Are you there God? If so, just a couple of questions. Why do you allow there to be kids who don’t know what World War II is? Why did you send that reviewer on my one bad day, was that what I deserve? Why is the graveyard strewn with litter? Why do Nazi’s always live til they’re 96? Why are there no more bumblebees? Why do African women get raped every day by boy soldiers going to get water for their starving village?
So I started watching this show because I like Tom Hollander a great deal and who doesn’t like a religious comedy. All two of them you’ve ever heard of. Well, here’s a third! It’s called Rev. (2010-2011). Irritatingly, I came by this show and watched Episode 1 (going fine) then, strangely Episode 5 was next. How strange.
Well, I’ll skip that one and go on to the second episode as God intended. But God had other plans. Like a fool, I thought my computer, that–though I sometimes suspect the contrary–does not actually have a will of its own, decided to counter the laws of alphabetization and go from 1 to 5 to 2. Strange.
In my defense, I didn’t know that there was a second season. As one should suspect when living in this country, despite the fact that there is absolutely no reason for any separation of TV culture with this wonderful internet thingy, all news is old news when it comes to British TV.
It hurts to admit it, but every wonderful show that I now love with passion came to me months after it aired in the UK–Wallander (2008-), Sherlock (2010-) (hat tip, Pat O’Brien), Spaced (1999-2000) (hat tip to either Will Li or James Collins, I can’t remember), That Mitchell and Webb Look (2006-2010) (hat tip, Netflix), and the many mother-introduced shows (Outnumbered (2007), Doc Martin (2004-), Miranda (2009-), and classics Good Neighbors (1975-78), Black-Adder (1982-1989), Yes Minister (1980-88), A Bit of Fry and Laurie (1987-95)) I obviously came to know well after they came out.
So, basically, I watched them all out of order. On the bright side, that doesn’t seem to matter at all.
The Rev. Adam Smallbone (Hollander) is a human being with human flaws. No, he’s not so “human” as to have a crack addiction or an unhealthy attraction to young ladies–more mainstream humanity. He drinks, he smokes, tries to quit, fails at that, tries to get his wife (Olivia Colman) pregnant, fails at that. On top of this, he’s running St. Savior’s on the Marshes in the middle of London–not a hotbed of mainstream church fervor.
He has to satisfy the bureaucratic and pompous Archdeacon (Simon McBurney–far right in full cast picture). He has to deal with the boorish Colin (Steve Evets) and the officious/boring Nigel (Miles Jupp). Then there’s the hot headmistress of the church school, Ellie Pattman (Lucy Liemann), the school being the only good thing about St. Savior’s. Those are just the routine satisfyings he has to do.
Much of the program is dedicated to Adam getting into awkward positions–as every sitcom is–and much of that has to do with the accounts for the church. In probably the funniest episode (Season 1, Episode 2), this problem is dealt with by a youth-oriented sermonizer Darren coming in and turning the creaky old church into a creaky old church with couches and tv screens. Oh, you thought they were only in the US. Not quite.
Adam is a priest and a human, and that’s a tough balance. I think it must have required a very strong focus on what the show was about to keep it from devolving into a church-bash. By the way, this show is absolutely not anti-religious. I’m not sure I’d describe it as pro-religious, but sometimes Adam is allowed a seriously poignant moment where his Christianity brings him solace or cheer. How tempting it must be to dive into inconsistencies or the politicizing of churches and the hypocrisy that naturally ensues. And yet, it remains mostly clean.
The leading figures in the show are Adam and Colin. Colin doesn’t always understand much about his religion and certainly not the liberal Church of England’s views on multiculturalism and tolerance. He’s also a drunk, a drug user, and dabbles in alternative religions (which usually end in his beating someone up). Adam is a bit of a wimp–he is a vicar, after all–and most of the comedy comes from his inability to stand up for things. But standing up for things, ironically (or is it paradoxically), is not really a vicar’s job. As for the supporting cast, they are admirable.
The fact that I couldn’t tell I was watching out of order–let alone Series 1 from 2–is a very good sign for the show. It’s absolutely hilarious and consistent to boot. Every episode is enjoyable, never a miss. Some, like S01E02, reach into that upper register of laughing that embarrasses me sometimes. In others, there’s some serious drama happening. This is a lesson US producers could take to heart–a sound, human drama relates to people and that allows the comedy to keep resonating.
Perhaps the reason the US has few (if any) shows about priests is that we have no official religious sect. Thus, a show would have to choose one and that would (in an executives mind, anyway) segregate the viewership. Then you have to give this priest a social life–otherwise what’s the show about?–and that rules out the Catholics already. Then you’d have to give them some poor traits and an American audience just won’t wear that, will they? Who knows?
Buy Rev., buy it now. Beware, you’ll need a region-free DVD player.