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This page is about the TV series. For the zine, see Elementary (Sherlock Holmes zine).

Name: Elementary
Creator: Rob Doherty
Date(s): September 27, 2012 (TV premiere)
Medium: TV
Country of Origin: USA
External Links: Official Website, @Elementary_CBS - official Twitter
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Elementary is a current modern day adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes stories premiering in September 2012 on CBS. The main characters are Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson; other leading characters are Tommy Gregson and Marcus Bell. Important recurring characters include Jamie Moriarty, Mycroft Holmes, Morland Holmes, Kitty Winter, Alfredo Llamosa, and Ms. Hudson.

Fan Reactions to the Show

Initial Reaction

Elementary faced severe scrutiny from the moment CBS first announced in September 2011 [1] that they would be developing a TV show with "a modern take" on Sherlock Holmes. Most of the criticism came from fans of the 2010 TV series Sherlock (BBC), which is also a modern day version of Sherlock Holmes.

Comments on an ohnotheydidnt post about the announcement were nearly all immediate dismissals of the entire concept, such as "very original idea", "i'll pass. i love the bbc series." Fans often expressed sentiments such as, "American versions of British shows will never be as good." [2] (Although one prescient ONTDer did guess "I wonder if it will be set in New York or something..." [3])

Sherlock co-creator Steven Moffatt and executive producer Sue Vertue fanned the flames of fannish criticism, stating in interviews and on Twitter that they felt that CBS was merely copying their version of Sherlock, after CBS had previously approached them to remake Sherlock and been rebuffed.[4]

Casting Controversies

Jonny Lee Miller

The casting of Jonny Lee Miller was revealed in February 2012. Most American fans either went "Who?" or "Oh, that guy who was in the National Theatre Live production of Frankenstein, alternating roles with Benedict Cumberbatch."

In August 2012, Benedict Cumberbatch, who had remained mostly neutral about the idea of "Elementary," was quoted as saying he was "a bit cynical" about the idea and implying that Miller had only taken the role for the paycheck. This was widely reblogged on Tumblr; however, the next day Cumberbatch stated that he was "upset" at being misquoted, saying: "I know for a fact his motivations were to do with the quality of the script and the challenges of this exceptional role. .... Over 70 actors have played this exceptional character before us. To say that there can be only one Holmes would be ludicrous. .... As a genuine Sherlock Holmes fan I am greatly looking forward to his series." [5]

Lucy Liu

Sherlock fandom resisting seduction by Lucy Liu. Art by Mo.

The casting of Lucy Liu as Watson was revealed in February 2012 [6] More details about her character's backstory quickly followed, specifically that she would be Holmes' "sober companion" and that she would be "a former surgeon who lost her license after a patient died".[7]

Many different people had a number of different opinions.

Some fans declared that to cast a woman as Watson was homophobic, arguing that the only reason anyone would think of casting a woman as Watson would be in an attempt to erase any possible homosexual subtext, or else to create a canon (but het) Holmes/Watson pairing. One fan wondered, "Is this a backhanded plot to make Holmes/Watson canon but not scandalous because Watson's a woman and therefore it's a-o-heterosexual-kay? No me gusta, CBS".[8] Other fans (including many Sherlock fans) responded to this by arguing that the BBC's Sherlock, with its ever-present "we're not gay" jokes, was not exactly a high point for queer representation on television either.[9] Still other fans did not think the casting was homophobic, but feared that a female Watson meant that Holmes and Watson would be locked into a "will they or won't they" quasi-romantic relationship.

Some fans felt that even without a romantic relationship, male Sherlock and a female Watson would inevitably be locked into established sexist roles, especially since Lucy Liu's Watson, as a "sober companion," seemed set up to be Sherlock's caretaker. Digitalmeowmix stated "....I'm really worried she will be characterized as nothing but a nagging babysitter/maid for Holmes and and she will end up having no story of her own and just get saved a lot and secretly crush on him." [10] Some hoped optimistically for a solid male-female platonic friendship, rare between men and women in pop culture.[11]

Others disliked what they saw as a softening of the character, arguing that Watson's military background was a key part of the classic character, and criticising one of the early trailers for including a moment where Liu's Watson flinched from seeing the body of a murder victim.[12] In general, these concerns could be summed by by the comment of a fan called finalproblem, who stated: "....none of my concern is actually about Watson as a woman—it's all about how women tend to be written for television." [13]

Some Sherlock fans resorted to sexism/misogyny, racism, and general vitriol at the mere existence of the show. The term "Pressed Sherlock Fan" emerged to refer specifically to Sherlock fans who were constantly posting hate about Elementary. For documentation and responses, see OnlyForThePressed, Archived version, Elementasquee, WTFSherlock, Archived version.

