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Television: Summer’s greatest drama is upon us

First, an advisory. Pay attention to what you're reading here and try to remember it. It might be dead handy in the coming weeks.

Now then, if you want a good Brit mystery, take note that there's one on tonight.

The Scapegoat (Super Channel, 8 p.m.) is an adaptation, done for ITV in the U.K., of the 1957 Daphne du Maurier novel about a chap who meets his doppelganger and ends up in all kinds of trouble. Matthew Rhys, doing excellent work on FX's The Americans as Soviet spy Phillip Jennings, plays both lead roles – two men not connected in any way, but physically identical.

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It's meaty melodrama, a one-off that's not going to disturb you, but nicely done. A man with few cares happens upon his double in a bar. Much drinking ensues, what with the shock of it and all. Man awakes next morning to discover the doppelganger has legged it and he is left with all the problems his double is fleeing. It was, you can guess, an elaborate trick to allow one man to disappear, leaving behind a wife, child, debts and a business in ruins. You can also guess that the innocent man who has been duped finds it impossible to convince others that he's not the snake who has wiggled out of his problems and fled.

The premise might seem hoary, but remember – mistaken identity is usually a theme for comedy of manners, not angst and desperation. (The du Maurier novel as also the basis for a noir-ish movie made in 1959, with Alec Guinness in the two main roles.)

Rhys is excellent in the lead role here, a man who gradually becomes intrigued by the life into which he is so rudely placed. And around him, the English cast is very good, especially Eileen Atkins as the doppelganger's sour, grim-faced mother. This drama would be a good bet tonight.

You might not want to get yourself tangled up in the hook-ups of Savi (Alyssa Milano) on Mistresses (ABC, CTV 10 p.m.), which returns tonight. Because if you get sucked in, you might be addicted to the ridiculous and pseudo-steamy soap opera all summer. Do you want that?

The Scapegoat is certainly better than The Escape Artist, which arrives on PBS's Masterpiece Contemporary on June 15. In it, David Tennant (Dr. Who, Broadchurch) plays a famously clever London barrister who meets his match when asked to defend a particularly vicious, manipulative killer. Before you can say, "What ho, chaps," the barrister's nice family is in danger and he's got all sorts of personal problems. Those problems and other demons are signalled when our hero goes to buy a pack of cigarettes after first meeting his nemesis.

It is that sort of Brit drama – its twists and turns are telegraphed in neon to let you know something unexpected will occur momentarily. For all of Tennant's skill, The Escape Artist is ridiculous, unsubtle and deeply disappointing.

Why am I telling you this now? Well, it's that time again. The World Cup is almost upon us, and I must start writing about soccer for the sports section. I'll be back to tell you about terrific TV, the hits and misses, after the World Cup trophy is awarded in Brazil, and a short break for me.

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If you need more advance notice of this summer's great TV, take note that the seventh and final season of True Blood starts June 22 on HBO Canada. A week later, one of the summer's new series, The Leftovers, also starts on HBO. Based on the bestselling novel of the same name about a world where some sort of "rapture" has caused a portion of the population to vanish, it looks deliciously gripping with a bracing grimness.

Also coming is Guillermo del Toro's The Strain, a vampire horror drama made in Toronto at great cost. It will, I think, take your breath away. Starts on FX Canada on July 13.

Keep that date in mind. It is also the date of the World Cup final. The story arc of the World Cup is, in truth, the greatest drama of them all. Soccer is the world's game and, for a month every four years, there is one world, and one game. Succumb to it, and you'll see. Right now, follow me to the sports section, if you please.

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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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