Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Resurrection and Rev

At least one person asked for a final blog post on Rev, and the final episode has now gone out, so here goes. If you haven't seen it yet, feel free to stop reading now.

To make a series about a vicar who didn't fit the classic TV types was an interesting move. As I said in my previous post, it seemed to have the effect of engaging a lot of people - both clergy who saw the parallels with their own experience of ministry (their own or colleagues they have know) and those beyond the church who warmed to a genuinely human vicar. It also portrayed him struggling with the challenges of a city parish, the pressures of the institutional church, the characters you get in a congregation, and his own battles of faith. 

Of course, it had to use caricature and stereotype for comic effect, yet they were just that little bit closer to the truth than many sit-coms. Colin was a classic case - lots of churches have a kind of Colin, a rough diamond who can't quite turn things round, but somehow has a deep connection with the place. In fact Rev wasn't really a sit-com at all - I'm not sure what the right term is, but it was both funny and poignant, rather like M*A*S*H operated for a much earlier generation of TV viewers.

There were some clever dramatic devices. I don't know of any clergy who have been literally dumped out of a taxi in the middle of nowhere by a senior staff member, but I suspect some fellow clergy know the emotional, if not the physical experience. A conversation that the person in authority wanted to end, not having really listened in the first place, and it was all settled without anything really being settled at all. 

I also suspect incidents that alienated some viewers were the very things that endeared the series to others. The lapses in behaviour, swearing, making mistakes, and general vulnerability all made Adam more approachable, yet they also attacked the idealised picture that a lot of people have about clergy (and some clergy have about themselves). And then there was 'the kiss'. Social networks got very active after that episode, and even Alison Graham in the Radio Times - hardly a squeamish type - described her profound degree of upset. Adam stopped being the kind of vicar she wanted, who represented a Church she didn't belong to and a faith she didn't hold, but which she wanted to be there.

I'd like to see the final series in its entirety again, as I want to spot the point where they start using the passion narrative - the story leading up to and describing the crucifixion of Jesus - as the template for what happens. There's a kiss, a washing of hands, and following rejection by all his friends, a cross-carrying and time of darkness. In the midst of that there's a vision of a Jesus-type character (played by Liam Neeson). 

The in-between days from then are a kind of hell as Adam encounters his former parishioners, and starts to go through a breakdown. The Archdeacon explores possible job moves, coming out with a classic line implying chaplaincy might be an easier option (it isn't, believe me). And despite all Adam's desire to run from the church, no other career option appears to be either viable or desirable. He has no heart for an interview, and the temp job at the newsagent only faces him with his old congregation. Eventually all he can do is curl up in bed. The prayers of the other characters are heard for the first time, too. The Archdeacon's prayer sounding like the Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-collector was a classic, and everyone except Alex tried to justify themselves.

As in the Biblical account, the women stay active, and it's through them, especially Adam's wife Alex, that the 'resurrection' of Easter morning gets organised, along with the much-delayed baptism of their child. I rather liked the ending, although I know some people didn't. The church had closed, Adam was no longer to be their vicar, there was no going back, and the future was uncertain. Just like the resurrection in the New Testament. We don't witness any conversations of reconciliation (other than Alex forgiving Ellie for the kiss), but Nigel, the archdeacon and members of the church are all there around the brazier and the font.

Comedy can sometimes do the profound better than any drama. just think of Comic Relief, Blackadder 4, or the aforementioned M*A*S*H. It can create a different kind of connection with the characters that means that when it gets serious, it really gets to us. Rev managed to do that, whilst holding up a mirror to us about our beliefs, ideals and prejudices. It asked us about the authenticity of the person we present to the wider world, and that's why it was both uncomfortable but compelling viewing.


Simon Nicholls said...

Like you, Mike, I would very much like to see the whole series again with the benefit of hindsight. I have wondered whether the series that some people seemed to want would have been half so effective. I suspect it would have ended up seeming either more preachy, more simplistic or more triumphalistic.

As some have pointed out, it's a comedy show (though the comedy this series in particular has been especially dark and challenging). I enjoyed the passion/resurrection symbolism, though quite a few have questioned whether resurrection is the right word to apply to Adam's situation. We can argue about that, but the ending seemed to me to be rather like the original ending to Mark's Gospel - quite stark, mysterious, even quite firghtening, with us not really knowing what the true significance of what we have witnessed will be. I for one was glad of the not-too-happy ending. Anything else would have felt like a bit of a cop-out on the part of the authors.

This has felt like a serious attempt to engage with the reality of (some parts of) the Church of England at this stage of our history.

Simon Nicholls said...

Meant to add - one moment that particularly struck me was the point where the neighbour shouted abuse because his sleep had been disturbed by the Easter Vigil when we, the audience, have been drawn into the drama that is unfolding. Clever, I thought.