Birth of Elementasquee

Life in the Elementary Tag (gif by magicfingers)

Supporters of the show were also around, but were initially mostly drowned out by the hatred. However, as more information began to be released in January 2012, Elementary gained more vocal supporters. A small fandom emerged on LiveJournal and Tumblr. The LiveJournal community Elementary CBS, Archived version was created March 13. The livejournal-based kink meme was created in May. As of September 3 it was not very active, with only 25 members; however, digital versions of the show were just beginning to leak onto the Internet. There were 21 "Elementary" stories on the AO3, mostly Joan Watson-focused; many were based on speculation or what the authors hoped for from a female Watson.

On Tumblr, the hate for the show was so overwhelming on the Elementary tag that fans sought refuge in the Elementasquee tag instead, near the end of April.[14]

As soon as fans had safe spaces to interact, fandom and enthusiasm began to grow. Images and gifsets were put up on Tumblr more often, fanart happened, Lucy Liu was proclaimed Goddess of All, Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch's scarves were proclaimed to be in a relationship, and fans began to speak up more forcefully and more often against the sexist, racist vitriol against the show.

A major shift happened the first day of San Diego Comic Con, when the pilot episode premiered and a Q/A panel was held for the show. For the first time ever, Tumblr's Elementary tag was actually more positive than negative. Squee increased among fans because, as one fan put it:

"the reactions of literally everyone who’s actually seen the pilot have been somewhere between, “A formulaic but generally solid procedural-ish show, with likeable performances and chemistry between the leads,” and, “ALDS;KF;LKDSFKL;J SO GOOD?????”."[15]

The fandom name Elementapeeps—sometimes abbreviated as "peeps"—quickly caught on in the growing Tumblr fandom, and became a popular tag elementapeeps, Archived version for posts pertaining specifically to fans themselves, like meetups and callouts (responding to problems in the fandom.)[16]

Reactions to the First Season

Relationship between Joan and Sherlock

Some analysis/link round-up of reactions to the relationship between the two leads on the show and in fan works; would be good to include arguments about whether slashing the characters weakens Joan's position.

PoC Presence on Elementary

Representation of Marginalized Groups

Elementary was widely praised for its representation of marginalized groups during its first season. Beyond Lucy Liu's race- and gender-bending casting as Watson,[17] fans also praised the show's racially diverse casting of secondary characters and extras.[18] The casting of transgender actress Candis Cayne as a transgender Mrs. Hudson in particular drew praise for increasing visibility while avoiding misgendering or stereotyping of transgender people.[19][20] However, other fans felt that the show didn't go far enough in drawing attention to Sherlock's privilege and biases as a wealthy white male.[21]

The Irene Adler/James Moriarty Reveal

During the first season, Irene Adler (played by Natalie Dormer) is first introduced as a fridged woman, Sherlock's love who was murdered horribly by a master criminal named M, sparking his descent into addiction. However, in the last two episodes, Joan and Sherlock are directed to an abandoned house, where they discover that Irene is still alive, but has been kept in captivity and traumatized by Moriarty. Sherlock removes himself from the case, leaving Joan in charge of investigating Moriarty so that he can take care of Irene. There are elements of Irene's appearance that do not add up, however, and she soon reveals herself to be Moriarty herself, again sending Sherlock into a tailspin. In the end, Joan is the one who reads Irene/Moriarty correctly, successfully setting a trap for her.

Reaction to the twist of Moriarty's identity was mixed but overall positive. 3 Chic Geeks argued in Taming the Woman: Irene Adler and the Male Gaze, Archived version that Irene on Elementary was the strongest of the recent interpretations of Irene Adler, but ultimately still undercut her by showing her defeated by love rather than truly a victor as she was in the original canon; but in the comments, Matthew Sycantha argues, Archived version that that defeat is less problematic than her defeat in other incarnations because both she and Sherlock are defeated by their love for each other, and it is Joan who is truly the victor.

Reactions to the Second Season

"For season 3, every time they think of a scene for Clyde, I want them to plug in something for Alfredo, Ms. Hudson, or Mama Watson instead. It’s nice that they have a pet, but the people who are part of their day to day lives are much more important to me and they’re so neglected."

Many fans thought the show took a step back during the second season, losing sight of what had made it so successful during season one. The largest contingent felt that the show had given too much of its focus to Sherlock's characterization, to the detriment of all the other characters and its effectiveness as an adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

I’m kinda tired of all the interesting, layered and—most importantly—canon characters being introduced as a part of Sherlock’s distant lonely past when, in the stories, they are a part of Sherlock and Watson’s life as partners and friends. . . The worst part is that Watson’s canon colleagues and friends were also eliminated from the show. . . I don’t know, I think this it’s so unfair to her character and I don’t think it’s a very good (or even smart) thing from an adaptation to do.[22] -yeahbeeswax after ep. 2x16 "The One Percent Solution."

