Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Rev, BBC Two

Here's a review of tonight's opening episode of Rev that I wrote for Orange. I went into it with quite a bit of goodwill, but was disappointed by it. 

It's apparently aiming at a more realistic view of the contemporary role of the clergy (and the press pack puts great weight on the research Tom Hollander and writer/co-creator James Wood did), but a lot of the characters still seemed cartoonish. 

Also, more seriously, it just wasn't that funny (although others might find a bit more comedy of recognition in the stuff about parents doing whatever's necessary to get their kids into highly rated schools).

Unfortunately, Rev also clashed with tonight's two-part series finale of 30 Rock on Comedy Central, which was so jammed with gags that we had to keep pausing and rewinding to catch up with them. 

I know they're very different programmes made in different styles and production systems, but even allowing for Rev's more "gentle" approach, it was a stark contrast. 

When you think about vicars and you think about sitcoms, one word looms large at the front of your mind: Dibley. Still, despite not being a fan, I came to Rev with an open mind, as its urban setting promised something different. Was my faith rewarded? Not a prayer. 

The show stars Tom Hollander – who co-created it with writer James Wood – as the Reverend Adam Smallbone (snigger), a thoughtful vicar who has been transferred to a struggling inner-city church. And it's keen to show how vicars can be just as sweary, drinky, smokey and lusty as the rest of us. He even says “big bazoomas”!

The first episode saw Adam struggling to raise money to repair a broken stained-glass window. However, when word got around that the church school was in line for a good Ofsted report, his dwindling congregation suddenly received a boost from ambitious middle-class parents keen to get their sprogs into the school. 

Adam was left with a dilemma. If he wanted the money to fix his window, he'd have to get the kid of the boorish local MP (Alexander Armstrong – the MP, that is, not the kid) into the school. However, for the hardass head teacher (Lucie Liemann) to play ball, he'd also need to bump a local couple from their wedding day so that her sister could have a half-term wedding.

As that little synopsis indicates, for all its urban dressing, Rev is still very middle-class. Fair enough for a BBC Two sitcom about a vicar, but unfortunately that extended to all the working-class characters becoming paper-thin stereotypes; lairy builders, an aggressive taxi driver, the dim couple running a pub – we had the lot. 

Rev has got a first-rate cast – Tom Hollander's restrained performances is very watchable and Olivia Colman (his solicitor wife) and Steve Evets (his keenest – and most drunken – parishioner) are always welcome – but it falls down on one big hurdle: it just isn't very funny. A few smirks and one or two chuckles, maybe, but certainly no guffaws.

But, for all that, at least it isn't another series of Two Pints of Lager... Thank God for small mercies, eh?

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