TV Review | Sherlock | Season Three
Season summary: This series deals with Sherlock's return and it is effect on his relationship with best friend, John Watson. We are also introduced to new character Mary Morstan and new villain, Charles Augustus Magnussen. (Baker Street Wiki)
When this third season of Sherlock was first broadcast was when the audience started to turn against the show and I couldn't really understand why at the time, because I didn't think it was as bad as was being made out. I still don't think it's 'bad' bad either, but it definitely doesn't qualify as good either.
There are still plenty of really good moments in this season, but the quality of everything between those moments - and even the build-ups to those moments - doesn't come close to the first two seasons. In fact, many of the best moments in this season would probably still work well to some extent even when free of context, which just makes everything in-between feel irrelevant too.
The first two seasons worked so well because the show seemed to mirror the title character: bit too smart and a bit too clever, but having that pomposity pinpricked occasionally to bring it down to earth and add some humanity. Unfortunately, that isn't the case here, even with Sherlock's newfound willingness to show more emotion.
In fact, that extra emotion for the main character is part of the problem, because this extra level of humanity means that there's nothing the other characters can do to make Sherlock likable. Just take the first episode, where Sherlock laughs at John's reaction to the former making him think he was going to die in an explosion.
It wouldn't have been out of character for Sherlock to do something similar in the first two seasons (like, say, convincing John a giant hound was going to kill him?), but he would've done it from an emotionless viewpoint of trying to find out information rather than deliberately manipulating his 'best friend'.
To put it bluntly, Sherlock may be more human now, but even that human is still a prick. His inability to understand 'normal' people still pops up when needed, but it's more for awkward comedic reasons than a self-described sociopath learning to relate to others. Sherlock quite clearly understands people more, but just doesn't care if they're not directly important to him.
As stated above, the show reflects the lead character and it just feels like the story-telling disappears up its own arsehole trying to be clever and never displays those grounding elements to make what's going on feel enjoyable. All the supporting characters have been exaggerated to Sherlock's level and only ever feel like characters in a TV show, not like these people could ever exist.
And that's why shows like Sherlock work: you can accept one or two (like Moriarty) more bizarre characters and even then, only if the other characters react appropriately to their eccentric and/or odd behaviour. This season seems to forget about that and is lesser for it as a result.
Yes, there's still some tutting, groaning and eye-rolling at some of the things Sherlock says and does, but it feels much more "isn't Sherlock quirky?" amused annoyance than the "what the fuck is he doing?" exasperation of the first two seasons. The thing is, that friction between the characters is what made them really work.
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman do the best they can with the lesser material, and their chemistry forms what is still one of the most perfect pairings ever, so it's not all bad. They're both talented enough actors that their physical acting and expressions are enough to add whatever nuance and depth is missing from the script.
Then there's Amanda Abbington as Mary, who is a perfectly fine character in her own right, adding a nice wrinkle to the relationship between Sherlock and John. The main issue with her character is nothing to do with the actress, but more the fact that adding what is essentially a third main character means that the supporting cast do get shuffled off-stage somewhat.
I imagine part of the backlash against this season was very much related to this, especially with how the end of the previous season played up the importance of Mrs Hudson (Una Stubbs), Molly (Louise Brealey) and Lestrade (Rupert Graves) to Sherlock, so it doesn't seem very fair to relegate them to what often feel like extended cameos.
Ultimately, this third season of Sherlock loses its way almost immediately and never comes close to recovering. Every episode is uneven, with almost matching ratios of great to terrible moments and it really is the actors elevating the material as best they can that make it worth a watch - quite the comedown from the excellence of seasons one and two.
Sherlock's third season is quite the fall from grace, even if it's more of a mess than outright bad. The characters carry the show for this season and it's still enjoyable to spend time with them, but the individual episodes and over-arching story are not only trying to be too clever for their own good and failing, but know it and don't care.