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Preview: 'Sherlock' is smarter than your average TV show

Published May 7, 2012 9:45 am

"Masterpiece" • Season 2 returns with updated tales for 21st century.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In novels, short stories, movies and television shows, Sherlock Holmes has always been the smartest man in the room.

That continues in "Sherlock," the 21st-century updating of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's consulting detective. The BBC-produced series exceeded expectations and confounded purists in Season 1.

"When we aired 'Sherlock' a year ago last November, we thought we had something good," said "Masterpiece" executive producer Rebecca Eaton. "We had no idea it would be as successful and popular as it was."

Season 1 won the Television Critics Association Award as outstanding movie/miniseries and a BAFTA Television Award for best drama series. And it won over Holmes fans who were initially dismissive of a modern-day Sherlock.

Holmes still makes brilliant leaps, but he employs modern-day technology that was far beyond the realm of the original stories.

But what makes this version of "Sherlock" work is what made the short stories and novels work — it's smart, and it assumes viewers are smart, too.

"It takes a lot of effort to play clever," said Benedict Cumberbatch, who stars as the title character. "I absolutely love every minute of it, as hard as it can be. It's a thrill to bring something to an audience that isn't patronizing as well."

Laura Pulver, who stars as Irene Adler in the first of three Season 2 installments, said she read the script on a trans-Atlantic flight headed for the United States.

"I remember thinking, 'We needed to turn the plane back around,' because it was just the best piece of writing that I'd read in a long time," she said. "I think [producer/writer] Steven Moffat is a genius, and he beautifully encapsulates Conan Doyle's legend and subtly and wittily and brilliantly brings it to life in this kind of modern-day world."

And that's the key to this version of "Sherlock." The gimmick is that Moffat and Mark Gatiss ("Doctor Who") took Doyle's 19th-century characters and brought them into the 21st century — without making it seem like a gimmick.

You don't have to have read Sherlock Holmes stories and novels, which made their first appearance in 1887, to appreciate "Sherlock," but it does add a layer of enjoyment. You'll know the TV movies are a twist on Doyle's work.

This season, "A Scandal in Bohemia" becomes "A Scandal in Belgravia"; "The Hound of the Baskervilles" is updated; and "The Final Problem" becomes "The Reichenbach Fall."

Holmes fans already know there will be a cliffhanger at the end of Season 2 — and not just because it's already aired in the UK. "The Final Problem" was the story in which Doyle killed Holmes off, only to revive him years later. It won't take that long for the BBC and PBS.

Season 3 has already been filmed and will air next season on PBS.

No mystery at all.

spierce@sltrib.com

"Sherlock"

There are three new movies in the second season of "Sherlock," which airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on PBS/Channel 7.

"A Scandal in Belgravia" • May 6. Dominatrix Irene Adler, whose motto is "know when you are beaten," has incriminating photos of a session with a British royal.

"The Hounds of Baskerville" • May 13. There's a giant creature on the moors. Is it a beast genetically engineered by the military?

"The Reichenbach Fall" • May 20. The diabolical Moriarty breaks into the Crown Jewels, but it's just part of his plot to "get Sherlock."