The other week Simon Hoggart had a go at Rev — the new comedy about an inner city vicar played by Tom Hollander (BBC2, Monday) — and I don’t blame him.
The other week Simon Hoggart had a go at Rev — the new comedy about an inner city vicar played by Tom Hollander (BBC2, Monday) — and I don’t blame him. We had a similar reaction in our household when we watched about ten minutes of the first episode before deciding it wasn’t for us and switching off.
And now it’s our favourite must-watch comedy of the week. What happened? Did James Woods’s scripts suddenly sharpen up? Did the superb cast raise their acting skills a notch? Of course not. The only thing that had changed was us — i.e., me and the Fawn. All the things we had decided on first glance were irritating, cloying, overworked, implausible and stupid, we now found charming, touching, characterful, nicely observed and clever. (I remember just the same thing happening with Friends, Frasier and The Office: a good sitcom presumes on you with a confidence that initially you find rebarbative.)
Take the wife, beautifully played by Olivia Colman (from Peep Show). She can hardly keep her hands off her husband — the Revd Smallbone — and your immediate reaction is to go, ‘Yeeuuchh! Help! They’re one of those hideous married couples that do it all the time.’ But then, once you become accustomed, you begin to think, ‘No. Actually it’s rather nice. Here’s a decent middle-class bloke with a worthy but shit job, a scuzzy house and no prospects, but his wife still really loves him and it’s great she tries to spice up their sex lives by surprising him in the supermarket dressed as a tart because, hey, what else does a C of E vicar have to console himself with in this vale of tears?’
And I love the subsidiary characters: Mick (Jimmy Akingbola) the frighteningly realistic wild-eyed loon who keeps knocking on the door to beg for money or the use of the loo; Colin (Steve Evets) the down-and-out, like a much more likeable and less overdone refugee from Shameless; and, yes, the gloriously devious yet oddly endearing Archdeacon Robert (Simon McBurney) with his bone-dry cynicism and all the pressing media events he has to attend, from the soft launch of the new Gordon Ramsay to ‘Chris Hitchens’s book launch’.
Does it capture what it’s really like to work in the Church of England today? Probably not hugely. I’d suggest that Revd Smallbone is far less PC than his global warming-obsessed real-life counterparts are, and that also he’d either be much more smells-and-bells high church than he is, or much more happy clappy. But, then, you don’t sit through Father Ted going, ‘No. It just wouldn’t happen. Irish Catholic priests simply aren’t that ignorant of religious doctrine...’ And there are moments that ring horribly true, like when a jeans-wearing, Holy Trinity Brompton-style, Tristram Hunt-esque pretty boy evangelical tries to hijack Revd Smallbone’s honest Palladian church with his screen projections, his comfy chairs, his fruit smoothies, his pet rapper and his congregation of groovy young sexual abstinents.
Oh, and one more thing hugely in its favour. It’s not The Vicar of sodding Dibley.
My Weird and Wonderful Family (C4, Wednesday) was a documentary calculated to push one’s ‘tolerance’ to the very limits. It was about Tony and Barrie Drewitt-Barlow, who infamously became the first British gay couple to father twins (via a surrogate mother in California and a cheque for £250,000).
The children themselves — a girl and two boys — seemed perfectly well-balanced and entirely comfortable with their lives with ‘Dad’ and ‘Daddy’ in their neo-classical Essex mansion. But you did find yourself worrying about the vulgarity, tastelessness and sublime lack of good judgment the female half of the duo — Barrie — seemed determined to foist on his poor, innocent offspring.
We saw him give his nine-year-old girl a mink coat for her birthday with the words ‘I don’t care who throws paint at you…’, pinching one of his kids’ (gay) schoolteacher’s bottom at a parents evening and appearing in the school pantomime as the Dame. Off-camera, we learnt that one or two other parents had objected to this and the children had had to be withdrawn from the school.
Mind you, the heterosexual mums featured on My Child’s Big Fat Birthday Party (BBC1, Monday) were no better. Jodean had spent around £15,000 on her son Anton’s seventh birthday because ‘I love him more than all the stars in all the skies. I can’t do enough for him. He is absolutely precious and he is the reason I breathe.’ Another mum had squandered similar sums investing in a ‘winter wonderland’ party, featuring reindeer, meerkats and a festive skunk for her five- and nine-year-olds. She was shown discussing the issue with some of the other mums at her dance class. Had she thought, one mum wanted to know, about the pressure the kids who’d been to this party would subsequently bring to bear on their own parents to stump up for similar extravaganzas.
‘No, I hadn’t to be honest,’ replied the mum. Silly cow.