This isn’t the Joan Watson show

This isn’t the Sherlock holmes show

This is Elementary

The whole point going into all of this is that they are a partnership.

Their viewpoints, experiences, decisions, and relationships to other characters should have equal importance in the story. . . [but in season 2] whenever they chose to give joan a plot line in an episode, it’s always sidelined to whatever sherlock is doing even when her plot line is more dynamic and interesting.[23] -bulletproofbell during the hiatus between seasons 2 & 3.

Many fans began tagging and tweeting Joan Watson Deserves Better to express their frustration.


Domestic BDSM schmoop. Art by i-have-a-hunger.


Overall, gen fics focused on Sherlock & Joan's friendship predominate.


  • BDSM: A significant percentage of fanworks portray Sherlock and Joan in a D/s relationship, usually with Joan as the Dom and Sherlock as the sub; these fanworks are just as often gen as they are slash, and even non-kinky works often have a dominant!Joan/submissive!Sherlock dynamic.
  • Casefic: As is common in fandoms for mystery or procedural canons, casefic abounds.
  • Curtainfic: Unusually for fandoms surrounding mystery/procedural canons, possibly due to the fact that the main characters live together, curtainfic is also very common.
  • Crossover: usually with other Sherlock Holmes related fandoms, the most common being BBC's Sherlock
Petting Zoo Part 1.jpeg
"I'M NOT FEEDING THEM!" by tumblebuggie
  • Sherlock's Pets:
    • Bees: Sherlock's rooftop beehive appears often in fanworks; sometimes it's paired with the sex pollen trope. There was a great deal of squee after the Season 1 finale, in which Sherlock named a new bee species after Watson.
    • Clyde the Tortoise: Sherlock's pet tortoise, Clyde, appears quite often in fanworks; sometimes he even helps solve cases. He even has his own twitter account (though he is a Russian tortoise, not a turtle at all).
    • Romulus and Remus: In the season 2 episode "The One Percent Solution," Sherlock acquires a pair of roosters, ostensibly to develop a better method of socializing them. They immediately sparked cock jokes (on the show and in the fandom), began appearing in fanart and fanfic, and even produced meta about their symbolism.


Example Fan Works


  • The Art of Negotiation by language_escapes: ~7,000 words, rated Teen and Up. Joan & Sherlock friendship. For them, negotiation is less about boundary setting and more about upping the ante.
  • BYOM by tcwordsmith: ~1,000 words, not rated. Marcus Bell/Sherlock. You either go all in, or you don't go at all.
  • Cops and Robbers (link) by manic_intent: ~3,000 words, rated Mature. Gregson/Sherlock. When Tommy Gregson first meets Sherlock Holmes, he's briefly convinced that the man's a psychic. God knows he's seen stranger things during his beat in New York.
  • Death Before Dusk (link) by Yahtzee: ~15,000 words, rated Mature. Joan/Sherlock. The bad news: In 111 days, an asteroid will strike the Earth in a cataclysm that promises to destroy human civilization as we know it. The good news: There's been a murder.
  • Games We Don't Play (link) by igrockspock: ~3,000 words, rated Teen and Up. Joan/Marcus. In which Joan solves a murder, goes on an unexpected date, outwits Sherlock, and survives his highly questionable attempts at emotional support.
  • A Lopsided Symmetry of Sin and Virtue (link) by language_escapes: ~26,000 words, rated Teen and Up. Joan/Sherlock. Infants are vanishing, and Sherlock and Joan go undercover as a married couple to find their kidnappers.
  • maybe she's gone and i can't resurrect her by thatcolossalwreck: ~3,000 words, not rated. Irene/Joan. If Moriarty were Napoleon, she'd be her Waterloo. Sherlock, her Austerlitz.
  • Paler Than Grass by philalethia: ~10,000 words, rated Teen and Up. Joan/Sherlock. Joan tries to date, and Sherlock gets in the way.
  • Solve for X by Yahtzee: ~6,000 words, rated Teen and Up. Joan/Sherlock UST. Their relationship as it stands has one mathematical certainty: It will end in twenty-five days. At that time, her sojourn as his sober companion will end. Either Watson will pass out of his life forever, or Holmes will have to devise another option.
  • Team The Best Team (link) by neveralarch: ~6,000 words, rated Teen and Up. Alfredo/Marcus/Ms. Hudson fluff written for Yuletide. Marcus gets along really well with Holmes' friends.
  • Telling the Bees (link) by sanguinity: ~1,000 words, rated G. Joan & Sherlock post-Reichenbach AU. "It fell to me to tell the bees, though I had wanted another duty..." Sherlock returns from Switzerland, but Watson does not.
  • waltz across naive wood floors. (link) by paperclipbitch: ~4,000 words, rated Teen and Up. Joan & Sherlock friendship. "You're wearing my underwear again, aren't you," Joan says.

