Sherlock

Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Dr. Watson (Martin Freeman) are in a standoff with Moriarty as Season of of "Sherlock" begins. (PBS / May 3, 2012)

I should have asked "Sherlock" co-creator Stephen Moffat if he follows the first rule of showbiz, "Always leave them wanting more," because that's what he's done with both seasons of the popular reinterpretation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes" mystery stories.

After a highly successful first season that drew 4.6 million viewers per each of three episodes on PBS' "Masterpiece Mystery!" last summer, the sleuth is back for three more installments (8 p.m. May 6, 13 and 20, WTTW in Chicago; 4 stars).

I can guarantee that by the end of "The Reichenbach Fall" on May 20, viewers will want to jump in the time machine featured in Moffat's other wildly popular series, "Doctor Who," and be transported to whatever date "Sherlock" Season 3 begins.

All three of the new stories, beginning Sunday with "A Scandal in Belgravia" and continuing May 13 with "The Hounds of Baskerville" before the May 20 finale, dazzle with imagination, wit and outstanding lead performances from Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson, Andrew Scott as Sherlock's arch enemy, James Moriarty, and Lara Pulver as his latest obsession, the dominatrix Irene Adler.

Going into Season 2, Moffat and co-creator Mark Gatiss kept what Detective Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves) said about Holmes in the first season in mind: "Sherlock Holmes is a great man and one day, if we're very lucky, he might be a good one."

"This is sort of his journey," Moffat told me during a phone interview. "When we see the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes [from the 1940s], he's completely accomplished and heroic and amazing and brilliant and the mighty sage of Baker Street. The Benedict Cumberbatch Holmes is still in the foothills of that. He's a bit autistic. He's a bit rude. He's more vulnerable because of those things. He's still wondering whether he's a psychopath. He's all those things.

"So this year is a big step forward for him in becoming the great man—or a good man—that Lestrade thinks he can be."

Moffat answered more questions about the new season, comparing Sherlock to Doctor Who and how Scott's marvelous take on Moriarty changed the writers' plans for the character. Watch Sherlock, Season 2 - Preview on PBS. See more from Masterpiece.

What’s in store for Sherlock this season?
Yes, people have talked about it being sort of almost a humanizing of him. But it’s more like it’s almost like Sherlock growing up, I suppose. He’s exposed to the big emotions. He encounters those deadly things of love and fear and loss, I suppose, is what he encounters, and, of course, he would emerge yet even stronger...

It’s funny you should bring up a Lestrade quote, because I was going to ask where that quote came from.
Well, that one’s ours. It’s not from the original. Yeah, it’s just we want that idea that Sherlock Holmes, even if you look at the original stories, Sherlock Holmes in “A Study in Scarlet” is humorless, autistic, cold, unpleasant. If you go a few stories later, he’s much warmer and funnier.

Now, he’s still a scary man. He’s still frightening. He’s still a bit psycho, but he’s become a lot more heroic. And by the time you get to [Doyle’s short story] “The Final Problem” [which is “The Reichenbach Fall” here] he’s moved so far from his original debut that he is prepared to lay down his life to stop Moriarty.

He’s become a hero. He’s become a good man, but a good man with considerable flaws, it must be said, and still a frightening and cold individual. But never forget that Sherlock Holmes is a hero and what we’re seeing is that hero being assembled year by year in our series.

It would be sort of impossible to write a show about a good man who had no flaws; it’d be kind of boring.
Well, I’m just trying to think. I suppose Superman has been quite a success and he’s pretty unflawed, isn't he? I think there's a version of it, but Sherlock Holmes has always been a sort of anti-hero. He’s always been someone who it was very clear that he’s not doing this in order to better the world; at least initially he isn't. He’s doing it just because it amuses him and he only takes the cases that entertain him. But he does sort of move beyond that a bit.

How long did it take you to come up with the resolution to the Season 1 cliffhanger in "A Scandal in Belgravia"? READERS: You can watch the first 7 minutes of the episode at the PBS Facebook page and see what I am talking about.
See, we never really took our cliffhanger on Series 1 seriously. We changed it, I’ll tell you that. We just thought it was great fun. And we didn't know the series was going to be a hit. We didn't even know if we’d get a second run. And for ages, that episode ended with Moriarty departing and Sherlock saying, “At last, the game begins,” or something like that. His big conflict with Moriarty begins. I think I suggested, “Well, why don’t we just do something bigger and more explosive—a big standoff?”

But we didn't take it that seriously, in the sense that I just thought it was such a standoff that they would just back away from each other realizing that they were at a stalemate. But then, of course, everybody went mad talking about that cliffhanger and so we talked a lot about what would be funny, what would be interesting, what's the only thing you could do that would be surprising. The building blowing up is a bit corny.