The show’s procedural-itis, to no one’s surprise, also gets underfoot: cases are generally forgettable, exposition happens half again as often as necessary, and cliches arise — the callous interrogation of a domestic abuse victim, some halfhearted spy rhetoric, and the ol’ murderous-callgirl gambit are all deployed. It’s not shocking, given their twenty-four-case dossier, but they’re sour notes in a show that knows better.
And we know it knows better, because of a proliferation of “trifles” that build a remarkable and nuanced world — presented not in the service of Conan Doyle, but in the service of everything else.
Beyond Watson, the show holds a modern frame: women and people of color are everywhere, as cops, doctors, groundskeepers, geneticists. It’s not just that Sherlock’s sponsor is a POC security expert; it’s that when he and Joan meet she makes some assumptions, and he calls her out; they become friends. When the show follows Detective Bell’s rocky relationship with his brother, he code-switches between the stationhouse and his brother’s. Joan treats most women as allies, not obstacles, and has a complicated relationship with her mother that still avoids Asian-mom cliches. Ms. Hudson is a trans woman character, played by a trans woman, whose identity is unquestioningly accepted and whose attractiveness is taken for granted while not defining her.
It all matters. And it’s all notable, if for no other reason that so much of it has nothing to do with Holmes. When it does, it illuminates him or teaches him a lesson. (He accepts Ms. Hudson’s gender preferences without question — that’s good! He makes note of Watson’s menstrual cycle and gets called out for misogyny — that’s also good!) The world of Elementary doesn’t support a Holmes whose intellect justifies dickweedery; Holmes has to negotiate that as much as he does his cases, keeping just enough bullshit in reserve to give Watson something to roll her eyes about occasionally.