"Sherlock" is back on the case for a second season on PBS's "Masterpiece Mystery!" (9 tonight, May 13 and 20, WQED-TV). Once again star Benedict Cumberbatch is magnetic with the quirky, sly demeanor he brings to Sherlock Holmes.
It was the one-two punch of "Sherlock" (in fall 2010) and season one of "Downton Abbey" (in January 2011) that made viewers start to re-think the notion of PBS as a network only grandparents watch.
Season two of "Downton" brought a slew of younger viewers to PBS who may return again for these three new "Sherlock" episodes.
Tonight's premiere, "A Scandal in Belgravia," picks up right where season one ended: Evil Moriarty (Andrew Scott) has put John Watson (Martin Freeman, "The Office") in a bomb vest and has a gun on Sherlock Holmes (Mr. Cumberbatch). That bit of messiness is untangled quickly, and then Sherlock auditions folks as he tries to find a new case. He dismisses many as "boring."
The first half-hour ping pongs from one case to another. It's confusing, but Sherlock eventually settles on investigating "the woman" after he gets called to Buckingham Palace by an unnamed but obviously high-profile client.
Leave it to this Sherlock to appear at the palace dressed only in a bed sheet, much to the consternation of his older brother, Mycroft (Mark Gatiss), who maintains a lofty, if nebulous, position within the British government.
"The woman," who may possess photos of an important British figure in a compromising position, is Irene Adler (Lara Pulver, "True Blood"). She bears the same name as a character from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 1891 Sherlock story "A Scandal in Bohemia."
This updated Irene Adler is a dominatrix sex worker who causes Holmes to see question marks, clouding his ability to piece together her personality and background. Could the staunchly single Sherlock be in love?
By the end of the episode, all the seemingly disparate cases introduced at the start have come together, proving them worthy of inclusion. But there also are a few disappointing deus ex machina plot twists.
These new episodes also feature returning, supporting characters, including Sherlock's landlady, Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs), detective inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves) and lab tech Molly Hooper (Loo Brealey).
The episodes also make a point to play up the notion of Sherlock as a public figure whose expertise in crime solving results in news coverage on a regular basis. He's even photographed wearing a familiar deerstalker hat.
The second episode, "The Hounds of Baskerville" (9 p.m. May 13), finds Sherlock taking the case of a man (Russell Tovey, "Being Human") whose father was killed near a government research station, possibly by an escaped, genetically mutated dog. Sherlock needs this case like an addict needs a fix. Until it comes along he's jittery and more irritable than usual.
The season finale, "The Reichenbach Fall" (9 p.m. May 20), begins with Watson in therapy because, as he says, "My best friend is dead." From there the episode flashes back three months to further cement Sherlock's image as a celebrity investigator who retrieves stolen art and resolves kidnappings. Then Moriarty returns, playing mind games with Sherlock and those who have supported his crime fighting efforts.
Always arrogant, occasionally this Sherlock can be ill-tempered, as if he's a cousin to Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) on the eponymous, soon-to-end Fox series. Sherlock's lack of empathy brings to mind the title character from Showtime's "Dexter."
But most of the time Sherlock's cheeky sense of humor makes this version of the character a delight. He posts a sign on the front door of 221B Baker St. when he encounters evildoers afoot: "Crime in progress. Please disturb." And he's never shy about expressing his sense of superiority.
"Please don't feel obliged to tell me that was remarkable or amazing," Sherlock says after showing off his skills of observation. "John's expressed that thought and every possible variant available in the English language."
Rob Owen writes this Sunday TV column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at: email@example.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.