Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch

"Brainy's the new sexy."

Didn't we always know that? But how nice to have it reconfirmed — by none other than Irene Adler (Lara Pulver), the only woman ever known to render the great and arrogant Sherlock Holmes speechless. She appears as never before, as a saucy and sometimes naked dominatrix possessing scandalous government secrets, in the first of three scintillating new Sherlock brain-teasers, starting Sunday on PBS' Masterpiece Mystery! (check local listings).

As brilliantly updated into a modern-day franchise by Steven Moffat (Doctor Who) and Mark Gatiss, who appears on occasion as Sherlock's exasperated and well-connected brother Mycroft, the second season kicks off by resolving last year's cliffhanger that pitted the dashing Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch, a tall drink of flashing wit and ferocious bark) against his greatest nemesis, the playfully malevolent arch-fiend Moriarty (Andrew Scott, smarmy and smug). They will clash again even more memorably in this season's dizzying and dazzling finale, "The Reichenbach Fall," inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Final Problem."

But first we're treated to the delicious "A Scandal in Belgravia" (not to be confused with the "Bohemia" of the original story), which opens with Sherlock fuming over his newfound notoriety, playing backseat blogger to his long-suffering sidekick Dr. John Watson (the affably prickly Martin Freeman). "The last thing I need is a public image," frets the private detective. So how and why does Sherlock turn up buck naked in Buckingham Palace? If that's made you curious enough to tune in, my work is done.

As in the first season, it is always exhilarating to watch the peerless sleuth at work, his thought processes visualized as on a computer screen. But when he first encounters the exotic and saucy enigma that is Irene, all he sees are "?????" She has his number, and he has hers — and we're not just talking cell phones, although that is part of this gloriously twisty tale. "He will outlive God trying to have the last word," declares Watson. But in Irene Adler, he may just have met his match.

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MORE SUNDAY GOODNESS:
The hits just keep on coming on Sundays, including HBO's strongest lineup of originals in quite some time. In a spectacular and, as usual, sprawling installment of Game of Thrones (9/8c), there are crucial tests of leadership and manhood for Theon Greyjoy as he makes his move to occupy Winterfell and for Jon Snow in the snowy North as his Night Watch away team encounters a tribe of Wildlings. Back in Kings Landing, Tyrion memorably squares off against the horrid little King Joffrey after chaos erupts on the unruly streets, and in the desert city of Qarth, "mother of dragons" Daenerys works the local merchants to invest in her crusade to take back the Seven Kingdoms. But as usual, my heart belongs to adorable Arya Stark, who bonds with brutal Tywin Lannister over the importance of reading while staving off several close calls at exposing her secret identity. I can't believe we're already past the halfway point of this bustling season.

Meanwhile, things are still just starting to percolate on the farcical satire Veep (10/9c), with Selina Meyer's self-absorption in high gear as rumors circulate of a feud with the First Lady — "Is it true that [she] calls you 'Creepy Veepee?'" — and she's so busy trying to pick a suitable dog companion to enhance her image that she fails to pay attention to her daughter, visiting from college and wise enough to wonder, "Don't you yes men ever say no to her?" And in one of the most devastating episodes of Girls (10:30/9:30c) to date, Hannah doesn't know what to make of the graphic "sext" she got on her phone from her kind-of boyfriend Adam or of the hands-on attention she's getting from her new boss. What she should really be worrying about is keeping her journal out of the hands of her roomie's snoopy boyfriend. In the squirmiest subplot, dedicated virgin Shoshanna meets a guy from her summer-camp days, and what happens next is Girls at its gamiest — and funniest. Both shows were renewed this week for a second season, to the surprise of just about no one.

IT'S AN HONOR: In what has become an annual tradition, HBO presents the 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (Saturday, 9/8c), recorded April 14 in Cleveland. (If you miss it the first time around, HBO Signature will show the entire musical ceremony on a 24-hour continuous loop all day Sunday, starting at midnight.) Among the honorees: Beastie Boys, inducted by Chuck D and LL Cool J; Laura Nyro, inducted by Bette Midler; Donovan, inducted by John Mellencamp; Guns n' Roses, inducted by Green Day, with plenty of performances among the speeches. ... And because there simply aren't enough awards shows these days, Comedy Central airs its second Comedy Awards (Sunday, 9/8) with Jon Stewart and Robert De Niro presenting Don Rickles the "Johnny Carson Award for Comedic Excellence," Robin Williams taking home the "Stand-Up Icon Awards," and the channel's own Key & Peele reprising their shtick of President Obama's "anger translator" Luther (a bit Obama himself recently praised on Jimmy Fallon's show).

THE GUIDE: So what else is on this weekend? ... USA Network's In Plain Sight calls it a day in a series finale (Friday, 10/9c) that includes an unexpected (and probably unwelcome) family reunion for Mary and big changes in the WITSEC office. ... Saturday Night Live (NBC, 11:30/10:30c) begins its final stretch of new shows with Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning hosting, and Rihanna as musical guest (her third time). ... Syfy tests your endurance with a one-night, four-hour adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's pirate classic Treasure Island (Saturday, 7/6c), starring Eddie Izzard as Long John Silver, with Elijah Wood (Ben Gunn) and Donald Sutherland (Flint) along for the treasure hunt. ... Breaking Bad's multi-Emmy-winning Bryan Cranston guest-voices on Fox's The Simpsons (Sunday, 8/7c) as movie super-spy Stradivarius Cain, who inspires Homer to become a better husband while recuperating from a concussion. ... The two-hour finale of CBS' The Amazing Race takes the remaining four teams (sadly, not including Bopper and Mark) from Japan to Hawaii, where the finish line and a $1 million payday awaits.

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