The game is afoot again as Season 2 of “Sherlock” premieres on PBS

It didn’t take a master detective to deduce that the BBC series Sherlock — a modern retelling of the classic Sherlock Holmes stories — would be back for a second season (or “series,” as they like to say across the pond). Its original three episodes debuted to critical and fan raves on both sides of the Atlantic, demonstrating once again that Sherlock is one of those fictional characters whom fans will not tire of. It has been estimated that Holmes is the most frequently depicted character in the history of cinema, with his first known appearance coming in a brief, one-reel film made in 1900. Since then, Holmes has appeared in numerous movies, most notably the ones with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Dr. Watson, a string of films beginning in 1939; and, most recently, the Guy Ritchie adaptations starring Robert Downey Jr. as the world’s foremost consulting detective — 2009’s Sherlock Holmes and last year’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

With the advent of television came more Holmes interpretations, among the most famous of which was The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1984-94), which starred Jeremy Brett as Sherlock in faithful adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original mysteries, set in the original Victorian period.

And now we have Sherlock. Like the Brett series, this one airs in America on PBS; however, its setting has been updated to the 21st century. But it is no less faithful in tone to the original tales. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman play marvelously off each other as Holmes and Watson, and have the great interaction we have come to expect from this crime-solving duo over the years, even as they go about their work with the latest computer and lab technology. Co-created by Doctor Who’s Steven Moffat, the series seems to have fun with this straddling of old and new. This is even evident in the episode titles, which are witty plays off the original story titles.

Season 2, for example, begins with “A Scandal in Belgravia” (based on “A Scandal in Bohemia”). Like the Doyle story, this episode introduces one of Holmes’ greatest challenges next to Jim Moriarty (who is also back this season, played with unassuming malevolence by Andrew Scott) — Irene Adler (Lara Pulver). In this adaptation, she is a crafty dominatrix with incriminating photos of a British royal. And something about her makes her the rare woman to get under Sherlock’s skin, as Cumberbatch explained at a recent press conference.

“I think he meets a like mind. He meets someone who is a challenge, who is rather good, and it takes him by surprise, not because he’s a misogynist, not because he views women as any lesser of a species. He views them as an equal. It’s just that pretty much all people apart from him are a bit stupid. So the fact that he meets somebody who is a worthy opponent of either sex is of great intrigue. I mean, look at the relationship with Moriarty. There’s a huge bond between those two. It’s an obsession, but with Ms. Adler, it comes with the whole game of love and relationships and the understanding between one sex and another. … He has to break through why he can’t read her to begin with. The fact that she is a very difficult objective to overcome is what attracts him to her. She’s a puzzle, as most of us are to each other in relationships. … It’s interesting to see him slightly touched and moved and possibly humanized by this experience a little bit.”

Watch Sherlock Season 2: Lara Pulver as Irene Adler on PBS. See more from Masterpiece.

Adler only appears in this first episode this season, which again runs three episodes, but the remaining two episodes are adaptations of other very familiar Holmes titles, with modern-day twists. “The Hounds of Baskerville” finds Holmes and Watson on the moors investigating rumors of giant animals genetically engineered by the military. The season finale episode, “The Reichenbach Fall,” is based on the story “The Final Problem,” the climactic battle between Holmes and Moriarty. Masterpiece executive producer Rebecca Eaton told us that this episode would end in a cliffhanger, as the first season did.

“You get a resolution to the cliffhanger of Season 1 at the beginning of Season 2,” she said. “On the other hand, you’re hanging over the cliff at the end of Season 2 as well.”

“You might see it’s quite hard for me to make it back by the end of the last episode,” added Cumberbatch, responding to a question of whether he’d be back for a Season 3.

Watch Sherlock Season 2: The Reichenbach Fall Preview on PBS. See more from Masterpiece.

But, as we’ve seen, you can’t keep Sherlock Holmes down for very long in movies and TV. In March, executive producer Beryl Vertue revealed that Season 3 of Sherlock would, in fact, begin filming in early 2013, though no premiere date was offered. Probably the biggest mystery at this point is finding a way to get the red-hot Cumberbatch and Freeman together at the same time, when they aren’t on other projects. The initial international success of Sherlock has made the actors greatly in demand, with Cumberbatch appearing last year in War Horse and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and currently filming a role as a villain in J.J. Abrams’ new Star Trek movie. Freeman will be playing the title role in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit franchise, which hits theaters later this year with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. (Cumberbatch also has roles in the second film in the Hobbit series, There and Back Again, voicing the dragon Smaug and The Necromancer.)

Though it may be a while before we see new episodes of Sherlock after this month, it seems elementary that audiences will anxiously be awaiting its return.

Season 2 of Sherlock airs on PBS May 6, 13 and 20 at 9pm ET (check local listings).

Watch Sherlock Season 2: Three New Shows on PBS. See more from Masterpiece.


© BBC/Hartwood Films for Masterpiece. Credit: Colin Hutton