Sherlock returns, as the bumbling, yet lovable, best man at his friend Watson's wedding. Oh wait, where the hell is Sherlock?!
There was this television series I adored, last seen a couple of years ago, which went on hiatus while its wildly popular stars found themselves employed as hobbits and ill-bred aliens in wildly popular film series. Finally, the stars returned from Middle-earth and Deep Space and found time to film three more episodes of what had become a wildly popular series, with fans who invented devilish reconstructions of the finale, who hung out in chatrooms and blogs and tumblrs while they waited, patiently, for the stars to return and their beloved series to resume.
And then it did, and there was great rejoicing across the land, at least in my house. Finally we would learn what happened to Sherlock: how did he survive, if indeed he did, a fall from a four story building? How does he explain this to his friend, Watson, and to us, his loyal fans?
But it turns out that after Sherlock the man jumped from the roof of St Bart's hospital, Sherlock the series promptly jumped the shark. It married off Niles and Daphne. It had a figurative (and perhaps literal) baby, which everyone knows will kill off a television series quicker than a fall from a four story building.
The detective series based on the Victorian crime solver Sherlock Holmes turned into a Gen Y bromance.
The first two of the three episodes were devoted to exploring the relationship between the two men, one of whom has found a woman to love, for some inexplicable reason. Nevermind; the woman isn't the point. She's (very likely) expendable. As is logic and continuity of character.
It's apparently called "fan service" when a series becomes so popular that the writing becomes a service to the fans, not in service to the story. Clearly, the writers have attempted to give the fans what they (thought they) wanted. More Sherlock/Watson love, please! More Sherlock/Mycroft brotherly banter. It's also called self-indulgence, or, as one typical commenter at The Guardian review called it, "Piss Poor and Self Indulgent Shite".
That about nails it for me. Especially the second episode, which carried on from the first episode's lingering on the relationship between Sherlock and Watson, after Sherlock ridiculously reveals himself to Watson at the Landmark Hotel restaurant. Sherlock is a lot of things, including a "functioning sociopath," but he's not silly. Yet there he was, painting on a mustache and stealing a pair of reading glasses in order to surprise John, who was preparing to ask Mary to marry him. I was embarrassed for Benedict Cumberbatch, watching this fine actor try to pull off Marx Brothers slapstick.
As for how he faked his own death, we still don't know for sure, after a few explanations that seemed designed more to satisfy the fans who'd spent two years fantasizing about how he did it. (But I have to admit, I, too, was sort of hoping Sherlock and Moriarty would get it on.)
There was more of the annoying text revelations, a device whereby Sherlock's inner thoughts are poured out on screen as if they're text messages. Interestingly, he "reads" everyone he meets except for Molly's boyfriend, who apparently, according to one fan's observations, bears a striking resemblance to a Moriarty assassin from a previous episode. Uh oh.
The terrorist plot was, instead of the driving force of the script, reduced to a side plot, quickly dealt with, after, of course, a few moments in a Tube carriage where John and Sherlock tell each other how much they love each other. Seriously, they do this. For like five minutes. I write romance, for god's sake, and I almost puked.
But one lame episode wasn't enough to deter us, especially after I got a glimpse of Troels in the very last scene of "The Empty Hearse". (Troels is the character from the first season of The Killing, played by Lars Mikkelsen, who now plays Charles Augustus Magnusson, but so far all we've seen of him is his eyes.) Alas, there was a scheduling conflict: Across the world, in a freezing cold Lambeau Field, the Packers were getting ready to play football, which normally my husband would insist on watching, but we decided to stick with BBC and Sherlock. Because we loved the series that much.
I think we'd have been better off in Lambeau Field. Freezing our asses off would have been more fun than watching Benedict Cumberbatch fumble about as he tried to be someone he's not: A best man. A stand up guy. A man who composes a violin piece for his best friend's wedding. (Okay, that piece was actually nice, but not exactly pertinent to the plot. I mean, if there had been a plot, which there wasn't.)
About halfway through the episode I found myself checking the time, wondering if the Packers were playing yet. I don't even watch football. I hate it, in fact. Yet the jumbled-up script for "The Sign of Three" made me seriously consider switching the channel. There was no plot, other than a wedding, and let's face it, a wedding is about the most boring place anyone could ever find himself. Worse, though, every funny line was completely predictable, starting with Sherlock's urgent message to Greg, which turned out to be a plea for help with the best man's speech. I found myself murmurring the lines in advance of their being uttered by the characters—always a bad sign.
In "The Sign of Three", Sherlock has been asked to be best man at Watson's wedding. Twenty minutes is spent just on the asking, while every character has to express disbelief that Sherlock is best man material. Okay, okay, we get it. The rest of the episode deals with the wedding itself, while the events leading up to it are told in flashback by Sherlock as he delivers the speech. (Confused yet?) It turns out he's been attempting to solve a couple of cases, one while drunk from stag night, and both of them turn out to be connected, and if you can suspend disbelief well enough you just might buy the implausible murder attempt that ends the episode. I can't, and I didn't. But the sheer impossibility of the murder attempt is overshadowed by the achy sentimentality of the entire episode. And the, frankly, quite boring bits of dialogue. The phone call between Sherlock and Mycroft, for instance—any Sherlock fan could have written more scintillating lines. (And I will never be able to look at Mark Gatiss again without imagining his bare abdomen. This is not good.)
After the show my Twitter stream erupted in fury: here's an example, and another: "I can't wait for the episode of #Sherlock in which he investigates where all the story lines have gone." I recognize that fury: whenever I read a book by a favorite author that doesn't live up to her standards, I'm angry, disappointed. I want to vent, more than if I read another mediocre book, or watched another episode of a mundane series. I don't expect great writing from a soap opera like Hollyoaks, but I do from a show like Sherlock, which has justifiably earned its high praise and obsessive fandom.
Sherlock has been a clever, entertaining series, up to now. While the current series is still much better than most of the mediocrity that's on television, it's also not nearly as well written as previous episodes. It's veered off, well, across the shark. As another commenter at The Guardian put it, "Shark well and truly jumped."
There is still hope, in the form of Troels. If you watch the trailer for episode three, you'll see that the old Sherlock appears to be back, with a villian worthy of his talents, and of the viewer's 90 minutes.
Let's hope so.