"A simple moniker for a complicated monster." That's how a rattled Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) describes "M.," his nemesis from across the pond, whose bloody M.O. is on display in a New York crime scene that threatens to send the genius sleuth off the deep end into rogue vigilantism in a first-rate and pivotal episode of CBS' enjoyable Elementary (10/9c). Even an amateur Sherlock-ian knows what that "M." stands for and signifies: "The greatest puzzle you'll ever come across," taunts an adversary.
It's somewhat surprising that CBS didn't wait until next month's post-Super Bowl episode to introduce the legendary villain (aka Moriarty) to this contemporary adaptation. But his entrance comes at a key moment, as Watson (Lucy Liu) weighs her allegiance to her troubled charge as she prepares to move on. "I'm going to miss this," she tells Sherlock, suggesting one last therapeutic powwow before she packs her bags. "Reflection is for mirrors," Sherlock snaps, but along comes "M." to force him to look deep into his own tragic and drug-clouded past and rally his extraordinary talents to take down this fiendish serial killer in a second chance at justice. Naturally, this being the first season of a potentially long-running series, this likely won't be the last time "M." is heard from. Let's just hope it doesn't become as tiresome and endless a distraction as Red John often seems on The Mentalist.
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WHITE HOUSE MESSES: Even by this melodrama's crazy standards, the first new episode in 2013 of ABC's Scandal (10:02/9:02c) is a feverish riot. Framed for the president's attempted assassination in last month's cliffhanger, poor weird Huck (Guillermo Diaz) is in CIA custody, being treated to "enhanced interrogation" techniques like waterboarding and beatings to force a confession. "This is not America. This is the Pentagon," a spook tells troubled U.S. Attorney David Rosen (Joshua Malina), who adds this dilemma to the very busy plate of Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington). She's also caught up in Oval Office intrigue, as her cabal of conspirators — including the First Lady and the Chief of Staff — plot to engineer an ouster of conniving Acting President Sally Langston (the deliciously hissable Kate Burton) by any means necessary. The only one getting a rest during this hour is President Fitz, who still lies in a coma — though that's not the story his allies are spinning.
Fun stuff, and certainly the fastest-moving (and talking) hour on a busy night. Kudos to Shonda Rhimes as well for two bits of cool casting: Norm Lewis (formerly Broadway's Porgy to the Bess of Private Practice alum Audra McDonald) as Olivia's current beau, a conflicted Senate leader, and Jay Johnson (immortalized as Parks and Recreation's hapless Perd Hapley) as yet another TV reporter who seems hopelessly out of the loop.
Playing the White House for intentional laughs, NBC's cute but corny 1600 Penn sitcom officially joins the Thursday lineup, with a replay of the recently sneak-peeked pilot (8:30/7:30c) and a new episode in its regular time period (9:31/8:31). The focus in the new outing moves slightly away from buffoonish First Son Skip (Josh Gad) to his overachieving sister Becca (Martha MacIsaac), when her surprise pregnancy becomes headline news. The old "how will dad take the news" chestnut takes on greater dimension when the blustery Father-Knows-Least figure happens to be the Commander in Chief (Bill Pullman). In the best scene, he commiserates about his domestic crisis with military generals in the War Room, who call him out on his "shoot the messenger" attitude. "That's called leadership," sputters President Gilchrist, only to be told, "It never works that way with your family." The broad comedy in 1600 Penn derives from familiar sitcom clichés being magnified by the Oval Office fishbowl. It's a gimmick that may have trouble holding up to a second term, though the cast is certainly game.
MORE THURSDAY DRAMA: ABC's Grey's Anatomy (9/8c) once again finds itself at the intersection of joy and tragedy, as Bailey's wedding is further derailed by desperate measures to keep Webber's wife Adele (Emmy winner Loretta Devine) alive. ... You may have heard about the "Free Bates" movement among Downton Abbey fans. Maybe it's time to start a "Free Reese" crusade for CBS' Person of Interest (9/8c), as Detective Carter continues to try to outwit the FBI in hopes of springing the mysterious vigilante from custody. While Reese is otherwise engaged, it's Detective Fusco's turn to follow the numbers, with this week's POI an actual supermodel: Karolina Kurkova. ... Only three episodes left for ABC's Last Resort (8/7c), which returns with a busy episode promising a typhoon, a mutiny and a coup back in Washington, D.C.
MORE THURSDAY COMEDY: It's a road "Trek" to Bakersfield for the sci-fi nerds of CBS' The Big Bang Theory (8/7c), who dress up as iconic Star Trek: The Next Generation characters en route to a comic-book convention when Leonard's car is stolen. Make it not so! ... With Up All Night back in the shop for more retooling — consensus reaction: why? — Will Arnett returns to NBC's 30 Rock (8/7c) as the devious Devin Banks, to whom Jack extends an unlikely olive branch in a plot to take control of KableTown. Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer appears as herself, the star of Tracy's new movie. ... Pam infects The Office (9/8c, NBC) with lice, but the real head-scratcher is why anyone would still be watching at this point.
WHAT ELSE IS ON: The bleep police are likely to be extra busy on Bravo, when Kathy Griffin's Kathy talk show returns with a live episode (10/9c) featuring Liza Minnelli and Jane Lynch. ... The remaining Project Runway All Stars (9/8c, Lifetime) head to Paris for inspiration. ... After sifting through Thursday morning's Oscar nominations, see which films the critics preferred, as the CW airs The 18th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards (8/7c).