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'Grantchester' review: Still as gentle as a summer shower

Tom Brittney (l) as Will Davenport and Robson

Tom Brittney (l) as Will Davenport and Robson Green as Geordie Keating in "Grantchester." Credit: Kudos/ITV/Masterpiece

SERIES "Grantchester"

WHEN|WHERE Season 5 premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. on WNET/13

WHAT IT'S ABOUT "Grantchester" returns Sunday for its 5th season, but that's hardly the big news — this will be the first full season without Sidney Chambers (James Norton) as the vicar who moonlights as a sleuth. (Thanks to "Grantchester," Norton is now a reasonably big star, and most recently was in Greta Gerwig's Oscar-nominated "Little Women.") On Sunday, a young woman who is a student at a prestigious local college is found dead, floating in a pond. A victim of a hazing incident gone wrong? Or a murder victim? The local constabulary — headed by the redoubtable Geordie Keating (Robson Green) — will find out, with a little help from the new local vicar, Will Davenport (Tom Brittney). 

MY SAY Unbeknown to most shut-ins during the recent crisis, "Grantchester" had quite the moment. For a few other shut-ins like me, that moment may have often come about in this manner: After a long day trying to cut our own hair, bake our own bread, find our way past (or through) whatever recommendation Netflix or Amazon Prime had insisted upon, we'd inevitably come back to "Grantchester." 

Easy enough to do (it is on Prime). Then, settling in, after about 35 or so minutes, we'd fall into a deep slumber. Or I did anyway. 

That's right: "Grantchester" was and remains the perfect sedative, a narcotizing anodyne unrivaled anywhere on television, unless you count C-SPAN.

If this sounds like a criticism, it's not. Vaguely progressive and vaguely conservative, also vaguely secular and vaguely nonsecular, "Grantchester'' has always comfortably occupied an ambiguous middle ground. That's unusual for television, particularly for procedurals which abhor ambiguity much as nature abhors vacuums. As viewers, we're constantly prodded to make value judgments because those keep us awake past the last commercial break so we can make certain those judgments have been validated. 

Not fussy, lovely "Grantchester." (There are no commercials.) All we want to know is whodunit, assuming we're still awake. Invariably, we always guess right if we are. 

 For you newbies out there, "Grantchester" is the simulacrum of so many British period dramas. A patina of tradition, custom and heritage covering everything and everyone. England's green and pleasant land stretching off into the distance. The righteous honor of Blighty both latent and assumed in every frame. Geordie, of course, is the personification of that.

 For fans, what about this newcomer, Will Davenport? Fans already know. He joined midway through the fourth, and he is perfect. If not exactly gender-fluid, Will is in fact preference-vague (that word again). As a celibate, we can guess about his orientation, but we hardly care. Nevertheless, there is something Hamlet-like about Will: Could his Ophelia be turning up in some future episode?

Geordie, as always, remains Geordie. He never walks past a pint without draining it. He never starts a case without having a man of God by his side. (Yeah — weird, which even he acknowledges.) His tie has remained loosened throughout four seasons, although (spoiler alert) there is a scene Sunday when his tie is not loosened. 

So, hurrah. "Grantchester" is back. "Grantchester" is still good. "Grantchester" — even without Sidney — is still "Grantchester."

Meanwhile (and please don't take this the wrong way, "Grantchester") thanks for all the good nights' sleep.

 BOTTOM LINE Still as gentle as a summer shower, even if there is a brutal murder to solve.   

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