Posted by: Paul | July 6, 2010

Rev

I really hope there are a lot of people watching this, as it’s the best new sitcom the BBC have produced in as long as I can remember. Better than Jack Dee’s ‘Lead Balloon’ (which despite the fact it wants to be ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm UK’, is very funny). And Miranda Hart and Mitchell and Webb can sing for their supper, because this…this is how it’s done.

Tom Hollander plays East London vicar Adam Smallbone, Reverend of St Saviour In The Marshes, struggling not only with a ridiculous name but a dwindling congregation and increasing irrelevance in the face of modern consumer society. That is, until rumours spread of a favourable OFSTED report for the local affiliated C of E school. Suddenly, both the pews and the coffers are full once more, and Adam finds he’s everyone’s new best friend.

So far, so ordinary. But this is no triumph over adversity story. It’s a brilliant examination of the Church’s place in the 21st century that somehow manages to be sympathetic to all sides. It would be so easy to just poke fun at a ‘cool’ vicar – and they did that to brilliant effect in episode 2 last night with Adam’s evangelical competitor, Darren, champion of Christian hip-hop acts and transformative sermons complete with light shows and plasma screens. But what lifts the show head and shoulders above the sea of other location-shot sitcoms are the characters – beautifully observed, exquisitely played and very, very funny indeed.

Take Adam himself, for instance. Tom Hollander gives him just the right balance of the conciliatory peacemaker and the party wallflower. Socially slightly awkward, but committed to his vocation, his congregation, and his wife. He’s human, he doesn’t need to try to identify with his flock – he is one of them. He smokes. He gets frustrated and boils over – ripping his dog collar off to swear at some troublesome builders was a golden moment at the end of episode one, I almost cheered.

Olivia Colman provides the perfect foil as his wife Alex – an independent woman with her own career, her own needs (some very naughty!), and very much her own mind who brooks no nonsense from Adam or the Church. Their marriage and chemistry is believable, empathetic, and jumps off the screen – you have no need of backstory, their relationship is implicit in their conversation and instinctively absorbed. And the snide, iPhone-toting Archdeacon…what a brilliant creation. If I have one minor criticism it’s that the relationship between Adam and the Archdeacon doesn’t quite work yet – one minute Adam is toadying, the next he’s telling him where to get off. I’m no Church-goer so was a little confused about the hierarchy in play here, and maybe it will become clearer as the series goes on.

As someone who aspires to write this kind of material, Rev is a brilliant example to follow. It really is vintage comedy writing – a realistic setup that finds the funny in the everyday, that needs no gimmicks or Father Ted-style slapstick and village idiot surrealism to make it work.

A friend of mine is an Anglican Vicar himself. I’m going to ask him if he’s watching this, and recommend he does. I’m not sure if he knows I’m an atheist – he might have figured it out from the little hints I drop from time to time – “Do you like Father Ted? My favourite bit in Peppa Pig is the evolutionary wallchart in the museum.” For a non-believer, I’ve spent a great deal of time around the faithful – my best friend at school was a Jehova’s Witness. He was impossible to offend, though I did try very, very hard…!

Rev is on BBC2, 10pm, Mondays. Go watch it on the iPlayer now! I want them to make more!

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