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On Loving Two Different Sherlocks, a guest post by Rachelia

I’m relatively new to the various Sherlock fandoms, having first watched series 1 – 3 of the BBC’s Sherlock around this time last year, and all of Elementary this fall. What I lack in history with these shows I like to think I make up in passion, haha!

From what I’ve garnered from browsing Tumblr tags and seeing various internet discussions is that there seems to be some kind of rule that you must choose between the BBC or Elementary version of Sherlock. There is some kind of feud between fans, often with BBC purists dismissing criticisms of the shows (particularly in regards to issues pertaining to gender and race), and insisting that is the far superior show and interpretation of Sherlock (example).

I don’t necessarily understand this either/or line that seems to have been drawn in the sand, as I have come to love both these modern TV adaptations of Sherlock. I’m going to talk a little about what keeps me coming back for more from these shows, and I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers along the way!

BBC

Sherlock (BBC)

Brief description: Set in London, England the famous Sherlock and his doctor partner John Watson solve cases using both the sleuth’s power of deduction and the conveniences of modern technology.  

Cinematography & Setting

I absolutely love the aesthetics of the BBC version of Sherlock. Sleek, modern, and fast-paced, it’s very cinematic in style. The dark tones reflect the criminals they are in pursuit of, and the mysteries they are solving.

The city itself also sort of becomes a character of its own, as it lends so much to this interpretation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories. From the skyline with the London Eye in the opening credits to Sherlock and Watson called to Buckingham Palace there is no escaping that this is a BBC show through and through. My inner anglophile wholeheartedly approves, and I get immense homesickness for my study abroad days in the UK while watching the show!


John!Lock Pairing

I can’t deny that I ship Sherlock and John. They have such chemistry on screen! But honestly, even without the John!Lock fic that I can’t seem to put down, I love their friendship. They both ground each other: John is Sherlock’s connection to the outside world, the world that exists outside of his brain; and Sherlock is John’s stabilizer, helping him through their friendship manage his PTSD and finding a new purpose in life. 
 
CBS

Elementary (CBS)

Brief description: Sherlock has relocated to New York City, where he acts as a consulting detective to the NYPD, along with his sober companion Joan Watson.

Creative interpretation

While Elementary pays homage to the BBC’s Sherlock in the way he wears his ever-present scarf, that is where most of the similarities end. Elementary is quite a different show than Sherlock, as the writers have adapted the story and made it their own.

Most obviously: 1) Sherlock is now living in New York, after fleeing London due to his addiction, and 2) the fact that Watson is a woman. These two simple changes give a lot of new life and material to the adaptation!


Sherlock’s addiction is also front and center in this adaptation, which helps humanize him as he struggles with sober-living.

I also love how they changed the Moriarty character and storyline – I actually prefer it.


More diversity in gender and race

It’s a pretty well known criticism that Moffatt has a bad track record with writing complex, fully imagined female characters, whether it be on Sherlock or Dr. Who. So, I really really appreciate the work of the producers and writers on Elementary, who have introduced more diversity to the case, and address issues of sexism and racism in the show.
First of all, I love the reimagining of Watson as Joan, a woman, instead of John. More so — I love how she’s not just another Asian sidekick but a capable and independent woman who evolves from Sherlock’s sober companion to his partner as a detective-in-training. I mean, look at that poster — you often don’t see women standing behind a man in a movie or TV poster. Usually the woman is objectified and the man, domineering. Here, Joan is standing right behind Sherlock at the focal point of the poster. She appears to be the backbone of Sherlock here, and I think you could make the argument that, at it’s heart, the show is really about her and her journey.


Further, on numerous occasions Joan has called Sherlock out on sexism, racism, and his lack of sensitivity in dealing with victims. Sherlock treats Joan with respect, and listens, making adjustments to his anti-social behaviour to accommodate their working relationship. Speaking of relationships, theirs’ is completely platonic… and I love it that way. Yes, grown men and women can “just” be  friends!

Lastly, there is diversity in Elementarys’ cast of characters. Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson is Asian-American, and both Jon Michael Hill (Detective Bell) and Ato Essandoh (Alfredo, Sherlock’s sober sponsor) are African-American. Three characters of colour, give them a cookie, right?! However, I think it’s also important to note that all three characters are very important to Sherlock, and don’t exist solely to tell his story. They also don’t put up with his crap.


While the show isn’t entirely unproblematic, it is refreshing to see a female Asian lead, a diverse cast of secondary (but important) characters, and a show that calls out it’s main male character on his attitudes and behaviours.

Finally, These two shows both have value in what they bring to the Sherlock fandom and canon. After all there is no ONE Sherlock – he has been imagined over 80 times! All in all, I can confidently say that there is space in my heart to love two modern versions of the same classic detective.

Rachelia
Find out more about Rachelia and visit her blog Bookish Comforts

  

Comments

  1. I love them both as well and Robert Downey Jr's movies. And here is one thing that would make me very unpopular in many circles–I like Johnny Lee Miller better. Way better. I like Benedict Cumberbatch, but I have always LOVED Johnny Lee Miller (have you seen Plunkett & Macleane or Emma or Hackers, even?). I just don't know why we can't all be friends!!

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