Grittier 'Grantchester': Murder mystery gets heavier in season 3

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Jacqueline Spendlove / TV Media
Morven Christie and James Norton as seen in "Grantchester"

Morven Christie and James Norton as seen in "Grantchester"

There are a few things I've learned from British television: You should always offer your guests tea, hats are essential ladies' wedding attire, and clergy folk have much more thrilling jobs than I thought they did.

I can't immediately name a priest- or vicar-centric American TV series, but at least half a dozen British ones come to mind with minimal effort. Oddly enough, a respectable number of these involve the lead clergyperson moonlighting as a detective. Are men and women of the cloth particularly suited to solving crimes? If "Father Ted," "Cadfael" and "Grantchester" are anything to go by, then yes, they sure are. The latter of these, another fine "Masterpiece Mystery" offering, has proved to be a hit on both sides of the pond, thanks to its appealing leads and excellently written storylines. Catch a new episode of "Grantchester" when it airs Sunday, July 2, on PBS.

The series is a detective drama that airs on ITV in the U.K. Based on a collection of short stories by James Runcie, it takes place in the 1950s in the titular Grantchester, an arcadian village in Cambridgeshire.

London native James Norton ("Happy Valley") leads the cast as Rev. Sidney Chambers, an amiable (and handsome!) young Anglican priest and former Scots Guards officer. He gets drawn into a murder investigation in the first episode, much to the disapproval of overworked local detective Geordie Keating (Robson Green, "Strike Back").

As it turns out, however, Sidney's intuitive, coaxing technique proves the perfect foil for Geordie's gruff, no-nonsense approach when it comes to questioning suspects and witnesses. From there, an unlikely partnership forms, which grows into genuine friendship off the clock. The two have become a favorite duo on TV right now, thanks in part to the fantastic chemistry between the two actors.

"It's a very unlikely relationship," Green said when interviewed by British lifestyle and entertainment program "Lorraine." "It's very offbeat, very endearing, and it's a relationship that many people care about."

Though the mystery-of-the-week format keeps the series chugging along, the ongoing personal storylines are what really give the show its depth. Season 2 (or series 2, as the Brits call it) saw both Sidney and Geordie dealing with dilemmas of the heart, and viewers were keen to find out where the new season would take their respective relationships.

Sidney's case is a particularly complicated one. Throughout the series, he's been in love with Amanda Kendall (Morven Christie, "The A Word"), an heiress whose marital future lies in her wealthy father's hands, though she returns Sidney's affections. She left her husband at the end of last season, and gave birth to his child in the ensuing Christmas special.

James Norton and Robson Green star in "Grantchester"

James Norton and Robson Green star in "Grantchester"

Now, since openly declaring their (very obvious) feelings for one another, she and Sidney have been living in a sort of limbo; they're enjoying spending time together, but they know that, Sidney's position being what it is, they can't ultimately end up together.

"They're living in denial. They're having a lot of fun, but they are aware that they're star-crossed, because they can't really be together," Norton explained during a visit to "The One Show." "It's love vs. duty ... in the '50s, a vicar wasn't allowed to marry a divorcée, so if she is going to separate from her previous marriage, she becomes unavailable to him."

Geordie may also cause some pursed lips this season. We know he's been happily married to his wife, Cathy (Kacey Ainsworth, "EastEnders"), but there's an obvious attraction to Margaret (Seline Hizli, "Land Girls"), his office secretary, who, you may recall, had a brief relationship with Sidney last season, before he ditched her for Amanda. I won't give away any details, but if you've watched the season thus far, you'll have witnessed certain Geordie-centric activities that have drawn outrage from audiences in Britain, where the full season has already aired.

"The whole series is a lot darker and grittier," Robson told Huffington Post U.K. "Geordie is a father and husband in denial about his situation, but that can only go on for so long. Both he and Sidney are being reckless with matters of the heart."

Of course, there's still as improbable a number of crimes and murders as ever in bucolic Grantchester, so mystery buffs still get their fix. This season more than ever, however, sees the cases of the week mixed in with the main cast's personal lives and internal conflicts.

You'll notice some new faces this season, both among the recurring cast and in one-off roles. Erstwhile "EastEnders" star Gary Beadle joins the series as Gabriel Atubo, the new Archdeacon who twists Sidney's moral knife when he reminds him that a clergyman must put duty above his own needs and lead by example (which is precisely the opposite of what Sidney wants to do right now). Peter Davison, whom "Doctor Who" fans may recognize as the fifth Doctor, appeared in last week's episode as Geoff Towler, a village solicitor and cricket captain who rules his family with an iron fist. Charlie Higson ("Broadchurch") appears later this season as Ronnie Maguire, the husband of Sidney's irascible housekeeper, who's been missing for 10 years.

"Grantchester" is getting deeper and darker with the main characters' storylines, and there are still plenty of murders to be solved. Catch a new episode of the Masterpiece Mysteries series when it airs Sunday, July 2, on PBS.