Martin Freeman, left, and Benedict Cumberbatch are back for another batch of 'Sherlock' episodes.
(Photo: Robert Viglasky, Hartswood Films, for Masterpiece)
By Robert Bianco
Surely you didn't think a little thing like his own suicide could stop Sherlock Holmes.
Of course Sherlock (* * * ½ out of four; PBS, Sunday, 10 ET/PT, times may vary) is back, with the first of three Masterpiece Mystery! episodes, and thank the TV gods for that. It's been two years since we were treated to Benedict Cumberbatch's sublime spin on Sherlock in this modern reboot from Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, and that's at least 12 months too many.
When last we saw Sherlock, he was lurking in the graveyard shadows, having somehow survived throwing himself off a tall building. Two years later, after rooting out Moriarty's network with the help of his brother Mycroft (played by Gatiss, who also wrote this opener), he's returning to London to take on a terrorist threat.
(Trailer for Season 3 from BBC- Can't see the video, check it out at http://bit.ly/1bqrhBb)
In some ways, the show treats his death and resurrection as a joke, one Sherlock shares. ("Oh, please. Killing me? That's so two years ago.") Over the course of the episode, numerous theories are offered as to how he could have survived the jump, some from Sherlock, some from the "Empty Hearse" fan club that provides the episode with its title. All are implausible; none is certified as real. At least not yet.
But one of the best things about this splendidly enjoyable take on Arthur Conan Doyle's creation has always been the relationship between the socially adrift Sherlock and the equally lonely John Watson (an equally wonderful Martin Freeman) - and that, the show does not just dismiss lightly. Watson is bitter and understandably hurt by the deception, and while his initial response to Sherlock's reappearance is humorous, the anger and hurt underneath are real.
Sherlock does eventually persuade Watson to take on the case - something involving an underground terrorist network - but he doesn't do so alone. He gets help from the always-adorable Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs) and Watson's new girlfriend, Mary (Amanda Abbington, a fine addition to the ensemble).
Those characters help ground a show that, at times, does seem to have become a bit too enamored of some of its signature tricks. There's still fun to be had in the visual manifestations of Sherlock's thought process, for example, but there are times when you fear what they're really doing is filling time.
Yet thanks to the stars, the wit of the writing and a few clever tricks, the show remains a joy. And that's true even though the case itself is negligible, little more than a setup for future episodes and a vehicle for Sherlock to win Watson's forgiveness. Which he does, of course, because who could resist Cumberbatch's Sherlock?
Dead or alive.
To hold you over until Sunday, check out this Sherlock mini episode (Can't see the video, check it out at http://bit.ly/1d6Hddg)