Sherlock - what a start to 2012!
If anyone can think of a better way to kick off 2012 than with an episode of Sherlock that was more shiny and sparkling than anything dangling from your Christmas tree, I'd love to hear about it. Sherlock (BBC1); The Entertainers (RTE1)
The first of three new episodes, A Scandal in Belgravia, which Holmes aficionados will recognise as an update of Arthur Conan Doyle's story A Scandal in Bohemia, picked up where last season's cliffhanger finale left off.
Holmes, played by the wonderful Benedict Cumberbatch as "a high-functioning sociopath", had a gun trained on his arch-enemy Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott), while his sidekick, Dr John Watson (the equally wonderful Martin Freeman), looked tensely on. Moriarty's snipers, meanwhile, had their laser sights trained on Sherlock's head. How could this standoff be resolved? In the hands of writer/co-creator Steven Moffat, the answer was as insouciantly as everything else in this brilliant series.
Moriarty is interrupted by the ringing of his mobile (hilariously, his ringtone is the Bee Gees' Staying Alive), takes the call and then decides to let Holmes and Watson live to fight another day. On the other end of the line is a certain Irene Adler.
Holmes fans will also recognise that name. Adler, as Watson recorded in the original story, was the only woman who ever meant anything to Holmes; the only one of her sex who could outwit him. And perhaps turn him on sexually.
This Irene, a high-class dominatrix sexily played by Lara Pulver, is certainly turned on by Sherlock. Or rather by his intellect. "Brainy's the new sexy," she breathily whispers in his ear when they first meet. As if to underline the point, she's stark naked.
Sherlock had earlier been summoned to Buckingham Palace by his government official brother, Mycroft (the series' other co-creator, Mark Gatiss). Irene has compromising pictures of a female royal on her phone and Mycroft wants Sherlock to retrieve them.
Cue a convoluted plot involving CIA agents, terrorist plots, double and triple-bluffs, and lashings of sexual tension between Sherlock and Irene.
But the plot, satisfyingly twisty and dementedly ingenious as it was, is not really what Sherlock is about -- and indeed plot often came second to characterisation in Conan Doyle's stories.
What makes Sherlock an absolute joy is the dazzling visual style, the sharp but affectionate interplay between Cumberbatch and Freeman, who are up there among the very best Holmes-Watson screen pairings, and the scorchingly witty dialogue, delivered at machine-gun speed.
"Didn't you hear me? I said 'Punch me in the face'," says Holmes at one point, for reasons too complicated to go into. "I hear 'Punch me in the face' every time you speak," quips Watson, "but it's usually subliminal." Superb entertainment.
There are likely to be plenty of gems in TV50, RTE Television's season celebrating its half-century on air. In fact, a few are already available to watch on the RTE Player, including a star-packed 1971 Late Late Show featuring Trevor Howard and Peter Sellers.
The Entertainers, however, was a depressing and desultory trudge through five decades of light entertainment. There were some genuinely tantalising moments here, including a glimpse of a long-haired, moustachioed Pat Kenny making his TV debut as a guitar-strumming children's presenter.
Alas, all that remains of this momentous television event are some still images, the tapes having been wiped clean long ago to make room for God knows what else.
What we were left with instead was a ragbag grab-bag of over-familiar clips (Bosco, The Live Mike, Where In The World et al) and dreary anecdotes delivered by over-familiar faces, including Twink, Kathryn Thomas, Ray D'Arcy and Mike Murphy.
Landmark series such as the excellent Nighthawks were dispensed with in a matter of seconds, while an inordinate amount of time was given over to plugs for the likes of Mrs Brown's Boys, which we've surely had enough of already this Christmas and New Year.
THE ENTERTAINERS 1/5