PASADENA, Calif. — The young vicar is eye candy. His crime-fighting partner, a police detective, is middle-age sexy.
As played by James Norton and Robson Green, the characters make PBS’ “Masterpiece” series “Grantchester” (airing 9 p.m. Sunday) a far cry from “Father Brown,” another British TV show about a man of the cloth with a taste for sleuthing.
Brown is solidly avuncular. Norton’s Sidney Chambers is handsome, moody and passionate about God, jazz, whiskey and women — especially his ex, now well if not happily married — and cracking cases in his English village of Grantchester.
Green’s Detective Geordie Keating, a tough lawman and dedicated family man, is adjusting to his unorthodox partnership with Chambers but not his bachelorhood. Keating recommends marriage, although the vicar’s life is well-tended by brisk housekeeper Mrs. Maguire (Tessa Peake-Jones), and the detective’s own fidelity is tested in season two.
Norton is popping up regularly on TV these days, in projects including “War & Peace” and Netflix’s new “Happy Valley.” Green is a veteran leading man whose extensive credits include the series “Touching Evil” and “Wire in the Blood.”
The pair click on-screen as the hard-charging cop and sensitive vicar. In an interview, Norton and Green bantered and traded compliments as they discussed male bonding and rough waters ahead for their characters.
Q: This is your first project together and you’re both leads. Was there an adjustment period?
Norton: I remember the first scene we shot. I knew he was a good guy. You work in the industry and hear things.
Q: You heard rumors about him?
Norton (smiling): Oh, awful. No, he comes with a great reputation. But it was very apparent early on. You turned to me after a couple takes and said, “Oh, you’re good.” And similarly it was immediately apparent he’s a master. This guy’s got more TV hours than anyone in the U.K.
Q: Chemistry is key in an on-screen romance. Also true with a buddy pairing?
Green: Yes. In series two, it’s all about fracturing the relationship, jeopardizing it. But the conflict all has to come out of, “I don’t want to lose you as a friend.” It comes out of a genuine affection and caring for one another.
Norton: But they never talk about it: “I love you, man.” It’s so fun to play with, two men who have such affection for one another, in the 1950s, but aren’t able to tell one another. ... It’s done through backgammon or beer or little gestures.
Q: How does “Grantchester” compare with others in the long line of British mystery series?
Green: Even though it rings of formulaic stuff that’s been on before, we haven’t seen this kind of relationship on British TV, where you really care about the two guys who are pursuing the criminals.
Norton: What sets us apart is there’s less of an emphasis on the plot and the whodunit side of it and much more emphasis upon the story lines and arcs. That’s the feedback we got after season one, sometimes negative, that the plots could have been more intricate, but we had to set everybody up. Now, in the second series, we’ve done the setting up, done the introductions, and the plots are much stronger as a result. But they’re still secondary to the characters. ... It’s a why-dunnit, not whodunit.
Q: Does Sidney find love or does his former girlfriend still have his attention?
Norton: She will always have his attention. It’s a Ross and Rachel thing (he grimaces). Awful reference, but we just saw the “Friends” cast reunited (on a TV special). Everyone around them knows they (Sidney and Amanda) should be together, they know they should, but they can’t.