Three loudmouth builders evoke The Vicar Of Dibley towards the end of Rev's first episode, as it's unavoidably clear this new BBC2 comedy's premise is the inverse of Richard Curtis's beloved '90s sitcom; with a country reverend having been transferred to a city parish. But beyond that, Rev is stylistically and tonally a completely different beast.
Rev concerns Reverend Adam Smallbone (Tom Hollander), essentially reprising his MP character from In The Loop (with a dog collar), and his daily grind as Anglican vicar of rundown inner-city church St. Saviour's, working alongside Nigel McCall (Miles Jupp) for the approval of Archdeacon Robert (Simon McBurney), with the support of his therapist wife Alex (Olivia Colman). Adam faces various challenges his country life didn't offer, not least the more cynical attitude to religion from a community of vagrants and middle-class parents, who in this opening episode boost sermon attendance as a way to get their kids accepted into the local church-affiliated school.
It's a situation that partly benefits Adam because the Archdeacon's been asking tough questions about attendance figures, although his moral compass is severely tested when a parent called Patrick Yam (Alexander Armstrong) offers to have St. Saviour's broken stained glass window repaired in exchange for preferential treatment regarding his son's enrolment at school.
Rev is nicely filmed by director Peter Cattaneo, who made The Full Monty, and everything has a suitably grubby and urban feel that felt authentic and pervasive. Hollander's also a good dramatic actor with some comic merit, surrounded by an interesting mix of familiar and fresh faces. Peep Show's Olivia Colman was a little wasted here, but will hopefully prove a valuable part of the ensemble, and I especially approve of little-known comedian Miles Jupp as Adam's clerical "sidekick" Nigel. Jupp's standup routine is of a genial, upper-middle-class snob, and he appears to have transplanted some of that feel to this role. Tellingly, the best scene was undoubtedly a brief two-hander between Adam and Nigel as they rehearsed a Bible quiz.
Unfortunately, despite a winning cast and some style that marked Rev out as more comedy-drama than Dibley-esque sitcom, the laughs were few and far between. And even the more obviously successful jokes will only inspire wry smiles or a polite giggle. Still, it can take awhile for comedies to find a groove, and there's potential in the concept. It'll be interesting to see how it progresses, as religion in comedy has typically been treated with a silly attitude (Life Of Brian, Vicar Of Dibley, Father Ted), but Rev has a more down-to-earth feel. A moment when Adam argued against atheism by pondering the mathematical precision of the unnecessary spiral to a snail's shell, verged on the profound. It might actually be interesting to see how they elicit comedy if Rev's not going to broadly poke fun at religious iconography, themes and Bible stories.
But whichever way you cut it, a comedy flies or dies based on how often it makes you laugh, and "On Your Knees Forget The Fees" didn't hit any high-notes. I'm expecting quality with the talent involved, but this just didn't tickle my funnybone.
- Rev (working titled "The City Vicar" and "Handle With Prayer") was co-created by star Tom Hollander and James Wood, who previously worked together on 2008's Freezing.
- You may recognize Lucy Liemann (playing headmistress Ellie Pattman) from last year's Reggie Perrin remake. Simon McBurney is also the voice of Kreacher in the Harry Potter films, and there's a physical resemblance there.
WRITER: James Wood
DIRECTOR: Peter Cattaneo
CAST: Tom Hollander, Olivia Colman, Steve Evets, Miles Jupp, Lucy Liemann, Simon McBurney, Ellen Thomas, Alexander Armstrong, Hermione Gulliford, Lu Corfield, Ben Willbond, Matthew Fenton, Ravin J. Ganatra & Ricky Champ
TRANSMISSION: 28 JUNE 2010 - BBC2/HD, 10PM