Even better than the first time, Masterpiece Mystery’s second flight of “Sherlock” — consisting of three 90-minute movies that migrate the 19th-century sleuth into a modern setting — is great fun, and vastly superior to Warner Bros.’ recent features. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the title character, the latest series provides knowing takes on three familiar Holmes adventures, giving each a decidedly modern twist. Moreover, Andrew Scott returns as arch-nemesis Moriarty, who comes closer to the Joker than almost any past rendition of the criminal mastermind. All told, it’s a first-rate addition to a franchise that appeared too picked over to offer anything this invigorating.
Bringing Holmes into the cellphone era offers certain advantages, along with the likelihood people will assume he and near-constant companion/biographer/war veteran Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman) are a gay couple. They insist they’re not, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The first chapter pits Holmes against Irene Adler (Lara Pulver), presented as an alluring dominatrix, with an especially jarring spin in terms of espionage and terrorism. The second, perhaps least successful, reimagines “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” while the third pits Holmes in an tense showdown against the sadistic Jim Moriarty, in a battle of wits with fatal consequences. (In a sly bit of casting, Russell Tovey, the werewolf from BBC America’s “Being Human,” plays the Baskerville heir with the “hound” problem.)
Cumberbatch’s Holmes is everything we’ve come to expect from the character — dazzlingly smart, with astounding powers of perception, and apparently celibate — but also a near-lunatic, so lacking in interpersonal skills that others are frequently left to clean up his mess. That includes his shadowy brother Mycroft (writer-actor Mark Gatiss), who here, again, has been given layers not always associated with the character.
Adapted by Steven Moffat and Gatiss, the movies manage to bring Holmes into the “CSI” age — including a camera’s-eye view of what he sees, somewhat similar to the movie’s “Sherlock-vision” gimmickry — without losing any of what has made the character so durable. Most deliciously, Moriarty has been invested with a true sense of menace, and proves every bit Holmes’ intellectual equal.
Masterpiece Mystery has occasionally strained to look current and modern, as opposed to somewhat stodgy, but “Sherlock” weds the old and new in much the way Holmes solves his cases – — making a complicated process look almost effortless.
While “Sherlock” could easily conclude with this latest series — and indeed feels intended to be finished — to borrow a line from another famous U.K. author, “Please, sir, I want some more.”