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It’s no mystery why PBS’ modern ‘Sherlock’ is so clever

Seas2: Benedict Cumberbatch (right) returns title role alongside MartFreeman as WatsPBS’ “Sherlock.”

Season 2: Benedict Cumberbatch (right) returns in the title role alongside Martin Freeman as Watson on PBS’ “Sherlock.”

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Updated: June 4, 2012 11:24AM

The closest I’ve come to having an Alec Baldwin meltdown was on British Airways a couple of years ago.

The captain turned off the in-flight entertainment system when I had just a few minutes left of the BBC’s maddeningly suspenseful “Sherlock” pilot.

Anyone who’s seen that episode, “A Study in Pink,” can feel my pain.

Anyone who hasn’t seen it needs to stop reading this immediately and go watch it. It’s that good.

So is the long-awaited but infuriatingly short second season of “Sherlock.” The first of three, 90-minute episodes airs Sunday on PBS’ “Masterpiece Mystery.”

The brilliantly clever series was created by “Doctor Who” writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, who took Britain’s most famous fictional gumshoe and rebooted him for the 21st century.

This Sherlock doesn’t send telegrams. He texts.

He’s more likely to use GPS than a magnifying glass to solve a crime.

And his trusty sidekick, Dr. Watson, doesn’t chronicle their escapades in his journal. He writes a blog instead.

One thing that hasn’t changed: Sherlock and Watson remain ideal foils for each other, thanks to whip-smart dialogue delivered flawlessly by Benedict Cumberbatch (“War Horse”) and Martin Freeman (“The Hobbit”). Their bickering leads to more laugh-out-loud moments than most sitcoms.

While the gas lamps and hansom cabs are gone, purists can still relish the similarities between Sherlock 2.0 and his Victorian predecessor. The gangly detective hasn’t ditched his violin for an electric guitar. And “Sherlock’s” mysteries, while updated, are based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic tales, which first appeared on the pages of the Strand Magazine in 1891.

Season two puts a modern spin on Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, A Scandal in Bohemia and The Final Problem. It picks up where the freshman season’s crazily tense cliffhanger, pitting Sherlock against his archenemy, Moriarty, left off.

Moriarty, played with maniacal panache by Andrew Scott, is one of the iconic “Sherlock” characters who factors heavily into the second season. The first episode features another favorite: Irene Adler (Lara Pulver, “True Blood”), the rare creature capable of matching wits with Sherlock.

“Brainy’s the new sexy,” quips Adler, who’s been reinvented as a devious dominatrix.

Without giving away the ending of that episode, I will say I was slightly disappointed by it. And not only because of its implausibility, which comes with the territory in a series about a man whose mind “has more apps than an iPhone,” said “Masterpiece Mystery” host Alan Cumming. The ending was an unnecessary throwback to the days of damsels in distress — ironic, given that this is a contemporary take on Sherlock.

The only other bone I’d pick is that this season’s plots seemed a little hard to follow at times. I had to watch the first episode, “A Scandal in Belgravia,” twice, and I still don’t understand all of it. But the beauty of this series is that it’s so entertaining and so well-executed, I didn’t mind.

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