Review by C.J. Bunce
There’s got to be a reason that the third season premiere of BBC’s Sherlock was the most downloaded episode ever at Youku.com, a major source of streaming TV content in China. Whether it’s the writing, the stunning movie-worthy cinematography, or the stellar cast you return for, Sherlock’s new season began with a gripping, emotional, and downright compelling opener. Of course, like seasons one and two (the Brits call them series one and two), we only get three episodes this season. Which begs the question: What the heck is wrong with the Brits??? (Ahem, we mean that in the nicest way possible).
But seriously. Probably the best TV series of all time, the original Life on Mars, lasted only three seasons. Why??? The Hour got cancelled after two seasons. Why??? And instead of series in the U.S. that may have 13 or more episodes a season, Sherlock has only three episodes. Why??? Does the BBC not realize what a goldmine it has? If the theory is that the three annual episodes are so brilliant because the BBC takes its time and can focus on only three episodes to make them so dazzling… well that’s just not good enough. Let’s devote more resources to Sherlock and other superb British series. Just look at Mr. Selfridge– it has ten episodes in the queue this season. That’s more like it!
OK enough ranting. Steven Moffat has said “We think of them as films because they are ninety minutes long and once we knew we weren’t doing hour long episodes they needed to be on that sort of scale. They have to have the size and weight of a movie.” Since it’s the great Mr. Moffat we’ll just let him have the last word. Sherlock is must-watch television, period, so let’s move along.
Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s update of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s master detective Sherlock came back to life this week (in-world and in real life) and the world is better for it (in-world and in real life). We’ve only known Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman’s Sherlock and Watson for six episodes of television, yet they’ve given us modern, rich characters we now know so well now that each line of “The Empty Hearse” seemed to dig back with great relevancy and humor to the duo’s strong bond previously developed in the brief time we’ve known them.
Then we get to welcome back more of the supporting cast, too. First up is Mark Gatiss–the same fellow who writes the series plays Sherlock’s smarter older brother Mycroft. His role as master spy and protector of England is just getting better, and his banter with Sherlock is priceless. Gatiss knows his Mycroft as much as his Sherlock and Watson. Then landlady Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs), D.I. Greg (not Graham) Lestrade (Rupert Graves), and a Felicity Smoak-esque Molly Hooper from the coroner’s office (Louise Brealey) all get key scenes that expand their characters.
And we get someone new this season–John Watson’s fiancé Mary, played by Amanda Abbington. Abbington has the challenge of portraying the third wheel of a beloved duo, and she slipped into the new role wonderfully, embracing Sherlock rather than rejecting him (unlike the bristly Mary we saw in the recent film version of Holmes). The chemistry between Freeman and Abbington is uncanny, perhaps because they are a real-life duo since 2000 and parents of two. We’re fans of her Miss Mardle on Mr. Selfridge, as well as her work on the great series Case Histories with Jason Issacs.
Take all the above and some beautiful vistas of London, and camera work that makes these two odd looking fellows appear like superheroes, a rousing soundtrack, relevant topics, fan clubs, and social media celebrity as a key story device and the result is TV perfection.
Find (only) two more episodes of Sherlock this season, Sundays on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery.