Sherlock on PBS (Season 3)

The latest episodes continue the appealing 21st century spin on Conan Doyle's Baker Street sleuth.

Written by:
Emily S. Mendel
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In case you haven’t watched “Sherlock” Season 1 or 2, the protagonist of this exciting television crime drama, acted by Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Fifth Estate,” “Star Trek into Darkness”), is a young 21st century Sherlock Holmes who portrays all the brilliance, remoteness and idiosyncrasies of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s conception.

Our 21st century Sherlock lives at 221B Baker Street, plays the violin, has a brother, Mycroft (a mysterious government heavyweight, played by co-creator Mark Gatiss), an understanding and stalwart companion, Dr. John Watson, played by Martin Freeman (“The Hobbit,” “The Office UK”), a solicitous landlady, Mrs Hudson (Una Stubbs), and a police colleague, Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves) and an arch-enemy, Professor James Moriarty (Lars Mikkelsen).

In the final episode of Season 2, “The Reichenbach Fall,” Sherlock appeared to jump off a tall building, to the horror of his friend Watson watching below. However, after the jump, we see a glimpse of an alive and unhurt Sherlock.

In the first episode of Season 3, “The Empty Hearse,” Sherlock returns to London after a two-year absence to confront his arch-enemy. One note about Moriarty: he appears in only two of Conan Doyle’s works, although his name is referenced in some others. I wish that “Sherlock” would concentrate less on Moriarty, and more on the cerebral, meticulous and clever stand-alone mysteries.

In “The Empty Hearse,” there is much focus on Moriarty, but there is also a well-conceived separate mystery about a critical terror alert in London.

After the two-year separation, when Sherlock first surprises Watson at a restaurant, Watson is understandably hurt and angry, especially when he discovers that others in Sherlock’s circle knew about Sherlock’s ruse. Sherlock is so neurotically inconsiderate, narcissistic, remote and insensitive that he doesn’t understand why Watson is so angry. Yet Cumberbatch is outstanding in his role. He presents a three-dimensional Holmes, with character development and acting prowess significantly superior to most attempts.

Martin Freeman’s Dr. John Watson is first rate. Far from the awkward bumbling fool often portrayed on screen, this Watson is serious, emotional, intelligent and brave. The Holmes-Watson relationship is one of the most interesting elements in “Sherlock.” The two share mutual aggravation, annoyance, admiration and affection.

The 21st century is also one of the stars of “Sherlock.” Watson’s dispatches to the Strand Magazine are replaced by his blog. Very effectively, clues and locations occasionally flash on the screen, as in complex video games. The camera work is sometimes edgy and jerky, as time shifts, overlaps, starts and stops.

Sherlock’s rapid speech and thought processes are difficult to follow at times. We’re always a step behind. Were it not for the speed of the episodes, the mysteries might be easier for the viewer to unravel.
It is interesting to compare “Sherlock” with CBS’s entertaining “Elementary,” first aired in 2012, in which Jonny Lee Miller plays another 21st century Sherlock Holmes, with Lucy Liu as Watson. Although “Elementary” is more of a procedural detective drama than “Sherlock,” many of the Holmes characteristics first developed by Conan Doyle are well employed. Jonny Lee Miller lacks Cumberbatch’s bravado, and “Elementary’s” production values, camera work and sets lack the innovation and verve of “Sherlock.”

Season 3 of “Sherlock” starts with a baffling, inventive, exciting episode. It’s too good to miss.

©Emily S. Mendel 2014 All Rights Reserved.

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