Sherlock vs Elementary – Do I Really Have to Choose?

Holmes and Watson - Elementary and Sherlock

With the new season of the BBC’s Sherlock premiering in the US on January 19, and CBS’s Elementary having started back up after the mid-season break on January 2, I thought it would be fun to do a comparison of the key elements of the two shows. Full disclosure, I love both shows, so this will not be a scathing comparison full of vitriol. Rather, it will be a lighthearted look at the two shows. So, that said, let’s begin!


Miller and Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes

The leads of these two programs are both very talented actors, who portray Holmes the way I envision him to be. Both speak too fast for my taste sometimes, but I think that is part of Holmes – his mind races so fast that his mouth can barely keep up! I certainly pay close attention to the dialogue in these shows so as to not miss anything. Both Miller and Cumberbatch are also very good with snark, which makes them both stellar in my book!

If I have to make a choice of one over the other, and I’m reluctant to because they are both easy on the eye, I think that Benedict Cumberbatch has a slight edge over Jonny Lee Miller in the adorable department – yes, I admit to being a “Cumberb$%^h.”


Freeman and Liu as Watson

In my opinion, Holmes needs Watson like a sailboat needs wind, so a strong sidekick is a necessary ingredient for a good program. The fact that one of the Watsons is female does not really affect this in my opinion. I feel both Lucy Liu and Martin Freeman are outstanding in their portrayal of a companion suffering through the quirks of our hero Holmes.

In fact, once again if forced to choose, well, this one is tough, but I think I would go with Lucy Liu’s Watson. While not meaning to diminish Freeman’s Watson, there is something about Liu’s calm yet no nonsense portrayal that I find very entertaining! However, I would also like to point out that Freeman does a great job of expressing his frustration with Holmes!


Sherlock and Mycroft in Elementary and Sherlock

It is one of the more overused phrases today, but “it’s complicated” does actually describe the relationship between Sherlock and his older brother Mycroft. These two versions do take a slightly different approach to this relationship.

What they have in common is that Sherlock and Mycroft are not on the friendliest terms on either show, although on Elementary the hostility is rather open and harsh, understandably so based on the back story we have been given, whereas on Sherlock it is more subdued, and falls along the lines of a brotherly feud, and Mycroft does keep track of and appear to care about his brother.

Sherlock takes the traditional route, having Mycroft work for the government, although his exact job has not been elaborated. He clearly does move in powerful circles, as evidenced by summoning his brother to the Palace. Holmes description of Mycroft’s job in the series is very entertaining – “He is the British government, when he’s not too busy being the British secret service or the CIA on a freelance basis.”

Elementary, on the other hand, has Mycroft as a restaurateur in London, and recently opening a restaurant in New York City. There also seems to be some sort of shady business going on, which so far is just a tantalizing mystery, with Mycroft scheming to force Sherlock to return to London – for reasons unknown.

Which Mycroft do I prefer? While I enjoy them both, I have to go with Sherlock’s version, if only because I prefer the lower level of brotherly animosity.

Season Length

Sherlock and Elementary DVD

Elementary is on CBS and a full season is 24 episodes – wonderfully long and packed full of entertainment. Sherlock, on the other hand, is produced by the BBC, and in my opinion suffers from a very short 3 episode season. Granted, Sherlock’s episodes are longer, lasting approximately 90 minutes each to Elementary’s approximately 45 minutes each, but darn it, I want more!

So, in the season length category, Elementary wins handily.


Holmes and Watson in Elementary and Sherlock

While both shows are modern adaptations of Holmes, Sherlock is set in London where we get the full advantage of hanging out at 221B Baker Street, and Elementary is set in New York City, which is more in keeping with the reimagined theme of the show.

While I think both locations work great – actually, any large city works fine for a crime procedural – I prefer London just because for me it is across the pond!

Other Supporting Characters

Holmes and Moriarity in Elementary and Sherloc k

While both shows are modern adaptations of Holmes, the fact that Sherlock is set in London gives us the pleasure of seeing Mrs. Hudson and Inspector Lestrade. Elementary, on the other hand, is set in New York City so a new batch of supporting characters became necessary. We did have the pleasure of Elementary’s visit to London, where we got to visit 221B Baker Street, and meet Lestrade, but Elementary’s Holmes works on a regular basis with Captain Gregson and Detective Bell.

Then there are Irene Adler and Moriarity, who in the case of Elementary are shown to be the same person. Now that’s a twist! Sherlock’s Moriarity is a twisted, demented arch criminal. Elementary’s Moriarity, on the other hand, is brilliant and scheming, and certainly a criminal, but I do find it hard to believe she is on the same level of crazy as Sherlock’s Moriarity.

Despite that, I really am enjoying the emotional tug of war between Holmes and Moriarity in Elementary a bit more.


So, let’s tally my votes – Holmes, Location and Mycroft go to Sherlock, but Watson, Other Supporting Characters and Season Length go to Elementary – oh, look, it’s a tie! Woo hoo – I did not want to choose between them anyway. Having both to watch is a big bonus in my opinion – both are fun and intriguing, and definitely worth watching!

What do you think? Do you like both programs, or prefer one over the other, or maybe even dislike one of them? Let me know in the comments section below!

  • Lynn

    I found your comparisons fun. I’m an ‘Elementary’ fan, and tried ‘Sherlock’ , didn’t care for it, but my son and his wife love it, and recommended it to my husband and I., We like a lot of the same shows as they do, but ‘Sherlock’ was just not my ‘cup of tea’ . Maybe because I saw ‘Elementary’ first, but anyway, liked the comparisons and found your reasons plausible in preferring one over the other.

