Martin Freeman stars as John Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in 'Sherlock,' returning to PBS on Sunday. (Robert Viglasky / Hartswood Films)
Oh, Sherlock, how we’ve missed your wit.
It’s been almost two years since Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) appeared to jump from a rooftop to his death in the PBS “Masterpiece Mystery!” series “Sherlock” and viewers have been clamoring for more ever since.
With busy film schedules for Cumberbatch (“Star Trek Into Darkness”) and co-star Martin Freeman (“The Hobbit”), who plays John Watson, it took longer than usual to make another batch of three 90-minute episodes.
Sunday’s premiere, airing at 9:58 p.m., picks up two years after the events in the last original episode. And clearly it is not a spoiler to say that — duh! — Sherlock lives.
In “The Empty Hearse,” different characters offer multiple theories of how Holmes survived his fall. Some are quite cheeky and seem to be inspired by obsessive fan fiction, a clever tweaking of the show’s devotees. Near the end of the episode, Sherlock unravels the details of what really happened.
The episode walks viewers through what Watson has been up to, what Sherlock has been doing in the interim and the reactions of assorted characters to the revelation that Holmes is indeed alive. And friendships rekindle, along with familiar habits of poking fun.
“What life?” Sherlock says to an old friend who protests that he’s moved on. “I’ve been away.”
It’s an entertaining episode that doesn’t fall into the pacing trap so often seen in “Sherlock” where there’s not enough story to hold the show up through its 90-minute running time. (Episode two fares worse in this regard, although it’s still an entertaining outing.)
What’s most notable about the first two episodes of the season that PBS made available for review is how much more emphasis there is on the show’s established characters and their relationships. It’s understandable in the first episode given all the mopping up from the previous season’s finale, but it’s a pleasant surprise in episode two that the writers choose a setting that allows the opportunity to involve the show’s growing roster of regulars and new mystery plots.
That should be music to the ears of the growing legion of sometimes freakishly devoted “Sherlock” fans. After a press conference for his upcoming FX series “Fargo,” Freeman said “Sherlock” fans are more passionate than “The Hobbit” fans.
One of the pleasures of this series is the snappy dialogue and rich character development. Sibling rivalry is taken to a whole new level between Mycroft Holmes (Mark Gatiss) and Sherlock — and then there are their parents.
Another pleasure is the in-jokes.
For example, in the original Holmes stories by Doyle, Lestrade is only given a first initial: G. In “Sherlock,” his name is Greg, which Sherlock can’t remember, calling him Gavan or Graham.
As a lure, “Many Happy Returns,” a mini-episode, was released Dec. 24. It makes clear that many who interacted with Sherlock in the past don’t believe he’s dead. While New Scotland Yard Detective Inspector Greg Lestrade (Rupert Graves) is convinced he’s dead, on an emotional level, he’s still not sure.
Season three of “Sherlock” will be on DVD and Blu-ray on Feb. 11.
9:58 p.m. Sunday
Tish Wells, McClatchy Washington Bureau, contributed.