REV, SERIES 3
Tom Hollander and Olivia Colman shine, as per usual, in this black, brilliantly understated study of a priest in his failing London parish.
I think ‘comedy’ is something of a misnomer for Rev, which recently finished its third (and possibly final) series on BBC Two. Those who’ve been keeping tabs on Reverend Adam Smallbone (Tom Hollander) up until now will know that the perpetually droll, knackered and winningly normal priest at St. Saviour’s Church in Hackney is not having a great time of it with his parish. Well, for a change, he’s having the best time of it early on in this series, when wife Alex (Olivia Colman) gives birth to their daughter part-way through the first episode.
And so it’s all fun and games to begin with – there’s a pleasing bit of multi-faith cooperation (just one of the many contemporary issues which this series tackles with great sensitivity) when Adam teams up with a local Imam to raise funds to refurbish the local playground. But after that it all starts to go rapidly downhill for our rev. Life (as always) begins to get in the way of his attempts to keep running his church when it gets into financial difficulty. I won’t spoil the ins and outs of it, but we get misunderstandings and mistakes galore, and so the whole enterprise, rather than being laugh-out-loud funny, is just human instead. And that is no bad thing. It becomes more than a comedy, or even a drama, or even a tragicomic drama. It just seems to be, purely and simply, life, full of its gallery of rogues, smarmy types, loveable idiots and people just trying to do the right thing.
Speaking of which, all of the old cast are back here. Miles Jupp’s goofy parish accountant Nigel is as insufferable as ever (and has a crucial role to play in this series), alongside the obligatory smarmy type, Archdeacon Robert (Simon McBurney), whose role consists solely of being snide to Adam’s face every once in a while. Devoted parishioner and drunkard Colin (Steve Evets, who you always get the sad impression is playing something close to himself) also makes a return, and is as hopeless as ever.
And it’s undoubtedly the human drama which takes centre stage here, maybe even more so than before – there are few remaining laughs to be wrung out of religion after two series, and so writers Hollander and James Wood focus more on what it means to be not just a priest, but a good person in an increasingly murky world. We don’t just laugh at the absurdities this time round, we wince because they’ve come very close to the truth. Sometimes people make mistakes, and life isn’t always a fairytale. This series of Rev dispenses with the normal comedy approach of having everything tied up in a neat bow at the end, because life isn’t always like that, and problems take time to be solved. So yes, ‘comedy’ isn’t quite the right description, but that doesn’t stop this series being a cracker of a piece of telly in its own deep, dark, reflective way.
So this, especially in its later episodes, comes across more as a meditation on all manner of things than a belly-laugh way to end your day – and it’s one which people have taken to their hearts, with strong viewing figures and good reviews. If the number of star actors who appear throughout this series is anything to go by, Rev’s stock has never been higher, and so that makes Tom Hollander’s announcement that this may likely be its final series all the more sad. However, all good things come to an end, and although I hope this isn’t quite it for Adam and his parish, I’m certainly glad that it started.
So all hail Rev, perhaps the first-ever TV lifedy. We need more stuff like this on our screens, which isn’t afraid to be realistic, and reminds us what is possible when we’re all for one and one for all. Ties in quite nicely with something else, when I think of it. It transcends its origins as a comedy and becomes something else entirely – whether that’s an intentional metaphor or not, I don’t know. But I hope that this is not the end of the road for the show, because at times, amongst the darkness, there were moments of real beauty and plucky human spirit (Holy or otherwise). Amen to that.