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John Doyle: Grantchester is very good – the sleuth, the sermons, the mystery

Easter, then. The Easter bunny, chocolates and, if you lean that way, church.

Speaking of church, Grantchester (Sunday, PBS on Masterpiece Mystery, 9 p.m.) is back, featuring Canon Sidney Chambers as a sleuthing man of the cloth. And it is even more lovely, quiet, moody and engaging than the first season. It is your ideal, cozy British Sunday viewing. The first words heard in this season first episode are, "What the Dickens!"

And little wonder – two chaps take their clothes off, strip to their togs and go swimming. Yes, devotees of handsome fellas in British TV drama should note that James Norton and Robson Greene, who play Sidney and Geordie, are almost naked. And then wet.

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This lightness of the scene gives way to darkness, mind you. See, even in 1950s Cambridgeshire, people are wicked and Sidney is obliged to help policeman Geordie Keating unravel mysteries and solve terrible murders. Such is his burden.

While there is a luxurious softness to Grantchester, there is a sharp tension under the surface. Our vicar Sidney is a troubled man, a veteran who, it seems, was moved to enter the church because of terrible wartime experiences. He is not as innocent as he looks. (And for many viewers there is another issue: James Norton also plays Tommy Lee Royce, the psychopathic ex-con who committed appalling acts of violence on women in Happy Valley. A British review called Royce "2014's most hated TV character.") In fact, this England of Grantchester isn't innocent at all.

In this new and strong episode, a terrible allegation has been made against Sidney. One Abigail Redmond, a 15-year-old, alleges that he had, you know, a thing for her and there was hanky-panky. The police interrogation is shockingly scornful of Sidney Chambers. It then turns out that Abigail likes having her picture taken, in provocative poses. Next thing, Abigail is found dead. Tongues are wagging, and even Geordie is suspicious of him, so Sidney is off the vicar beat but obliged to hang around the vicarage. This being the 1950s, he drinks, smokes and listens to jazz records.

What unfolds might happen today; this story of a teenage girl who is a bit lost, loathes her harsh-talking father and seeks comfort in fantasy. She is, inevitably, exploited by men who have power over her. "That girl was wicked," somebody says of her. But all they mean is that she understood the allure she carried.

It would be easy to dismiss Grantchester, and I did initially. But it has an oddly compelling premise and structure. There is a crime and a puzzle, but there is also the matter of Sidney's angst as an Anglican priest existing in a world where, under the comfy exterior, terrible things happen.

It genuinely pains him that young women are ruthlessly exploited by people who present a polite and pleasant face to him. He is a tolerant man and a reformist Christian. He sees no point in condemnation and sometimes his sermons are remarkable, tortured speeches about the failure of religion and the need for everyone to simply be better people. At the same time, his sidekick Geordie offers a balancing, sobering perspective on life and the society he sees, as a policeman.

It's a fascinating mixture.

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Also airing this weekend

I Am Cait (Sunday, E! Canada, 9 p.m.) is called The Great Debate this week. It deals with Caitlyn Jenner's political conservatism, her loathing of the Democratic Party and its candidates. "Whoever is the Republican candidate, obviously I'm going to vote that direction," Jenner has already declared. Her commitment to deeply conservative politicians has already caused major controversy in the LGBTQ community in which she is, or was, considered a heroine.

Also, don't forget to watch The Circus (Sunday, TMN, 8 p.m.), which is by far the best and most illuminating round-up of the week in the wacky, often frightening U.S. presidential campaign. Essential viewing for its behind-the-scenes vignettes.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More


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