TV review: The game is afoot again with “Sherlock”

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From the January 16, 2014 edition

It’s been a long time — two years — since Americans have seen the best modern incarnation of Sherlock Holmes, due to “Sherlock” stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman taking on movie roles. It’s been especially long considering the cliffhanger Season 2 left on.

Having surmised most are caught up on “Sherlock” through Netflix, it’s safe to discuss [Season 2 spoilers ahead] Sherlock’s (Cumberbatch) demise and resurrection at the close of “The Reichenbach Fall.” It looked as if Sherlock’s arch nemesis, Moriarty (Andrew Scott) had pulled off his master plan and forced Sherlock to jump to his death.

It was a powerful episode — made even more so by Moriarty’s suicide — that was a game-changer for the series. Once audiences knew Sherlock had faked his death, all they wanted to know was how.

This, along with Sherlock’s return, is the crux of the first episode. There are various theories played out by Sherlock fanatics showing how they think he pulled off this great deception. It’s all a playful tease and a quite amusing bit of meta commentary.

The first episode is fun, boasting some clever humor, and it’s as solid as episodes from the past. The second episode is more of a standalone featuring quickly paced glances at cases Sherlock and Watson (Freeman) solved but that audiences never saw. Both will leave “Sherlock” fans satisfied.

It’s the third and final episode that’s paramount, tying Season 3 together. No spoilers, but the episode stages a showdown with a new adversary who can match Sherlock’s intellect. There are big twists and turns throughout, but the most enjoyable aspect — like much of Season 3 — is a focus on Watson.

The best moments of “Sherlock” have always involved the relationship between Sherlock and Watson, but giving Watson some storylines of his own is a welcome approach. And Freeman truly shines.

There are a few Sherlock incarnations currently out there (Robert Downey Jr. movies, CBS’s “Elementary”) but this is still the best — by far. Cumberbatch and Freeman are magnificent, and the scripts by co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss (who plays Sherlock’s brother Mycroft) are as sharp as ever. The game is afoot.

Photo courtesy PBS