by Cara Winter
In the BBC’s Rev., Tom Hollander and James Wood have created something wholly unique. And by wholly unique… I mean, I have no idea what I’m watching. Not only have I never seen anything like it, I was for a long time at a loss for words for even how to describe it. Except…I’m in love.
Rev. is a comedy, of that I am sure. Or, at least I think I am. I find it funny – but not CBS- sitcom-laughter-at-precise-intervals-funny. It’s more like a cold dish of awkwardness, smothered in general hesitancy, with a side of human suffering – which, as it turns out, is really, really funny.
Rev. is the story of a small town vicar (the Reverend Adam Smallbone) who’s all of a sudden at the helm of an inner city parish. In addition to co-creating and writing for Rev., Tom Hollander also plays the title character, and in this role he’s absolutely perfect. His characterization of the Rev. is completely original – wistful, earnest, prone to doubt (both of himself and his creator), fond of beer, and occasionally completely nuts. In short, he’s human. And unlike the caricatures we’re so used to when it comes to members of the clergy, the Rev. Adam Smallbone is painfully real; sweet, searching, and maybe a little F’d up. (Sorry, Reverend.)
Not a single person at BBC seems to have complained to the creators that Adam isn’t “cool enough”, so blessedly he’s deeply uncool… which in this show is everything. Because therein lies all the humor, and all the pain. The Rev. Adam is in our world, but he is not of it – and his calling to serve God is precisely what distances him from everybody. Adam’s shock, horror and/or dismay at discovering the godlessness of modern life is terribly amusing; his occasional attempts to join in with the godless are even better. I wonder, how long can one watch one man’s naiveté being shattered into a million tiny little pieces? Forever, that’s how long! It. Just. Never. Stops. Being. Funny.
The supporting cast includes Adam’s wife Alex (Olivia Colman), a solicitor, who unlike her husband is a well-adjusted, smart go-getter, someone who could be at home anywhere (be it London, Suffolk, or Kabul); Nigel (Miles Jupp), a church volunteer who’s convinced he’d do a better job than Adam, if only he were vicar; and Colin (Steve Evets), an aging, brutish, very un-PC parishioner who has some of the best one-liners in the show. Occasionally, Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville drops by as the Reverend Roland Wise, and he’s a delightfully blustering, happy-go-lucky opposite to Hollander’s small, self-conscious servant of God. Rounding out the cast is parishioner Adoha Onyeka (Ellen Thomas) who is sometimes a little too moved by Adam’s sermons, and Adam’s nemesis, the Archdeacon Robert (Simon McBurney) who routinely invites Adam to a meeting in the back of his chauffeured car, only to tire of him and kick him out (usually in the middle of traffic).
The writers on this show are evil, evil geniuses. To Adam’s horror, Colin wonders aloud if Muslims might be “religious ninjas,” and admits to finding Muslim women in their full burkas “sexy”. In another episode, Adam describes the students he’s supposed to be guiding as “feral, apathetic ten year olds”. But my all-time favorite? “Sorry to disappoint you; there are no pedophiles.” You just have to watch, you just have to. The episode entitled “Ever been to Nando’s” is probably my favorite thus far, when the Rev. decides to take a break from being vicar and proceeds to smoke, veg out, binge-eat, and shop lift, followed by more binge-eating, and a nice “wank”.
And just when Rev. has you laughing hysterically, BAM – they sock you in the gut with some plain, old fashioned existential suffering. It’s really, really odd and very, very good. That’s what it is. It’s the very definition of “droll”: amusing, in an odd sort of way.
So, obviously, I’m a fan of Rev., as we all should be. Luckily, all three seasons are available via Hulu Plus. So go get your Hulu Plus on, and go with God.
Cara Winter is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.