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‘Sherlock Holmes’ returns to satiate sleuth’s obsessive fans

Benedict Cumberbatch (left) MartFreeman Seas3 'Sherlock.' | Robert Viglasky/Hartswood Films

Benedict Cumberbatch (left) and Martin Freeman in Season 3 of "Sherlock." | Robert Viglasky/Hartswood Films

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‘SHERLOCK’
★★★★

8:58 to 11 p.m. Sunday on WTTW-Channel 11

Updated: April 14, 2014 4:39PM



Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sent Sherlock Holmes plummeting to his apparent death over the Reichenbach Falls in “The Final Problem,” a short story published 120 years ago.

It feels like we’ve been waiting about that long for “Sherlock” to return to TV.

The much-anticipated comeback begins at 8:58 p.m. Sunday, when PBS’s “Masterpiece Mystery!” launches the third season of this contemporary take on the legendary sleuth, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular gumshoe and Martin Freeman as his partner-in-crime-solving, Dr. John Watson.

Nearly two years have passed — 609 days, for obsessive fans (me) — since we watched Sherlock take a swan dive off the roof of London’s St. Bart’s Hospital in the season two finale. That’s when the detective’s archnemesis, megalomaniac James Moriarty, ostensibly forced Sherlock’s suicide, which we know he survived thanks to that closing shot of Holmes hanging around his own grave.

But how did he do it? How did Sherlock fake his public self-execution, witnessed by his dear friend Watson?

The big reveal drew series-high ratings in Britain, where 9.2 million tuned in to their tellies New Year’s Day for the premiere. (“Sherlock” is a “Masterpiece” co-production with the BBC, which has already broadcast the all-too-short three-episode season across the pond.)

Without giving away any spoilers, suffice to say it’s bloody good fun. Sure, I have a few gripes with the episode. So will fans, who undoubtedly will take to the Internet to air their grievances and debate plot points. But overall, co-creator Steven Moffat and writer-actor Mark Gatiss have delivered a whip-smart follow-up. The roughly 90-minute episode has just the right amount of intrigue, emotion and whimsical winks to fans who’ve kept the “Sherlock” candle lit for 609 days.

That couldn’t have been easy, given the lofty expectations that had ample time to grow since last season’s mother of a cliffhanger. I asked Moffat about the pressure he and Gatiss must have felt in the writers’ room.

“Everyone always says — and they say it with my other show (“Doctor Who”), too — is it pressure when something is so anticipated?” said the Scottish showrunner. “No. It’s pressure when your show has no viewers and everybody hates it but you still have to bring it back. That’s pressure. Coming back to this was just a joy. Because it is so keenly anticipated, it’s more joyous, not less.”

Sunday’s premiere introduces a few new characters while featuring several familiar faces, including Una Stubbs as Mrs. Hudson, the cheery landlady at 221B Baker Street; Rupert Graves as D.I. Greg Lestrade, Sherlock’s pal at Scotland Yard; and Louise Brealey as mousy Molly Hooper, the accommodating pathologist at St. Bart’s morgue. Gatiss is back as Mycroft, reprising the droll relationship he has with baby brother Sherlock — a dynamic inspired by the Crane brothers on NBC’s long-running sitcom “Frasier.”

There’s plenty of comedy in Sunday’s premiere; it’s the funniest “Sherlock” to date. The next episode is even more humorous, which might be too much for some fans (not me).

“One of the things that Mark [Gatiss] and I give ourselves credit for is we remember that Sherlock Holmes, when it’s done right, is funny,” Moffat said. “The best Sherlock Holmes film ever made is ‘The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes’ (1970). It’s a Billy Wilder film and it’s a comedy. Doyle’s stories were funny. The combination of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson has always been funny.”

“If people are just walking through a door and swapping some plot with each other, well let’s get some gags in there. It’s hardly the first show to do that. ‘The West Wing’ is a hoot. It’s a drama series but there are more gags in it than most comedies.”

One thing that’s sure to put a smile on fans’ faces: Plans are in the works for a fourth season of “Sherlock.” Reports say it could hit the BBC on Christmas Day.

Only 342 days away.

Email: lrackl@suntimes.com

Twitter: @lorirackl



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