BBC 2, 9pm, April 2014
Rev. is one British television's best recent comedies, so this Easter join me in celebrating TV's most lovable and morally confused vicar.
|Tom Hollander: putting the 'sus' back into Jesus. (Image: BBC)|
I love Rev. Rev. is brilliant. It's promoted as a 'TV comedy', but like all the best series in that category, it's far more than that; like Till Death Us Do Part, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? and Outnumbered it incorporates social comment, a reflection on the human condition and a memorable ensemble cast of characters and performers. It's most appealing factor, though, is a decent man trying to see the good in everything, but who also has to battle with life's frustrations and his own failings. That's something we can all relate to.
Adam Smallbone, 'from Suffolk', is indeed small of bone and often seems dwarfed by the problems he confronts as the vicar of Saint Saviours in the Marshes church in Hackney (in reality Saint Leonard's in Shoreditch, just around the corner from where I used to work. As a typical lazy agnostic, I never even knew the church was there). Looking like a mildly confused Thunderbird pilot and played subtly and appealingly by Tom Hollander, who co-created the series with James Wood, Adam is the central figure in an 'authentic picture of what it's like to be a frontline urban vicar'.
|Most sitcom writers would kill for a line-up like this. |
Rev's certainly more topical than The Vicar of Dibley, which, a female minister aside, could have been set any time in the last forty years. Social issues have ranged from a sudden increase in Saint Saviour's congregation because parishioners want to get their children into a good church school – hence the brilliant catchphrase 'on your knees, avoid the fees' – to Adam grappling with whether or not to conduct a gay marriage as his Bishop doesn't approve of same sex unions. Adam himself is no spotless example of virtue and that adds hugely to the gentle humour and drama. He drinks, he smokes, swears, fancies the local headmistress Ellie (even though he's in a happy marriage) and is prone to black bouts of doubt in his Faith. Hollander's performance is all the more effective as he plays it straight.
This attitude extends to the ensemble cast. It would have been easy to go for a gallery of heightened grotesques like Dibley's back-up characters, but Rev.'s are touched by the kind of believable comic surrealism you find in everyday life. This is because so much of the series' content is drawn from interviews with real church ministers. For instance, Simon McBurney's Archdeacon Robert, coming across as a sly cross between Norman Tebbit and Peter Cushing, continually needles Adam over the (small) size of his congregation and lack of financial resources. The show's production team worried that the relentlessly networking and iPhone obsessed Robert would be too over the top, but after the first series went out, the producers met several vicars who insisted that 'the Bishop's attack dog' had obviously been based on their own Archdeacon.
|Mick. Enough said.|
All of that might might not sound too believable, but, from my own experience of the bizarre situations you can find yourself in after a few ales, not to mention the hair-raising misadventures of my lodger, Rev. completely nails the absurdities of twenty-first century city life.
|Archdeacon Robert:Tony |
Soprano meets the
Archbishop of Canterbury.
That things had clearly changed gear this year could be seen in the episode where Adam joined forces with the local mosque to fund raise for Saint Saviours. It was refreshing to see the Muslim community portrayed as pro-active and open-minded, and there was a bitter-sweet topicality in the Muslims raising more money than the virtually non-existent Christian support, a neat metaphor for the competing religions. Last Monday, though, Rev. approached greatness. George (Nick Sidi) joined the congregation and, as a high flying ex-corporate accountant, potentially offered Adam a way out of the church's financial difficulties. The problem was George was a sex offender; not a paedophile, but a viewer of an appalling '30,000' images of child pornography. However, he'd been to prison, knew what he'd done was wrong and was now in therapy.
|Colin: Christianity meets |
casual violence. (Image: BBC)
Third time around, Adam and Alex's marriage is even more acutely bitter-sweet. In trouble for a snog and fondle with Ellie, Adam is thrown out of the vicarage, the cue for some great sitcom moments of him sharing digs with Nigel and Colin. The Smallbone's split, though, remains in your mind due to the way Alex defines her hurt in such an earthily poetic way: 'It's not about the willys and the tits, it's about the hearts, and you've broken mine.'
|Nigel: not a man to find |
yourself alone with.
And watch out for the nun-shaped salt and pepper shakers and recurring dog poo. Priceless.
Created by: Tom Hollander and James Wood. Director: Peter Cattaneo. Cast: Reverend Adam Smallbone (Tom Hollander), Alex Smallbone (Olivia Colman), Archdeacon Robert (Simon McBurney), Nigel McCall (Miles Jupp), Colin Lambert (Steve Evets), Adoha Onyeka (Ellen Thomas), Ellie Pattman (Lucy Liemann), Mick (Jimmy Akingbola)