The Disney+ Mystery Crime Procedural With A 100% Rotten Tomatoes Rating

By Jonathan Klotz | Updated

Sherlock Holmes is one of the most enduring characters in fiction, appearing in multiple movies, television series, comic books, and even video games. With so many versions floating around, it’s hard to do something different. That’s where Elementary comes in, modernizing and twisting the classic characters just enough to be recognizable but not scared to tell new stories.

Starring Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu, the show was a breath of fresh air in a sea of procedurals, but no one knew how good it would get.

The Surprising Success Of Elementary

elementary sherlock holmes

Elementary aired for seven seasons, making Miller the most prolific Sherlock Holmes in history, and while the first was critically acclaimed, against all odds, the series kept the momentum going and started racking up 100 percent Rotten Tomatoes critical ratings for season after season. Season 1 has an 85 percent score, and Season 7, the final one, sits at 86 percent. All the rest? Perfect, which is unheard of for a procedural.

Quickly Distanced Itself From That Other Show

Like everyone else on the planet at the time, I compared Elementary to Sherlock, the Benedict Cumberbatch BBC series that modernized the classic Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories and made sure everyone knew about the term “mind palace.” At first, the comparisons made sense; both were set in modern times, though one was in New York and the other in London, but very quickly, they diverged, with Cumberbatch’s Sherlock leaning into the analytical, while Miller’s version was all about the manic genius.

The Right Way To Genderbend A Character

The most obvious difference is that Elementary has gender-swapped Dr. John Watson, turning the character into the disgraced Dr. Joan Watson, who is played wonderfully by Lucy Liu. As Holmes’ sober companion, Joan has her work cut out for her, given how the series embraces the detective’s liberal use of illicit substances.

This one choice is all it took to make the series very different from all other versions of Sherlock Holmes, and though he’s still a sociopath with narcissistic tendencies, the struggle to stay sober adds weight to every major story.

Modernizes Classic Cases

One thing that did disappoint me about Elementary is that, unlike the source material, nearly every episode centers around a murder, which, yes, can start to feel a little old if you’re binge-watching. It’s fun recognizing classics like “The Adventure of Silver Blaze,” or as it’s more commonly known, “the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime,” “The Five Orange Pips,” and most blatantly, “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” are just a few of the stories that inspire episodes, but none are one-for-one adaptations.

Excellent Use Of Guest Stars

Along with Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu, Elementary includes other stars, from Aidan Quinn as the put-upon Captain Gregory of the NYPD and Jon Michael Hill as Detective Marcus Bell, to Holmes’ family, including Rhys Ifans as his brother Mycroft and John Noble as his estranged father.

In smaller roles, you’ll recognize Dexter’s Desmond Harrington, Natalie Dormer from Game of Thrones, James Frain from The Cape (a show everyone watched, right?), Vinnie Jones, and the other Lestat star Stuart Townsend.

Clyde The Tortoise Is The Greatest Character Ever


From fun cases to heart-breaking emotional moments, Elementary hits the usual procedural beats but does it better. Unlike shows like Castle or NCIS, this was a procedural that managed the very rare feat of leaving the fans wanting more and not holding on for so long that even die-hards start to wonder, “Why am I watching this?” Besides, no other show includes Clyde the Tortoise, the best recurring character in Hollywood history.

You can catch Elementary on Disney+ with Hulu.