TV Review: ‘Sherlock’

Sherlock Season 3 TV Review PBS

'Masterpiece' returns Benedict Cumberbatch as the master sleuth, and great fun ensues

With “Sherlock” already a huge hit in the U.K., one needn’t be a master sleuth to foresee good things for its third season: Both Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are coming off major film roles, and PBS – in a very commercial-network-type move – is using mega-hit “Downton Abbey” as a springboard to launch the three-90-minute-movie season (at 9:58 p.m., no less). But mostly, the show deserves to do well because it’s so bloody good – smart, whimsical and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, finding fresh, distinctive avenues into this venerable character, even with multiple incarnations currently in circulation.

There’s even a breezy quality to these episodes that creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat have earned through their good works in the earlier chapters, which brought Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes into the 21st century – complete with Twitter and texting – along with familiar trappings from the mythology, including a very different Moriarty.

Holmes’ brush with that villain – and his apparent death at season two’s close – dominate the third-season premiere, especially since Dr. Watson (Freeman) has spent the past two years grieving over it. Fortunately, he’s also acquired a plucky fiancee (“Mr. Selfridge’s” Amanda Abbington), who proves surprisingly nimble at handling Holmes’ self-absorbed intrusion into their relationship.

Without giving too much away, the opener contains hilarious theories about the means of Holmes’ faked death, as well as an arcane plot explaining why he had to disappear, involving brother Mycroft (played by Gatiss). The second installment, meanwhile, answers the burning question of what would happen if Holmes had to sniff around a crime scene while blind stinking drunk.

In this age of “CSI,” it’s no small feat to contemporize Holmes and still make his acute intellect a modern marvel, as well as juggle the we’re-not-gay, not-that-there’s-anything-wrong-with-that relationship with Watson. “Sherlock” deftly straddles a line somewhere between Billy Wilder’s “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes,” with Robert Stephens (a film Gatiss not surprisingly has cited as an influence), and the asexual nature of the brilliant Sheldon in “The Big Bang Theory.”

It all works thanks heavily to the chemistry between Cumberbatch and Freeman, which alternates between wide-eyed wonder and exasperation to the point of the good doctor calling his pal a “dickhead” and a “cock.”

PBS, meanwhile, finds itself in a position that’s rare for public television – with a hit any network would envy, and the opportunity to build on that success, pretty impressively, without selling out the “Masterpiece” brand.

Granted, “Sherlock” is only a limited affair, but for three successive Sundays with it and “Downton” on the case, there’s nothing sleepy or stuffy about public television.

TV Review: 'Sherlock'

(Movie series; PBS, Sun. Jan. 19, 9:58 p.m.)


Produced by Hartswood West for BBC Cymru Wales, and presented by Masterpiece.


Executive producers, Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Beryl Vertue, Rebecca Eaton; producer, Sue Vertue; director, Jeremy Lovering; writer, Gatiss, inspired by the work of Arthur Conan Doyle; camera, Steve Lawes; production designer, Arwel Wyn Jones; editor, Charlie Phillips; music, David Arnold, Michael Price; casting, Kate Rhodes James. 90 MIN.


Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Amanda Abbington, Lars Mikkelsen, Rupert Graves, Mark Gatiss, Una Stubbs, Louise Brealey

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  1. Oliver Kaye says:

    The scene where Sherlock finally meets Watson in the restaurant is superb acting on both parts, it must have been great for both to film the scene. It just shows the chemistry between the two, which is always easy to see

  2. In “The Abominable Bride” Sherlock’s heroin high was over glamorized to the point of being dangerously solicitous. It’s close to effective advertising if PBS were dealing heroin. It’s good to have Sherlock and Watson back. But this episode depicted enhanced mental prowess and adventure from heroin use with little of its debilitating side effects. I’m not a user, yet those scenes left me with a curious yearning to explore drug induced mind states. My comments may seem prudish, but I think my cry out for protective caution is realistic. Viewing this episode could put many people into substantial life threatening risk. I value PBS, so it pains me to be so critical of its artistic choices. But this Sherlock Holmes episode is effectively seducing substance abuse for altered state highs to the point of serious and dangerous health risk. This episode needs to be edited or taken off the air because it is dangerously solicitous.

  3. Wendy says:

    Sherlock is the best show on television and puts the dumbed-down American version, Elementary, to shame. Cumberbatch and Freeman are excellent actors in everything they do, but when they come together in these roles; it’s magic.

  4. aryedirect says:

    Absolutely fresh and pitch perfect, all despite previous ‘definitive’ Holmses. The superbly surprising casting is only one element in a beautifully rendered modernization. Can’t wait to see what they have conjured for this season.

  5. betina says:

    A tremendous series. I cant wait to see series 3. Cumberbatch is a great actor.

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