Fanart and Images

Graphics and Gif Sets

Additional Art Gallery

Archives and Communities


Communities on LiveJournal

Communities on Tumblr




  1. ^ deadline.com, CBS Developing Modern ‘Sherlock Holmes’, Adapting ‘Mommy-Track Mysteries’ Books Posted Sept 13, 2011.
  2. ^ ohnotheydidnt post by insane_pyro_grl, CBS is 'remaking' Sherlock Holmes for the 21st century. Posted Sept 13, 2011. Last accessed Sept 3, 2012.
  3. ^ comment by honesttoblog, I wonder if it will be set in New York or something... Posted September 14, 2011. Last accessed Sept 3, 2012.
  4. ^ screenrant.com, 'Sherlock' Producer Warns CBS: We Will Protect Our Series (Legally). Posted February 2012. Last accessed Sept 3, 2012. Following the announcement of CBS's Elementary, Vertue took to Twitter to mock the network's decision (which has since been removed): "Mmm interesting CBS, I'm surprised no one has thought of making a modern day version of Sherlock before, oh hang on, we have!"
  5. ^ Hollywood Reporter,Benedict Cumberbatch: Jonny Lee Miller Took 'Elementary' Role for the 'Paycheck' Posted August 30, 2012. Last accessed Sept 3, 2012.
  6. ^ Reuters, Lucy Liu Joins CBS Sherlock Holmes Pilot 'Elementary' -- as Watson Posted Feb 27, 2012. Last accessed Sept 3, 2012.
  7. ^ Bleeding Cool, More Details Of Lucy Liu's Joan Watson And Jonny Lee Miller's Sherlock As Per Elementary Posted Feb 27, 2012. Last accessed Sept 3, 2012.
  8. ^ softlysoaring, "LUCY LIU TO PLAY WATSON IN CBS' MODERN SHERLOCK HOLMES PILOT 'ELEMENTARY'". Archived from the original on 2012-12-10.
  9. ^ feministcrixus, ATTENTION SHERLOCK FANS I ship fanon Johnlock, and to be truthful I'd be delighted if it became canon. However, I do NOT consider Johnlock an accurate portrayal of a queer relationship, I do NOT think it is or should be held as the model for queer representation on TV, I DO think the show's insistence in queer baiting is disrespectful and demeaning and I WILL call you out on it if I see you post queer baiting apologism." Posted July 2012.
  10. ^ digitalmeowmix, "lucy-liu-to-play-watson-in-cbs-modern-sherlock-holmes". Archived from the original on 2012-12-05.
  11. ^ Alyssa Rosenberg, "The Sexual Tension Between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson". Archived from the original on 2013-01-20. Posted March 2, 2012. Last accessed Sept 3, 2012.
  12. ^ This needs a cite, but I did see a lot of it.
  13. ^ Finalproblem, anonymous-asked-what-do-you-think-about-the Posted July 15, 2012. Last accessed Sept 3, 2012.
  14. ^ See the beginning of the Elementasquee tag here, first entry used by Minioner April 29th, 2012.
  15. ^ "July 13, 2012 Tumblr post". Archived from the original on 2012-11-30.
  16. ^ Tumblr user Joanwatsonisbetterthanyou coined the fandom name elementapeeps on August 16, 2012 after expressing frustration with the explicitly gendered "fangirl": "going to start tagging my elementary-related posts with 'elementapeeps'...because it's a gender-neutral descriptor and it's floofy.""found tumblr post". Archived from the original on 2012-12-04.
  17. ^ "Racebending Review". Archived from the original on 2013-07-02.. Posted September 25, 2012. Last accessed July 1, 2013.
  18. ^ "CrossedWires post on POC in Elementary, with commentary from Ciel Rouge". Archived from the original on 2013-10-06. Posted September 8, 2012. Last accessed July 1, 2013.
  19. ^ "Calvina Hobbes on Elementary and Mrs. Hudson". Archived from the original on 2013-07-02. Posted April 2013. Last accessed July 1, 2013.
  20. ^ "The Fandom Life on Elementary and Mrs. Hudson". Archived from the original on 2013-07-02. Posted April 2013. Last accessed July 1, 2013.
  21. ^ "Sanguinity on what Sherlock can't know". Archived from the original on 2013-07-02. Posted July 1, 2013. Last accessed July 1, 2013.
  22. ^ Tumblr post "While I love Elementary's creativity when it comes to twist the canon...," accessed 13 September 2014.
  23. ^ "Ask response". Archived from the original on 2018-12-06., accessed 13 September 2014.