Like the BBC show, this interpretation is set in modern times. Sherlock was once employed by Scotland Yard as a consultant, where he used his incredible powers of deduction to help solve murder cases. He was booted from the force when a drug addiction consumed him. Some two years later, he's landed on his feet in New York City, ready to pick up the consulting mantle again with the NYPD following a stint in rehab. Joan is assigned to Sherlock as his sober companion, a live-in associate who helps him maintain his drug-free lifestyle. She accompanies him to work and quickly becomes wrapped up in the experience of visiting crime scenes and solving mysteries, discovering almost instantly that Sherlock's ability to notice and dissect every detail is much more interesting than helping the average alcoholic stay on the wagon.
Compared to feature-length episodes or a massive film production, the first inclination is to call "Elementary" a bit simplistic. The pilot episode makes the mistake of using Sherlock's eccentricities and immutable eye for detail as the source of cutesy comedy. It's not the worst "Brits are witty" / "funny because he's crazy" routine I've seen in American entertainment, but it's mildly grating. Additionally, the "murder-of-the-week" nature of the show can end up feeling a little perfunctory; it would be nice to see the show attempt some more mysteries of varying lengths. However, as the season progresses, "Elementary" starts gaining traction thanks to sharp casting and the nice development of a male-female relationship that's purely platonic.
The secret to this success is the character of Joan, a former surgeon who ended up sliding into sober companionship after a personal tragedy. Joan chose to retreat into a simpler career, where she could still help people, but even if she never says it out loud, the routine of sober companionship is frustrating for her. When she meets Sherlock, she not only finds someone who has swiftly and thoroughly defeated their own troubled past, but also a new way to help people that's much more interesting. The developing partnership between Sherlock and Watson forms the backbone of "Elementary" -- even when individual stories are somewhat repetitive, they provide the set up for new developments in Joan's immersion into Sherlock's work. Liu and Miller play this relationship with just the right amount of weight and sincerity. Meanwhile, Aidan Quinn plays Captain Gregson and Jon Michael Hill is his top detective Marcus Bell, completing an admirably unusual ensemble. Each of these roles is well-rounded and brings a specific tone or flavor to the piece, which is nice.
The battle at the heart of "Elementary" is between the skilled and engaging cast and the middle-of-the-road writing and direction. It's not that any one of these episodes is boring or bad, but very few of them stand out, either. It's got to be a challenge, writing 22 increasingly clever mysteries, especially when your protagonist is a genius: the stories must strike the perfect balance between being simple enough that the audience can follow Sherlock's eventual explanation, while also being too smart for the answers to be obvious the moment the audience learns the facts. For the most part, the writers succeed, but not without the show settling into a familiar pattern (Sherlock hits a roadblock, Joan sees something minor he missed). Additionally, the show is crammed with exposition, because Sherlock is a naturally expository character, arriving at a conclusion and then explaining it to those who can't see it. Sometimes, these spiels are on-the-nose, blatantly for the audience's benefit rather than the characters.
Mostly, though, the direction is the disappointing angle. "Elementary" not only has no real stylistic personality (potentially refreshing), but even lacks a visual personality. Each episode looks the same and moves in basically the same fashion, which makes for sort of a bland marathon experience. The most lazy aspect of the show is the flashback sequences that pop up when Sherlock has unraveled a bit of information, which are quite generic and mostly unnecessary. It's hard to come up with a visual way to convey Sherlock's power of deduction, but there must be a more unique and interesting way to depict his ability to zero in on details. The show has a very interesting title sequence involving a marble rolling into a revolver, setting off some sort of Mouse Trap-style Rube Goldberg contraption, and it only becomes more abstract as the show reveals itself as directorially standard.
In the last three episodes, an arc begins that plays with key aspects of the modern Holmes mythos. Although it inspires some excellent dramatic moments from Miller and aims to put a distinctive new stamp on the show, it naturally pushes the limits of believability and can't quite live up to certain expectations that the show itself inevitably sets up. Regardless, even when a given episode of "Elementary" struggled to find an engaging story hook, the strength of the characters kept me coming back to the show. "Elementary" has been renewed for a second season, giving them the freedom to shake things up -- hopefully, the show is just beginning to hit its stride.
The Video and Audio
Thankfully, the audio is much better. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track included on these discs is robust and lively, capturing the jaunty dance of the show's musical score and theme song with a pleasing enthusiasm. Dialogue is always clear, surround activity is nicely balanced in sets both cramped and spacious, and the occasional action beat is on-par with a low-budget feature film. Audio-wise, no complaints. An English 2.0 track, English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, and Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish subtitles are also included.
The rest of the material is on Disc 6. "Holmes Sweet Holmes" (17:56) is a discussion of the writing process and how the crew has chosen to develop the character and those around him over the course of the season. Next, Lucy Liu leads the viewer on a quick, amped up set tour (3:19), pointing out some of the details that can't be spotted during the episodes, and finally, we have a series of shorter featurettes under the heading "The Power of Observation": "Seeing is Believing" (3:01) is a very brief look at the visual effects for the series; "Devil in the Details" (3:43) examines the set decoration and props; and Watson yet again in "My Dear Watson" (3:53). These shorter bits are actually slightly more interesting than the longer featurettes; they feel as if they contain more information in less time (or perhaps, the same amount of information in less time).
The set is rounded out with a reel of promos (8:06) for the series, which unsurprisingly focus on the more eccentric elements of the pilot.