I'm a long-time Sherlock Holmes fan. As a kid I read most of the original stories and greatly enjoyed the literal television adaptations starting Jeremy Brett, which were made by British-Canadian company Granada Television between 1984 and 1994.
I was pleasantly amazed by BBC's reimagined 2010 reboot, the brooding and clever Sherlock, which kept all the characters but moved the setting to be modern day London instead of Victorian London. I was less impressed by the 2009 Sherlock Holmes movie that reimagined Sherlock as an over-the-top action hero and full-on dismayed at the 2011 sequel which set a new high water mark for tedious action in a Sherlock Holmes story.
By the time Elementary arrived in 2012 - seemingly reimagining Sherlock to be set in modern day New York and being likely crossed with the sensibilities of the recent movies - I had little desire to try it out.
I didn't give it a second thought until a few weeks ago when I read a glowing review of Elementary that said it was even better than Sherlock. I decided to try it out and have now finished the first season.
I liked the set-up right away: Holmes is still British but just got out of American rehab as a recovering heroine addict. John Watson is now Joan Watson and she is a sober companion hired to keep Holmes from relapsing.
Johnny Lee Miller is amazing as Holmes - he's a brooding, inadvertently arrogant, occasionally childish crime-solving genius. Lucy Liu... I love her in many things but I'm still not feeling her in this role. I'm not sure if it's because of Liu or because of the writers, but she just doesn't feel real. For example, the occasional worry Watson voices about some event being a possible relapse trigger seems like lip service and has no actual bearing on the story or her relationship with Holmes.
Apart from that, the first half of Season 1 sustained my interest well enough. However the episodes were a little too self-contained (with very few plot threads surviving from one episode to the next) and, worse, all of the stories were Whodunnits, where the "how" was a given that left the story to center around the "who", which also means that the least likely suspect - whomever we only saw for like 10 seconds - was invariably the one who did it. I was getting pretty good at guessing the Who if not the Why!
Around mid-season Elementary started to step up its game. The types of stories became more diverse and began to include Howdunnits, which are far more interesting to me than Whodunnits. Some plot points started to extend across multiple episodes. And characters started to reveal some more complex layers.
However the series continued to have this slightly simplistic feel to it that, where things get neatly wrapped up and I don't feel like anything serious or permanent could happen to any of the main characters.
By the end - well, the last few episodes of Season 1 are extremely intense and compelling. This is where the slow build-up pays off in an intellectual and emotional roller coaster.
I'm a few episodes into Season 2 now. I still have some small gripes about the show but I can't say what they are without possibly spoiling the ending of Season 1.
Over all Elementary is totally worth watching, although I still enjoy Sherlock a tad bit more. Luckily there's no need to pick just one!