Friday, May 04, 2012

The Contemporary Sherlock Returns

At the end of the first season of Masterpiece’s Sherlock Holmes reboot, the consulting detective came face-to-face with his arch-nemesis, consulting criminal Jim Moriarty.  Now it is time to introduce the femme fatale.  After getting a reprieve from the cliffhanger ending season one, Holmes meets the incomparable Irene Adler in A Scandal in Belgravia, the first of three new episodes making up Sherlock season two, which premieres this Sunday on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery (promo here).

Rest assured, Moriarty is not done with Holmes.  For the time being though, Holmes is free to solve some very high profile cases, including the recovery of a painting stolen from the American ambassador, titled the Reichenbach Falls.  This will be significant later in season two.  For now, it raises Holmes stature to such a point, the British government requests the detective’s help recovering some sensitive photos of a Royal from the cell phone of dominatrix Adler.  As Homes fans know, this is no ordinary scandalous woman.  Holmes himself has no idea what to make of her, partly because she receives the sleuth in the nude, thereby robbing his keen powers of observation of any details to form deductions from.

Right, where were we? Something about Public Broadcasting?  While always shot from discrete angles, Belgravia is pretty HBO for PBS.  Each previous episode has modernized the Doyle stories in clever ways, but the season two opener takes it to a new level.  As Adler, Lara Pulver is the guest star to beat all guest stars.  Her chemistry with the new Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch, is appropriately weird but hot.  Frankly, the re-conception of The Hound of the Baskervilles (as The Hounds of Baskerville), which many fans have probably been eagerly anticipating, is something of a let-down by comparison.

In S2E2, there indeed appears to be a hound haunting the moors, but it seems to involve a shadowy government research lab.  Compounding the disappointing clichés, the CIA factors somewhat vaguely in the skullduggery.  On the plus side, a vegan restaurant also seems to be up to no good.  Mostly importantly, it gives Rupert Graves a bit of an opportunity to develop his Inspector Lestrade.  Not a bumbling plodder in the Dennis Hoey-Eddie Marsan tradition, he is a reasonably smart and charismatic fellow.  In fact, Holmes might actually sort of-kind of like the Scotland Yard man, at least as much as he can like anyone who is not Watson or Adler.

As it began, season two ends with one of the series’ best episodes overall.  Making good on his promises, Moriarty returns to wreck havoc on Holmes.  Not content to simply kill his rival, the super-villain sets in motion an elaborate plan to thoroughly discredit the detective first.  The resulting affair takes Holmes to some very dark places—like Luther levels of psychological angst.

Season two is about as cinematic as episodic television gets, particularly Belgravia and Reichenbach, helmed by Paul McGuigan and Toby Haynes, respectively.  Smartly written, the series not only performs a shrewd alchemy on the original Doyle stories, it also plays off the themes of the Billy Wilder’s non-canonical The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.  Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman’s Watson have plenty of amusing bickering banter, but the way they portray the deepening of the 221B residents friendship is one of the most appealing developments of the show.  Surpassing the first outing, the second season of Sherlock is quite highly recommended, even for casual mystery fans, when it starts this Sunday (5/6) and continuing over the following two weeks (5/13, and 5/20) on most PBS outlets.