Sherlock versus Sherlock

How does CBS series Elementary stack up against the BBC's Sherlock? Paul Jones compares the Holmeses, their styles and their partners in crimes...


When US network CBS first announced that it would be creating its own modern-day Sherlock Holmes series, Sue Vertue, executive producer of the BBC’s Sherlock, confessed herself “worried”. CBS had previously approached her and husband, Sherlock co-creator Steven Moffat, about translating the show to America. The fact that they were turned down yet went ahead and did their own version, Elementary, had some people whispering “rip-off”.


Having now seen a synopsis and a trailer for Elementary, Moffat has gone the other way, suggesting that its hardly Sherlock Holmes at all. Meanwhile, fans are wondering how it stacks up against Sherlock.

Well what better way to find out what’s really going on than to compare the two detectives across some of the areas that really matter, from dress sense to addiction, sidekicks to solving crimes…

Dress sense

Sherlock: Sherlock’s uniform – dark trousers and jacket, tightly-wound scarf and collar-up overcoat – is something close to a superhero outfit, with the coat flying behind him like a cape when he runs. There’s also “the Sherlock Holmes hat”, a failed attempt to hide his face from the paparazzi. Sherlock despises it but its a deserved nod to Conan Doyle illustrator Sidney Paget, who first imagined the detective in the now iconic deerstalker.

Elementary: So far, Jonny Lee Miller’s Holmes has mostly been seen wearing, er, an overcoat and scarf (although to be fair I have been known to don that particular combo myself on a cold day). But his sartorial choices also appear to demonstrate a sense of humour – take the “I’m not lucky, I’m good” shamrock t-shirt seen in the trailer, for instance – and we also see Holmes topless, which gives him a chance to show off some extensive tattoos. Cumberbatch’s Sherlock would no doubt allow himself a derisive snort at that…


Sherlock: He lines his arm with nicotine patches (referring in one scene to a case as a ” three-patch problem” as opposed to the original Holmes’s “two-pipe” version) and is partial to a cup of coffee – even if it is both cold and “horrible”.

Elementary: The precise nature of Holmes’s addiction has yet to be revealed but since he’s been in rehab, and is now under the care of an addiction specialist (Joan Watson), I think we can assume we’re talking something stronger than coffee and cigarettes here.

Detective background

Sherlock: The world’s only consulting detective – “I invented the job” – Sherlock takes cases based on their points of interest rather than just the seriousness of the crime. He’s also an unofficial consultant to Scotland Yard via one Detective Inspector Lestrade.

Elementary: Miller’s Holmes describes himself as a former consultant to Scotland Yard – “I wasn’t paid for my services and therefore I answered to no-one but myself” – although his NYPD contact Captain Gregson (see below) puts it a little differently: “Ten years ago I was assigned to Scotland Yard… Holmes worked homicide.”


Sherlock: Lightning quick deductions based on observed minutiae define Sherlock’s methods, with text sometimes appearing onscreen to help us understand how he does it. Of course, his deductive skills very much extend to unravelling bigger, more intricate puzzles too – and he’s a master of the long game himself. Just look at the way he deduced (at least some of) Moriarty’s plans and set up his own faked death as a response.

Elementary: We’ve been told he’s “brilliant” and “eccentric” but those are no-brainers for any version of Holmes. Examples of unusual skills revealed in the initial trailer include spotting that there’s more broken glass on a kitchen floor than accounted for by just a single smashed tumbler (something any decent detective, let alone a CSI, should be able to do) and the neater trick of deducing the presence of a secret “safe room” in an apartment from a slightly sloping floor. So far, it seems this Sherlock’s tricks provide short-cuts to the truth, rather than digging out conclusions that would not eventually have been arrived at by others. Of course, it will only be fair to fully judge him when we’ve watched him over the course of an entire case.

Dr Watson 

Sherlock: John is the everyman to Sherlock’s aloof genius. Like Conan Doyle’s Dr Watson, he’s also his (blogging) biographer and has a military medical background, having served in Afghanistan. And Martin Freeman’s character gets plenty of chances to air his frustrations at his friend’s sociopathic tendencies.

Elementary: I don’t want to alarm you Holmes fans – but Watson’s a woman! Yes, Lucy Liu is Dr Joan Watson, a former surgeon who lost her licence following the death of a patient. She’s also an “addiction specialist” initially hired by Holmes’s father to be his “sober companion”. Of course, Watson (or can we call her Joan?) begins to accompany him on cases, lending Holmes her medical experience and discovering she has a knack for investigations too (what luck!). Liu says Joan “comes from a more emotional place” than Holmes, who “can’t really articulate things in a very sensitive fashion”, while Miller reckons “the relationship between Holmes and Watson really is the driving force for the piece”.

The police

Sherlock: Detective Inspector Greg Lestrade of the Metropolitan Police Force (played by Rupert Graves) is cast (not unlike Watson) as a frustrated admirer of Sherlock. He’s the one the detective will go to when he has to involve the police and he pops up here and there to ask the detective for help/beg him to stop annoying the press.

Elementary: Filling the Lestrade role here is Aidan Quinn’s Captain Gregson (his surname a reference to one of the few Scotland Yard inspectors to impress Holmes in the original stories). Gregson has respect for Holmes’s abilities, having known him from his time on attachment in London ten years ago when Holmes was a consultant to Scotland Yard. Since Miller’s Holmes is now working as a consultant to the NYPD, rather than in his own practice, it seems likely Gregson will be a more constant figure than Sherlock’s Lestrade.

Along with Gregson, we’ve also been introduced to Detective Javier Abreu (Manny Perez), a unimaginative police officer who distrusts Holmes’s methods and acts as a foil for highlighting his abilities.

What do you think of the two Holmeses? Does Elementary intrigue you or are you Sherlock all the way? Post a comment below and let us know. 

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