‘Elementary’ a good start for diversity in TV; smackdown against ‘Sherlock’

May 1, 2014 — by Megan MacInnes and Helen Wong

 Who’s the better Sherlock? That’s a question being heatedly debated by fans of CBS’s “Elementary” and BBC’s “Sherlock,” both spectacular shows in their own rights.

 Who’s the better Sherlock? That’s a question being heatedly debated by fans of CBS’s “Elementary” and BBC’s “Sherlock,” both spectacular shows in their own rights.

For our money, "Elementary” is the better show, thanks to its diverse cast and unrepentingly modern interpretation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories.

“Elementary” came in two years after BBC’s version of the Sherlock Holmes stories hit the air. Controversy over CBS’s remake arose after rumors of plagiarism spread through the Internet.

Once “Elementary” aired, though, the plagiarism accusations died down. In fact, accusations of plagiarism became just about the least viable criticism against the show, considering that, among other groundbreaking changes, John Watson became Joan Watson and is played by Lucy Liu, a high-profile Asian-American actress.

Because of the varied ethnicities on the main cast, “Elementary” is easily one of the most diverse shows out there. It managed to handle race respectfully whereas the second episode of “Sherlock” garnered accusations of racism. The villains were made out to be every single Chinese person in London, and the damsel in distress was portrayed as a stereotypical “Chinese doll.”

Purists coughed blood when they saw “Elementary.” But for the remaining people who aren’t sticks in the mud about a show’s right to interpret characters in the public domain, “Elementary” is a refreshing addition to the modern Holmes canon. It’s about time someone stepped outside the traditional interpretation of the duo of the two white men, Holmes and Watson.

Despite being set in one of the most diverse cities in the world, London, all the main cast of “Sherlock” is white. There are no women on the main cast; there is only one person of color — Detective Sally Donovan, and she was vilified throughout the story arc — on their recurring cast. “Elementary,” however, has two people of color on its main cast: Watson, and Detective Bell, a black man. Not to mention, Season 2 reveals that the main villain is a woman.

In the Arthur Conan Doyle’s original books, Irene Adler was shown as the only woman to outsmart Sherlock. And yet, in “Sherlock,” she falls in love with Sherlock, he outsmarts her and then he saves her from certain death. They took away an otherwise interesting character’s independence  to further glorify Sherlock and make her depend on a man for rescue.

Conversely, Joan in “Elementary” has no romantic involvement with Sherlock and according to the producer, none is planned. Instead, they have a close friendship only.

“Elementary” is the one of the first in a starting trend to have women of color as the main stars of a show. Others such as “Sleepy Hollow,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “The Mindy Project” have all made steps forward with women of color in leading roles portraying intriguing characters. Unfortunately, even in this day and age of so-called racial equality, it’s still hard to find a leading lady who isn’t white.

It’s crucial for there to be more shows like “Elementary” rather than “Sherlock.” Even though the cinematography and script for “Sherlock” are brilliant, it really isn’t anything that hasn’t been done before. It represents a truly modern take on the traditional Holmes stories, and fans have no right to rail against the show without even having properly seen it. That’s just rude.

The media need to step up to give everyone representation and a role model to look up to, and here in America, where racial gaps are slowly closing for the better, perhaps a show like “Elementary” is exactly what we need.

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