It was only after reading an article from A.V. Club, my favorite place for online pop culture discussions, that I figured out what the stumbling block was: the two shows are completely different genres. Yes, they are both crime-solving shows, but Elementary is more of a police procedural and Sherlock is a classic British mystery drama. This difference creates all sorts of unequal factors that complicate comparisons, not the least of which is the format of episodes, length and frequencies of seasons, types of crimes and the way they are solved, and general expectations. The cliché to use here is like comparing apples to oranges. This article says it's like comparing a good heavyweight fighter with a good middleweight fighter. I say it's like comparing a Picasso to a Monet, or any other masterpiece artwork to another. Both of the linked articles claim Elementary is better, but I can't come to such a conclusion.
While there are objective ways to proclaim that either is a good show, there is no objective way to compare such differing styles/genres/formats. And since it seems like the majority of audiences like either or both shows, like in the art world, anything more said comes down to a matter of taste. It may sound diplomatic or dithering to say this but....I like both shows equally. They are both great shows, they both do interesting things with a modern Sherlock, they both do interesting things with a modern Watson, they both do interesting things with a modern Moriarty, and they both have fun quirky things to love or, in other words, draw a passionate fan base (ie fangirls and fanboys).
I would venture that if you prefer one show to the other, you prefer that type of show more. Police procedural's are very popular in America. There are loads and loads of them, both the straight-forward follow the cops types (Law & Order, NYPD Blue, Homicide: Life on the Streets, Hawaii 5-0, CSI) and the quirky civilian consultant types (The Mentalist, Psych, Monk, Numbers, Elementary, Castle). But there aren't many American equivalents to the British mystery drama series, a show that usually involves a so-called amateur detective and can sometimes be called a cozy or manor house mystery. In fact, I can only think of one American T.V. show: Murder, She Wrote.
But there are many British series in this vein: Sherlock, Poirot, Marple, Miss Fischer's MurderMysteries (technically Australian), Cadfael, Mrs. Bradley Mysteries, and so on. Many of these series are based off of literary characters, so you could say that Americans don't have the same kind of literary tradition, in terms of the amateur detective line but that's not true. Not only are there scads of amateur detective novels, usually with a niche theme (my favorite being the Goldy Bear/Schulz catering series by Diane Mott Davidson) but also there is the noir P. I. genre, a wholly American institution, and the last television P. I. we had has Magnum.
I would love to go on about the differences in the two genres, and maybe I will in another post, but for now, let's just say it's easy to like one and not the other. Even the difference in American and British procedurals is enough to keep fans of one from like the other, but still I'll leave that for another post. Anyway, I like both (or all 4) genres, I'm a huge crime-solving fan, so both Sherlock and Elementary appeal to my tastes. And no matter how I look at it, I can't see a legitmate claim that one is better than the other, just that certain viewers prefer one to the other for a myriad of tastes, and perhaps cultural reasons.
So, this is the point in the post where I wonder, is there a point to this? Why am I writing this? A problem I have often and recently mentioned here. It seems like all this post does is set up other posts, like the difference in crime shows or further comparing the two Sherlocks. At it's basis I'm saying I like both shows equally, though I'm not sure that's worth announcing, and that they are both good shows but one can't be better than the other because they are so different, also for whatever that's worth. This post has been in draft for a day and a half and I've got no more of a conclusion than that. And yet some how I feel it needs to be said, that it's important to be said, or at least important in spheres where this type of discussion matters, or perhaps only to me. . .so, let's just say this Part 1 of a series of post about . . . crime shows. An overview or an introduction. Or a tentative hypothesis with further and more in-depth analysis to follow. Yeah, that's the ticket.