compared to it's predecessors.

Sherlock takes more time to craft drama in each episode. Elementary is a procedural drama which breaks story arcs down into the typical 45-minute chunks. It's format also allows it a much higher episode turnover; we currently have 72 episodes of Elementary as opposed to just nine of Sherlock. Whilst there's arguably an quality difference here, having a few bad episodes of Elementary won't kill the show as it would with Sherlock. It also allows for greater character introduction and development over time.

And then of course there's the gaps between seasons. Elementary chugs on, producing a 24-episode season each year whilst Sherlock has gaps of up to three years between seasons, possibly making it harder to retain viewer interest.

The Female Watson

Steven Moffat has previously lamented difficulties with finding space to write females into stories which originally feature predominately male characters, a problematic product of the time the original stories were written. Even Irene Adler only featured in one Conan Doyle story.

The lack of central females in Sherlock isn't a terrible oppressing thing necessarily given that the show revolves around these two iconic (traditionally male) characters. It's not just the women that are put in the background here, everyone who isn't Sherlock or Watson is relegated to background status.

Would it be nice to have a main female character? Sure, but the Watson/Sherlock dynamic as it exists in Sherlock is too good to mess with and a lot of that comes from the performances of Cumberbatch and Freeman. To the writers credit Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey), Irene Adler (Lara Pulver) and Mary Morstan/Watson (Amanda Abbington) are all great, if secondary, characters.

Then came Elementary, Dr. John Watson became Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Lui) and everyone flipped out. I think the big problem people had was worrying that this was going to change the dynamic of the two characters core relationship cause now Watson has lady bits. It boils down to what should by now be an outdated concept that there's different rules to writing men and women in film and TV. George R. R. Martin put it best: "I've always considered women to be people."

As it turned out, one of the best things about Elementary was the dynamic between Joan and Sherlock. Making Watson a woman wasn't just a gimmicky way to gain points with the politically correct brigade, but a means by which to further reinvent the character. And then there's Jamie Moriarty (Natalie Dormer) who in this iteration is a female hybrid of James Moriarty and Irene Adler.

This created a fascinating character in the form of the intelligent and manipulative Moriarty who arguably both objectifies and idolises Sherlock, holding him as "beautiful" and "a work of art" - terms usually applied to female characters.

Basically, by messing with the source material Elementary created new takes on classic roles, creating incredibly compelling characters to challenge those of Sherlock, regardless of gender.

Sherlock Holmes

Cumberbatch & Miller at a Frankenstein photoshoot
Cumberbatch & Miller at a Frankenstein photoshoot

As for Sherlock himself, whilst Benedict Cumberbatch won critical acclaim and the love of Sherlock fans for his portrayal of the "high functioning sociopath", Jonny Lee Miller has proven that he can hold his own when it comes to stepping into Sherlock's shoes.

Sherlock is the centrepiece of Sherlock, and Cumberbatch carries it brilliantly, but this can get exhausting at times. Notably during Season 3 when his increasingly bizarre and childish behaviour goes unchallenged by those around him because, well because he's Sherlock.

Elementary's Sherlock is a slightly more malleable man, willing to bend a little to make room for others. Whether or not this fits with the original character doesn't really matter because neither of them are Conan Doyle's Sherlock. They stand apart as their own representations.

Personally I still prefer Sherlock as a show but Elementary should be praised for striking out into new territory, even the Sherlock creators like it (according to Lucy Lui). Some may still find it just another unnecessary adaptation in a world of constantly adapted and rip-offed media but, like Sherlock, it did give us another way to look at and enjoy these stories. Surely that can't be so bad a thing.

Which show do you prefer, Sherlock or Elementary? Let us know which one and why in the comments!


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