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TV review: Sherlock; The 7.39; Catherine Tate’s Nan

Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC1's Sherlock. Photo: Robert Viglasky/BBC/Hartswood Films.

I have never been totally seduced by Sherlock. I appreciate that it is a class act, with fine performances, sharp dialogue and lavish production values, but I never found it quite as clever as it thought it was. Until now, that is.

Sign of Three, the second episode of the new series – do three episodes constitute a series? – took the wedding of Dr Watson and new love Mary as its focus, and around it spun a  tremendous tale of mayhem, murder and mystery. How could it be any other way if you invite Sherlock Holmes to be your best man? But in a radical and audacious departure from the norm, the show suddenly embraced comedy like a long-lost friend and sent its detective duo off on the unlikeliest of stag nights, following the route of past crime scenes.

Acting drunk is hard. Acting funny drunk is nigh-on impossible, particularly within the constraints of a familiar, well-loved character such as Holmes. However, Benedict Cumberbatch pulled it off with infuriatingly impressive ease, displaying a hitherto unseen talent for slapstick in the process, matched every bit of the way by co-star Martin Freeman.

Both actors were assisted in no small part by a playfully irreverent script that was more than happy to subvert the series’ characters and conventions. One of the show’s many highlights was when a booze-fuddled Holmes explored a clue-filled crime scene accompanied by his trademark floating infographics, which this time revealed absolutely nothing: “Egg? Chair? Sitty thing? Comfy!”

[pullquote]Sherlock’s second episode took the wedding of Dr Watson and Mary as its focus, and around it spun a tremendous tale of mayhem, murder and mystery. How could it be any other way if you invite Holmes to be your best man?[/pullquote]

At the point where the comedy threatened to topple over into self-indulgence, the writers reined it in and returned Sherlock to what he does best – crime solving. Halfway through his best man speech, Holmes realised there was both a killer and a potential victim among the assembled guests, forcing him into some serious filibustering and rapid deduction to avert a murder. Several seemingly unconnected storylines were pulled together, the felon was apprehended and there was still time for a poignant scene at the reception in which the newly-wed Watsons waltzed around the dancefloor, accompanied by Holmes’ violin, the implication being that this new partnership has usurped the old.

Two-part drama The 7.39 used a commuter train as the unlikely setting for a romance, throwing together middle-aged, middle manager Carl (David Morrissey) and fitness consultant Sally (Sheridan Smith). But the course of true love, much like the south-east rail service, never runs smoothly, particularly when both star-crossed lovers have caring, considerate and supportive partners back at home. Confused and conflicted, the pair are nevertheless helpless to stop their inexorable slide into adultery.

The 7.39 was refreshingly adult in its themes and execution, presenting believable characters in realistic, complex and agonising situations. That Carl was written as stolid and dull made the romance seem all the more authentic, given love’s well documented blindness.

Catherine Tate’s Nan gave half an hour over to the comedienne’s bilious, racist, cantankerous and foul-mouthed septuagenarian, which was at least 20 minutes too much. Nan is basically one joke, and a good one at that, but her natural habitat is the sketch show, not the sitcom.

Sherlock, BBC1, Sunday, January 5, 8.30pm
The 7.39, BBC1, Monday, January 6 and Tuesday, January 7, 9pm
Catherine Tate’s Nan, BBC1, Saturday, January 4, 9.30pm

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