As TV’s summer takes hold, we covet the few places that have plenty of new shows.
There are the streamers and the premium cable channels of course. There are games on ABC, reality competitions on NBC, quirks on CW, news everywhere. And, especially, there’s PBS.
PBS had already planned a cascade of women’s-rights shows, leading to Aug. 26, the 100th anniversary of the right to vote. It has quickly injected coverage of COVID-19 and of race relations. And it also has what it does best – elegantly crafted British shows each Sunday.
That starts this week (June 14, check local listings), with a 1-2-3 touch: At 8 p.m., a portrait of Prince Albert; at 9, the season-opener of “Grantchester” (shown here); at 10, the debut of “Beecham House.”
The Albert special is just a one-shot, to be followed June 21 by the three-part “Lucy Worsley’s Royal Myths & Secrets.” But the dramas continue all summer, joined in August by “Endeavour.”
There is one catch here. (There always seem to be.) Both “Grantchester” and “Beecham” have some story problems. Still, they are done with such class that we’ll semi-forgive any flaws. Details include:
– “GRANTCHESTER:” Based on short stories by James Runcie, this is set in the 1950s, in a sweet-looking village alongside Cambridge. An earnest Anglican priest (James Norton) helped solve crimes with Geordie Keating (Robson Green), a weary cop who’s a World War II veteran.
The result has been popular – so much so that Norton became a star and left early in the fourth season. By happy coincidence, the new priest, Will Davenport (Tom Brittney), also happens to be young, handsome, single and fond of solving crimes.
Will is a former rich kid with a disapproving mother, a motorcycle and a tenuous romantic history. He has rediscovered celibacy (not an Anglican requirement), to the dismay of an attractive local reporter.
These are richly developed characters, especially when you add Will’s assistant (a closeted gay), their housekeeper (a temporarily happy newlywed) and Geordie’s hectic family. Indeed, “Grantchester” spends so much time on the characters that its mysteries are sometimes thin and quickly settled … with confessions blurted out with astonishing ease.
That’s true of the June 14 opener, which has some young Cambridge women clinging to secrets. Twice they try to be hidden in a woods that seems to be maybe three trees deep.
The second episode (June 21) is much better, with a hit-and-run driver, a reclusive gardener and more. The third (June 28), with murder in a movie theater, is fairly good; the fourth (July 5), is quite depressing. Despite the plot flaws, however, “Grantchester” is written, acted and filmed with the subtle skill we expect from the British.
– “BEECHAM HOUSE:” Now we’re late in the 18th century, with the British and the French clutching for the soul (and the riches) of India.
Arriving is John Beecham, who is sort Hasselhoffish, both in his look (tall and handsome) and his range (limited). We meet him in a brief, shoot-em-up prologue, then see him reach his massive Delhi estate.
Once a soldier for the East India Trading Company, he now plans to be an honest trader … if he gets permission. By the end of the first hour, we’ve met two young and single Englishwomen plus his privileged mother, his wayward brother, a mystery baby and lots of Indian workers.
Most of the chaeracters fit convenient stereotypes. Performances are adequate, hampered by stiff dialog. We would switch away from this … except the settings are so elegant and this airs in the summer, when we really appreciate a healthy burst of new British dramas.