In the thirty minutes a day I exercise on my elliptical, I watch television to keep my mind somewhat occupied. The majority of programs I’ve chosen lately are British (The Thick of It, Line of Duty), Scottish (The Book Group), and Irish (Single-Handed). If not for closed-captioning, I’d have been lost; oh, they spoke “English” (mostly) but I admit I’ve fine-tuned my ears to understand their pronunciations.
A week ago, my post Jesus Is Awesome! touched briefly on a British television show currently offered by Hulu. Having now watched the first six episodes (a “season” in American television parlance, but the Brits dub it “Series 1”) of Rev., I’ll expand on my initial comments.
Rev., thankfully, requires less work, but I still like the closed-captions. Rev. Adam Smallbone, the central character, serves an inner-city East London church that suffers from financial worries including a dingy decaying building and dwindling attendance. The vicar’s wife Alex hardly fits the stereotypical role; she has a career as a solicitor and secrets from her past that complicate the marriage. With her sensible approach and non-hysterical manner, she is long-suffering but will go toe-to-toe with her man when there’s a clash. It’s clear she loves Adam.
The supporting cast supplies adequate challenges that are easily recognizable for almost anyone who has attended church. The people are imperfect creatures; they represent the gamut of chronically lonely, intrusive, conniving, outright liars, poseurs and self-important schemers. Adam, whose own shortcomings don’t get glossed over, deals with each situation and manages to cope. The show mixes humor, a decent story line, and honest characters and questions.
ASIDE: For Downton Abbey fans, there’s a surprise appearance of Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) in episode four. The actor plays rival vicar Roland Wise, whose media persona causes Adam to feel envious. But Adam learns all is not what it seems, and Lord Grantham’s normal stiff-upper-lip stolidity vanishes. Oh, the humanity!
The sixth episode should not have surprised me, but it did. For anyone who has suffered a crisis of faith, Rev. displayed the comedic side as well as the despair with equal effect. An anonymous poster on a Christian website has graded Adam’s most recent sermon with a minus-one on a ten-point scale, noting the sermon (that ran about 2 minutes) was at least 3 minutes too long. Everyone (except Adam of course) has viewed the scathing review and Adam only finds out about it when his supervisor delivers the news in person. (This troublesome, arrogant Archdeacon periodically comes around for the sole purpose to remind Adam of his deficiencies.)
We watch Adam descend into quiet despondency. Initially, he tries to shrug it off − it’s only one comment, he reminds himself. But the hurt is real … and God doesn’t seem to be listening or responding to the vicar’s lament. (I don’t want to spoil it for you. Suffice to warn, if you’re not comfortable seeing a drunken priest at his worst, don’t watch the episode. Also, doctrinal purists might want to steer clear.)
In the 22-minute episode, the vicar’s downward spiral escalates quickly. First, he bares his soul to a friend and the friend responds with predictable pap: “Be real, be yourself.” Adam agrees, immediately informing his friend just what he thinks of him. Naturally, the friend is incensed and leaves with hurt feelings.
Soon thereafter, Adam leers at his wife’s attractive friend, inviting her to have lunch with him at Nando’s. He implies he hopes to turn lunch into an amorous encounter. When she demurs, he backs away, but later directly propositions her.
Adam lashes out, acts out, buries his feelings of inadequacy in a bottle. He curses his level-headed wife (whom he’s never taken to Nando’s).
All the while, we see (I see) the palpable tension weighing him down because he can’t shake the call of God on his life. He’d reject that calling, cast a middle finger towards Heaven, but he can’t.
I’ve been there. Maybe it was my personal experience empathizing, but Adam’s honest portrayal moved me, called up intense memories deep within my soul. I could not help but appreciate a genuine and unreserved truth-telling. Both writers and actors took a risk. This is a “comedy” after all.
Series 2 (with seven episodes) follows. A third series of six episodes will air in 2014. I’m looking forward to viewing the next episodes, hopeful the program will maintain a similar level of integrity to what I’ve watched so far.
And if ever I discover a restaurant named Nando’s, I’ll be sure to give it a try. (Wanna meet me there?)