Rev., a review

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Rev. (2010-2014) is a TV comedy by James Wood and Tom Hollander, where Hollander plays a reverend of “an inner city church with inner city problems.” Also starring is Olivia Colman, Miles Jupp, Steve Evets, Simon McBurney, and Ellen Thomas. There are three seasons with six episodes per season. Each episode is half an hour long.

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It’s on Hulu and Hulu Plus.

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In season one, Rev. Adam Smallbone (Hollander) and his wife Alex (Colman) are just getting accustomed to the new digs. Their house has been tagged by the local graffiti writers as an easy mark in begging for change (and scammer Mick doesn’t let a day go by without concocting some new story about why he needs the cash), raising money for a church with a broken stain glass window and a roof that’s been stolen in the night take up more of the vicar’s time than the actual preaching, the archbishop won’t stop swooping in to cast judgment on the size of his minuscule congregation, and Adam is finding it difficult to keep his lusty feelings for the school’s headmistress to himself. The few members of the parish include Adoha, who can’t keep her hands off Adam, and the homeless man Colin, who is frequently getting himself into scrapes but always does it out of the kindness of his heart. Ricky Gervais could take a page of this book, as Colin is a much more sympathetic character than Derek‘s Kev.

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What makes this show great is that it isn’t a satire, and it isn’t the church you expect when you think of a British comedy about a church. This is a Church of England church where they’ve done away with much of the Catholic traditions like incense and condemning gay people. Of course, this doesn’t mean that Adam doesn’t feel awkward about it, so he winds up saying, “We’re all gay in the church,” on the One Show, in an attempt to show how accepting they are, but this rubs assisting minister Nigel (Jupp) the wrong way, as he is, as it turns out, gay himself. Adam and Alex are very human. Adam is deeply flawed. We hear his prayers, which are often sidetracked. You do sympathize with him because you can see how hard he’s trying, but by the end of the first season, during his ontological despair, you lose sympathy for him because he gets hammered at a vicars-and-tarts party and tries to get off with the school headmistress (resulting in him getting poked in the eye with his own false mustache). Alex is a strong woman who allows him to waver but only to a pre-determined point where she can put her foot down. We see their relationship be romantic, sexy (she follows him into a grocery store dressed as a prostitute), stale, and in trouble (Adam’s new best friend is an old boyfriend of Alex’s). Surprisingly, Adam fails to win the audience back in season 2. I suppose you can only take so many episodes in a row of the reverend’s flaws coming to the foreground–lust, jealousy, over-competitiveness, losing his godchild–before you start to wonder why Alex bothers putting up with him.

Darren Boyd as the visiting preacher

Darren Boyd as the visiting preacher

Another thing that makes the show great is the familiarity of the situations. There’s a terrific episode in season 1 guest-starring Darren Boyd as a preacher from a visiting church. This church is filled with young, beautiful people drinking smoothies. The preacher is more of a hippie showman (Isn’t Jesus awesome?). They even have an interlude with a hip hop singer. As over-the-top as it might seem, I attended a church exactly like this (except there were mocktails instead of smoothies) my freshman year in college. After a few times, I had to bow out, with a creeping sensation I had joined some kind of cult.

As the show goes on, it gets darker and darker. Adam lets temptation get the better of him and he lets down his whole parish, as well as Nigel. Alex again forgives him, and they stay together–they have a daughter now, after all. This allows some humor to seep in, but it doesn’t cancel out the overall feeling of disappointment in Adam’s failures or the doom looming over him as his church is marked for destruction. As Adam sinks into depression, Alex has to pick up his duties, including giving a funeral to Colin’s dog after Adam declined to help. True to life, the show does not end happily ever after, but it doesn’t end without hope. It is not a light comedy by any means but instead digs deep into philosophical as well as everyday life questions.

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