Elementary reviews – what the US critics make of the CBS Sherlock Holmes update

The Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu vehicle has been screened in America - but how has it been received?

American network CBS unleashed a new 21st Century Sherlock Holmes onto screens last night in the shape of Jonny Lee Miller in Elementary, accompanied by a female Dr Watson (Lucy Liu).


The series has been under intense scrutiny since it was announced – not least because of comparisons between it and the BBC’s modern day Holmes adaptation, Sherlock.

Sky Living will screen the New York-based show in the UK later this year, but what do the American critics think of Elementary? How does Lee Miller’s Holmes compare with Benedict Cumberbatch’s, and how does Lucy Liu do as his side-lick? 

Here’s a selection of the initial reactions from critics across the pond…

Entertainment Weekly give the show a B+ rating, commenting: “The primary pleasure of Elementary is Jonny Lee Miller’s performance as a present-day Sherlock Holmes: a brilliant, jumpy, self-described ”recovering addict” fresh out of rehab.

“No doubt Elementary will be compared with the British Sherlock series starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Elementary doesn’t go in for cleverly reworked versions of classic Doyle stories (yet, at least), but that doesn’t make the BBC/PBS series automatically superior to the CBS show. I’d say Miller has a good chance of working up a performance that’s equal to Cumberbatch’s laser-intense interpretation.

“The series utilizes its two main co-stars well. Lucy Liu, coming off a superb guest arc on Southland, makes for a fine Watson — a ”sober companion’ hired by Holmes’ father who inevitably hops aboard the Great Detective’s chugging trains of thought.

“But still, this is Miller’s show. ‘I observe, and once I have observed, I deduce,’ his Holmes proclaimed in the pilot. The star has found a way of making such arrogance allur.”

Newsday also gives the show a B, and says: “Viewers really have seen it all before. A lot of Sherlock is out there — arguably too much. Miller effectively channels all those famed Holmesian traits, especially the brittleness and glorious eccentricities.

Concluding: “Two things are going for this latest adaptation — solid production values and a talented lead actor. Make that three things — a network that knows just what viewers want.”

The San Fransisco Chronicle admits that Elementary “will probably infuriate Sherlock Holmes purists”, but “other viewers are likely to find it gripping and well cast.

“If you think too much about everything you know about Sherlock Holmes, Elementary may disappoint you. Yes, next to the PBS Sherlock it’s only a pretty good also-ran. But the PBS Sherlock only shows up once a year with a frustratingly small handful of episodes. If nothing else, while you’re waiting for its return, Elementary offers a compelling way to pass the time.”

TV Fanatic are extremely upbeat about the pilot episode, awarding the show 4.8 out of 5. They report “It will undoubtedly be compared to its BBC counterpart and Jonny Lee Miller will be stood up beside the talents of Benedict Cumberbatch. After watching the pilot (twice), I’m willing to say it’s a risk that will pay off big time.

“Jonny Lee Miller is an exceptional Sherlock Holmes; he possesses all the quirkiness and intelligence we have come to expect from the iconic detective in recent years. Where Miller stands out from previous actors is that he has toned down the narcissistic tendencies and has exposed a small sliver of vulnerability towards Watson.

“There were so many little moving parts to view in the relationship of the main characters. I can’t wait to learn more…”

Chicago Time Out is not quite so kind, saying: “Those familiar with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous character will find something off here. Miller is a talented actor, but there is something missing to this Holmes. He’s a little too cold, a little too much of a machine, and his dialogue is too often him explaining how clever he is. A lot of this can be laid at the feet of Liu’s Watson, who should be helping us connect with Holmes, but doesn’t seem to really like him herself.”

However, the review concludes: “Elementary may fail at depicting a faithful adaptation of its central characters, but its case-of-the-week storytelling has some amusing twists and turns that are sure to please fans of other CBS crime dramas.”

Finally, The Wall Street Journal says: “Regardless of what cases these two are working on – unless they get too outlandish – it’s going to be interesting watching these actors spar as these characters.

“This intriguing series, which pulls the viewer in from the first few scenes, just might make us believers.”

Keep up to date with all the latest Elementary news here


Keep up to date with all the latest Sherlock news here