REVIEW: There’s no denying the Brits know how to do a brilliant sitcom.
Many of the most iconic comedies shoehorn more laughs, more poignancy and more subtlety into just a two-series ,six-episode run than most US sitcoms manage in their usual 24-episode seasons.
From Fawlty Towers to The Office, the UK sitcom landscape is littered with comedic brilliance – and it’s also scattered with series that were cruelly overlooked outside of their home countries.
One such title that’s been eclipsed by its ecclesiastical bedfellows is Rev, a brilliantly under-appreciated and heartbreakingly poignant series about a reverend plucked from his rural parish and transplanted into the harsh surroundings of St Saviour, an inner-city London church.
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While The Vicar of Dibley’s trite bucolic blunderings formed endless episodes, Rev took Tom Hollander’s occasionally downbeat man of the cloth Adam and plunged him into the problems of a multi-cultural, multi-faith world – and doesn’t flinch from the realities of life in London and pressures of the church.
From an archdeacon who pushes for increased bums-on-seats, to a wife (Broadchurch’s Olivia Colman) who supports, but doesn’t engage with Adam’s work, Rev ran for just 19 episodes – and every one of them is a perfectly formed pearl of bittersweet recognition and heartfelt exploration of Adam’s fallibilities. It’s important to note that Adam isn’t a buffoon, merely a mortal caught in the daily issues faced by many, and exacerbated by the fact he’s a man of the cloth.
From pressure to put his parish first, to temptations from outside of his marriage, Hollander imbues Adam with more of the human touch than Dawn French managed at any point during her Dibley dalliances.
It’s a sign of how smartly written and how adroitly intelligent the series became, that after the initial run of six episodes, guest stars such as Richard E. Grant, Liam Neeson, Downton’s Hugh Bonneville and Ralph Fiennes were banging on St Saviour’s door to ask to be part of proceedings.
At its heart is Hollander, who anchors every moment and nails every conflict with gusto and reality. Not much is played for broad laughs in Rev – there are moments of bleakness that puncture proceedings, but the grounded touches of the writers, coupled with Hollander’s perfect casting and occasionally hangdog face make this intelligent comedy to be appreciated and savoured like a fine wine.
Blessed with a heart and humanity that’s rare in the flashier sitcom worlds, the gentle Rev is a real tonic for the soul – it’s the authenticity of its actors and the poignancy of its problems that make it a comedy that needs as much faith from its audience, as its beleaguered Adam requires from his God.
Rev will begin streaming on TVNZ OnDemand at midday on November 27.