Ellen Gray: Get clued in on the 'Masterpiece Mystery!: Sherlock' miniseries

Posted: October 21, 2010

MASTERPIECE MYSTERY!: SHERLOCK. 9 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 7, Channel 12.

ARE YOU in "Mad Men" withdrawal?

Not sure what you'll have to look forward to on Sundays, now that AMC's admen (and women) have disappeared for another season, taking their tortured lives and their tawdry secrets with them?

Sherlock Holmes may be no Don Draper, but he's reinvented himself far more often.

This weekend, he does it again, as PBS' "Masterpiece Mystery!" introduces Benedict Cumberbatch ("Atonement") as a 21st-century version of Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic detective in "Sherlock."

Messy but metrosexual - the man can do as much with a scarf as your average Parisian woman - Cumberbatch's Holmes is the latest in a series of TV characters with sky-high IQs and limited social skills, the kind, like "Bones' " Temperance Brennan and "The Big Bang Theory's" Sheldon Cooper, who seem almost to be begging for a clinical label of some sort.

This Holmes, for the record, prefers his to be "high-functioning sociopath," at least to the alternative applied by some of his partners in crime-solving: "psychopath."

It's not a distinction likely to bring much comfort to his new housemate, Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman), a veteran wounded in Afghanistan who's just looking for an affordable place in London when he's introduced to the resident of 221b Baker St. and almost instantly whisked off to the scene of a murder.

Sunday's episode, the first of three installments, is "A Study in Pink," a nod to the 1887 Doyle novel "A Study in Scarlet" that introduced the Holmes character and a title that could be the equivalent of waving a red flag in front of traditional Holmesians.

Or not.

"We sort of expected people to object," series co-creator Steven Moffat told reporters this summer, a few weeks after "Sherlock" had premiered on Britain's BBC to huge ratings.

"We had a good big book of excuses . . . but we didn't have to work from it all, so people have accepted it," said Moffat, who last season took over the running of another British empire, "Doctor Who."

It's easy to see why. Though there's something undeniably Who-vian in the approach Moffat and fellow producer Mark Gatiss (another "Doctor Who" writer) take to their main character and his surroundings, he's still a Holmes whom Doyle himself would probably recognize: brilliant, bossy, more than a little boorish.

He's operating, though, in a Britain that Doyle might not quite believe, in which closed-circuit cameras are nearly omnipresent - a touch that often helps distinguish the U.K.'s modern crime dramas from ours - Holmes employs text messaging and the game is not afoot, but merely "on."

Oh, and Dr. Watson? He has a blog.

Purists may scoff, but I'm more than a little enchanted by "Sherlock," and by a cast that includes Rupert Graves as Detective Inspector Lestrade; Una Stubbs as Mrs. Hudson, Holmes and Watson's landlady; and Zoe Telford as Watson's love interest, Sarah.

If I have a complaint, it's that too many of "Sherlock's" cases begin with an assumption of suicide, not murder, a setup that seems like a foolish consistency for a such a great mind.

Coming up next week

If the networks' fall offerings are looking a little less shiny than they did a month ago, be of good cheer: Reinforcements are on the way.

At least for those with HBO and/or DirecTV.

Monday brings the third-season premiere of HBO's addictive "In Treatment," in which Gabriel Byrne plays Dr. Paul Weston, a therapist who tries not to let his own problems get in the way of solving those of his patients.

This season, he has three new ones - played by Irrfan Khan ("Slumdog Millionaire"), Debra Winger and Dane DeHaan - as well as new therapist of his own (Amy Ryan), and he'll be seeing them at 9 and 9:30 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays.

Or, if you're like many "In Treatment" fans, On Demand, where it's so easy to go from one bite-sized therapy session to another that before you know it, you've eaten the whole box.

There's a bit more action in the even better "Friday Night Lights," which begins its fifth and final season at 9 p.m. Wednesday on DirecTV's 101 Network, but I don't know anyone who watches it for the football.

"FNL" has had a second run for the past few seasons on NBC, which saved the low-rated drama through a co-production deal with the satellite provider. It's still the best show on TV that people who complain about TV aren't watching. *

Send e-mail to graye@phillynews.com.

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