    • ptjackson

      Hi Lynn! Thanks for your comments, I really appreciate them!

      I think we are lucky to have so many choices so that everyone can find something they like!

  • Tim Hickson

    Elementary is a travesty that should have never began. It is a nightmare of a show, and an insult to Holmes.

    • ptjackson

      Hi! Thanks for letting me know your thoughts! I think we will just have to agree to disagree, ok?

  • Lee Ann

    Well, like you, I enjoy both of them. They are very different in some ways (Watson is female in one, the American setting does change things up a bit) and similar in others: both Sherlocks seem to have embraced cell phone technology wholeheartedly. I’d say the British version is more tightly wound than the American–we just know less about his inner workings (so far). The ongoing drug rehab of the American version gives him more opportunities to express actual feelings. I look forward to seeing how both of them develop!

    • ptjackson

      You make some very interesting points – I had not considered how they both have embraced cell phones, but you are very right! And, yes, I agree about the rehab aspect allowing more expression of feelings and giving us a window into his psyche!

      I also look forward to the continuing development of both shows! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • TexasDeedster

    I agree you can love both shows. That being said, my thoughts about the two programs are as follows:

    I hate the short seasons on all of the BBC programs. Not only does it make for long waits it makes it difficult to schedule viewing time whether recording or live viewing. That I spend my time in trying to follow my favorites via internet or Amazon demonstrates the quality found in programs from across the pond.

    Sherlock has benefited taking from the pages of Doyle’s stories. If you have read the stories you can see very clear comparisons to the originals even to the same wording. I think it makes for an excellent example that good storytelling transcends time and that well defined characters can live forever. I do not think that Sherlock would survive on network TV in America. PBS does not have to sell advertising and it’s audience has always been more cerebral. I am hoping that Cumberbatch’s popularity will draw younger audiences to PBS so that they can learn to be a little more patient.

    CBS on the other hand has to play the rating game in order to sell advertising. Unfortunately, in America that means a chase scene every 11 minutes and very simple plots with shallow characters. Given those restraints, I think CBS has done a good job of creating a modern day Holmes. I think that much of what we see on Elementary is how Doyle would have written for today’s reader. The relationship between Sherlock and Mycroft is much more in line with today’s dysfunctional families and that Watson as a woman more clearly speaks to Sherlock’s social awkwardness.

    So in the end, I love both shows for different reasons. Sherlock feels like a comfortable beloved chair while Elementary is like getting a new toy. Which am I willing to purchase DVDs, well that would be Sherlock. It is a classic that in twenty years will still be wonderful to watch just like It’s a Wonderful Life.

    • ptjackson

      Great analysis!! I totally agree with you. I like your comfortable chair and new toy analogy.

      My husband is the true Holmes aficionado in the house, and he always points out the parallels with Sherlock. He also does that occasionally with Elementary, but not as often.

      Thanks so much for adding to the discussion about these two shows – I appreciate it!

  • Dee

    I had loved the Jeremy Brett Sherlock but welcomed a new version. As a new fan of Cumberbatch from his portrayal of PM Pitt, I was delighted by the BBC “Sherlock,” was unimpressed by the film version (sorry, Mr. Downey), and rolled my eyes when CBS introduced “Elementary.” Still, I got sucked into “Elementary” and couldn’t quite figure out why I liked both TV versions; it was a review of Danny Boyle’s “Frankenstein” (about Cumberbatch and Miller’s Creatures) that pinpointed what I saw with the Sherlocks–that Cumberbatch brings a cold, intellectual side to things, and Miller brings a more raw, emotional one. And their Watsons match their Sherlocks.

    • ptjackson

      Hi Dee!

      My husband has the Brett version DVD set, and we watched them all and enjoyed them too.

      I love your point about the aspects that Cumberbatch and Miller bring out in Holmes – I had not thought about it that way, but you are so right!

      And, you make another good point that the Watsons are suited to the Sherlocks they work with.

      Thanks so much for pointing these things out!

  • Homer

    I don’t like either and I love Sherlock Holmes but when it is reinterpreted, reimagined, rebooted or whatever, the ineffable quality of Holmes, his foibles, his addictions, his character and more importantly his place in a particular space at a particular time are lost. Era and location are critical as it gives context to the characters.

    The shows are very good but would work just as well if they didn’t use the names of Sherlock Holmes, and were just some modern characters instead.

    • ptjackson

      You make an interesting point. I think I am of the school that believes there are a limited number of original ideas and everything else is just a reimagining of some other story. That may explain the difference.

      Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and comments!

      • Homer

        Oh no, no. I cannot subscribe to that bleak view. If we say the human mind is only able to create a limited number of stories AND we have reached that limit already, hence the need for reboots etc. then I think our culture has reached the end of creativity and we may as well just give up and return to the caves. 🙂

        I prefer the school that believes the universe is potentially infinite and the scope of human imagination has nowhere reached it’s limits, the alternative is far too depressing.

        Since I wrote the above post I watched (most) of an episode of Elementary, I have to say it is a nice procedural drama, but not Sherlock Holmes by any measure I can relate to. Like I said before, era and location are absolutely critical to the characters, remove those and you remove what Sherlock Holmes is.

        • ptjackson

          So shall we then agree to disagree? Shake on it? (~~~) 😎

          • Homer

            Absolutely 🙂

  • Andrea

    I love them both. I am a huge Sherlock Holmes fan. I have all the books and listen to them on audio almost daily. It is a lot of fun to identify bits and pieces of the original stories that the writers cleverly weave into the series. ‘Elementary’ is a little sharper and more up to date, but fresh ideas like making Irene Adler a dominatrix, make ‘Sherlock’ just as entertaining.