I’ve been trying to work out why I don’t find Rev, the new BBC sitcom about an inner-city parish priest in the Church of England, at all funny.
There’s a serious reason for this, which is that I’ve been hoping it isn’t just because it’s about the Church of England and the hero is a ‘Liberal’, whilst at least some of the villains so far have been ‘Evangelicals’. In other words, I hope it’s not because it’s poking fun at me and my kind.
However, I watched episode 3 last night, without an ‘Evangelical’ in sight, and still found it flat and dull. The one thing I could point out that was just plain irritating was the abundance of stereotypes — the sensible, faithful, and not-at-all-fanatical Muslim woman who wanted to use the church for her Qur’an class (and was quite happy to speak to a strange man on her own in the church), the ‘nice’ church-going family whose father turned up later in a lap-dancing club, the vicar’s wife who is not-at-all-like-a-vicar’s-wife, the slightly creepy archdeacon (actually, that one ...), dumb lay-reader, and so.
But I still felt that couldn’t quite be the problem. After all, Dad’s Army or Father Ted are equally full of stereotypes — but there they are funny.
Then sometime between getting into bed and going to sleep, I realized what it was.
Comedy (indeed, any work of literature) is a production of the mind of the writer. What you see on stage or screen is really their fantasy-creation, and therefore it is an insight into their own thoughts.
Father Ted is the product of people who grew up in an Ireland another comedy writer described as “such a mad country that satire [was] the only way you [could] challenge the madness”, and it reflects the minds of those who found that madness a source of hilarity.
Rev is equally clearly the product of a certain kind of mind. Actually, I suspect it is a mind not at all unlike those of the ‘nice middle-class’ couple in an early episode who are basically attending church to get their child into the church school. And that, I’ve decided, is the problem.
Rev gives us (I am guessing) the perspective of a liberal, white, youngish, urban middle-class mind on the world of Anglican religion. The trouble is, the way that mind sees that particular world is utterly predictable, and therefore not funny.
This review, from someone who does like Rev, says it all:
The other reason I love Rev ... is that ... it cherishes [the Church of England’s] beating liberal heart. [...]
As Canon Lucy Winkett, formerly at St Paul’s Cathedral, once told me, it’s not about expecting people to believe (and I don’t); it’s about being a place where people can bring, should they choose to, the stuff of their lives. It’s about flexibility, inclusiveness and charity, in the best sense of that word.
It was Robert Burns who wrote, “O wad some Power the giftie gie us. To see oursels as ithers see us!” Rev is the world of religion seen by the unbelieving white middle-class, telling it like the writer thinks it ought to be. They have a view on this world, but they can’t get ‘inside’ it. Put yourself in their place, however, and you could write the jokes yourself.
Rev is not funny because it written by people who find the subject matter not a source of hilarity but of earnestness. Ironically, as I have said before, Rev is, in the end, a sermon of its own, but it is preaching to the converted. It is BBC England reassuring itself about the strange world of the ‘God-botherers’. There may be a few fanatics — especially on the Christian ‘Right’, but the good guys are firmly in the middle of the road, and they are normal, having sexual feelings and smoking a crafty fag outside the ‘office’ just like you and me.
And if God isn’t too fussed about them, he can’t be too fussed about us, either. Can he?
John RichardsonAnonymous users wishing to paste in the comments box need first to select 'preview', then close the preview box. When posting your comments please give a full name and location. Comments without this information may be deleted.
16 July 2010
16 July 2010