Monday, January 13, 2014

TV Review: Sherlock, Series 3

So, after two long years, and many, many theories, the BBC's Sherlock has returned to our screens. And like a Mayfly, after only 12 days and three episodes, he's gone again, leaving us with only another big cliffhanger and an indeterminate wait. Its hard to take, in some ways, given that over in the US they've had Elementary, a very different modern take on Sherlock Holmes and thats been, what, thirty episodes since our chap chucked himself of a building and launched a thousand crazy theories. You'd want every episode to count, every moment to be precious, and every fans hope to be fulfilled. (Some spoilers, obviously)


Somewhere along the line I think Sherlock drove everyone a little crazy. It's got two great - and I mean properly great - leads in Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, different takes on  a classic duo without straying too far from a recognisable sense. Its visual flourish is made for the internet age; quick and flashy, information dense and rewarding to rewatch. And it's sexy, in a way that British TV often isn't, daring, innovate and yet curiously faithful to the spirit of a work now a century old. And yet it's never been without flaw - there's never enough of it, for a start, and it's a little too flashy and not quite clockwork enough for a detective show. You wouldn't think it from the anticipation but out of six episodes there was a little flab here and then and marks not totally hit.

So I guess when the backlash hit about half-way through the second episode, The Sign of Three, I wasn't surprised, but was a little disappointed. For a start Stephen Moffatt seems to attract a certain type of passionate hatedom that I simply don't understand; its not that I think his work is beyond fault, because it certainly isn't, more that I'm not sure why there are so many people that watch this, and Doctor Who, just to get angry at him. Secondly, the series  and it's mid-episode in particular, has taken an odd turn into broader comedy that fits better in retrospect than it does at the time; the show immediacy and connect with the "instant reaction" age biting back. And finally, I think the expectation wore off, and the really big stuff was held back for episode three.

But for me, I loved it. I'm always forgiving of flaws when they sit in the midst of something trying to different, and if Sherlock bumped into the indulgent at times. or didn't quite hit all its marks, I really don't care because it did so much right. First off, Mary Morstan. Most adaptations drop her, or let her turn up and then stick her in a cupboard because thats what Conan Doyle did, but here she's wonderful. Initially she makes sense as the person Watson turns to in grief (and later, she makes total fucking sense) and then she's a voice of reason and reconciliation between him and Holmes. She's funny, and likeable and charming and all that mushy character stuff is really important for the final episode to work at all.

Second, for all the mucking about, Sherlock is interested in playing with the structure of Detective telly, which, lets face, has been moribund for years. I like my procedurals, but they are basically the same show every week. Playing with that, poking the fourth wall and generally deconstructing it a bit is what it needs and I'm pleased the Sherlock keeps those cards in play. It also means you get things like the fantastic Mind Palace sequence when he gets shot. the sort of bold, inventive TV that you don't quickly forget.

The stories themselves; the mysteries, aren't all that, I admit. But then, I don't think they ever were, nor ever the point of this version of these very famous, frequently adapted characters. This is a character show, masquerading as a story one, and as ever when a show looks like one thing but is another then disappointment is always an risk. But not three series in, surely? I knew what I was going to get, and I got it; flashy, quick-witted and interesting Sunday night TV with a strong sense that it's above all else, entertaining. And it is.

Lets not have to wait two years for more, eh?