Holmes - at 100 - returns to solve a case

The Return of Sherlock Holmes CBS, Saturday, 9-11 p.m. Stars: Margaret Colin and Michael Pennington. Producer: Nick Gillot. Director: Kevin Connor. Writer: Bob Shayne. As the Baker Street Irregulars and Sherlock Holmes buffs throughout the world celebrate the 100th anniversary of the durable Arthur Conan Doyle detective, CBS is commemorating Sherlock Holmes in a unique way: by thawing him out.

It seems, according to this ingeniously contrived plot, devised by Bob Shayne, that in 1901 the brother of Professor Moriarty sent Holmes an ivory box designed to infect him with a fatal disease. Then Dr. Watson arranged to have him frozen until a medical antidote could be discovered. Finally, Watson passed on, leaving Holmes in his ``Arctic sleep'' for more than 50 years after a remedy was found.

Now, along comes Watson's great-granddaughter, also a detective, of course. She finds the frozen Holmes, thaws him out, and proceeds to join forces with him to solve the mysteries at hand.

Outrageous?

Absolutely! But delightfully so.

Margaret Colin, whom you may remember from her debut in last year's ``Foley Square,'' displays a charming and winning comic spirit reminiscent of Carole Lombard, the movie star from the 1930s. She makes Jane Watson a much more alluring sidekick than her great-grandfather ever was.

Michael Pennington plays Sherlock with just the right combination of stiffness and 'elan as he discovers the modern world.

``What have they done to my London?'' he moans, as Jane points out a McDonald's to him. When he is told he will ride in a plane, he assumes it means he will ride over the plains.

Nondairy cream is another source of amazement, as we see our world through the eyes of a Victorian Sherlock Holmes.

This special is campy, of course, but not so precious that it is at all objectionable. It gets cutesy only now and then with references to past Holmesian adventures that will seem almost cryptic to non-Irregulars.

But I cannot bring myself to fault the writer for being unable to resist the temptation to have Sherlock Holmes answer the question: ``Did they meet in high school or college?'' with the predictable ``Elementary, my dear Watson.''

``The Return of Sherlock Holmes'' is a good-natured, lighthearted mystery that refuses to take itself or its genre seriously.

It is so much fun that I hope CBS will consider turning it into a series - ``Sherlock Holmes and My Dear Watson,'' perhaps?

There are undoubtedly Conan Doyle buffs who will regard this defrosting as almost sacrilegious. They would probably prefer to see their hero remain on ice. But this delightful caper proves that Sherlock Holmes, in one form or another, has a long and active life ahead of him.

Arthur Unger is the Monitor's television critic.

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