Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Getting Upset About 'Rev'

After yesterday's edition of Rev, there was a flurry of tweets, expressing sadness and disappointment about it. Avoiding spoilers, suffice it to say the episode highlighted many of Adam's weaknesses, both in personal relationships and in misjudging a situation. My question is why did people (especially fans thus far) get so upset?

Rev has acquired quite a following amongst clergy, and I suspect it's because the series breaks out of the mould of depicting the type of vicar character you get in Dad's Army, or played by Derek Nimmo. Adam seems a lot closer to reality and seems to share a lot of the dilemmas modern clergy face. The series is also devastatingly well-observed in its depiction of 'types' one encounters in the ministry. One flaw I am aware of is that all the female clergy have not been very positive examples (but then no-one comes out that well!)

Despite his mistakes, I think a lot of people developed a lot of empathy for Adam, and to some extent placed their hopes in him to convey a more positive and contemporary image of the ministry. This has clearly extended well beyond clergy who share Adam's style or churchmanship. I can only presume, therefore,  that the sadness and disappointment that came through from some on social networks was because people felt let down. Adam had failed them, or maybe the series had betrayed them. The empathy was strong enough for people to feel got at, threatened, or let down because of Adam.

I think we need a bit of a reality check:

  1. Rev is a TV comedy. By its nature, comedy exaggerates and accentuates foibles, flaws and idiosyncrasies of the people it depicts. Miranda isn't a 'real' shopkeeper, many Home Guard were much more conscientious, capable and competent than Dad's Army, and so on. Just because the comic versions mess things up doesn't necessarily mean that 'real' ones do or did. It's comedy and it's fiction, but it draws on reality and stretches and distorts it to bring out the humour.
  2. The show isn't a piece of Church of England PR; it's a TV show on the BBC. We can't expect the BBC to do our publicity for us - if we're worried people might get the 'wrong idea' of clergy from Rev, we need to get on with living out our vocations as well as we can.
  3. A sitcom isn't a theology essay. I've seen people discussing Adam's prayers and the lack of references to God in the ecclesiastical conversations. As I have said, it's a comedy, so why should it be accurate. Of course there is an implied theology in the writing, but to be fair all too many 'real' meetings that I have been to about church policy, strategy and finance have made little or no reference to God, so that seemed quite realistic
  4. The reality for clergy is that we will let people down. We can't do everything, or meet all of the expectations people have of us. Adam does this in what are sometimes spectacular and larger-than-life ways, but the experience is real enough. It's not always easy to watch, but we know the feeling, albeit on a smaller scale (usually).
  5. Having said all of this, I suspect that Rev has made one TV clerge more accessible and easier to relate to than many fictional versions. Part of the reaction last night resulted from the fact that it's closer to reality than many, to the point that emotionally people felt it as real, even if rationally they knew it wasn't.


Anonymous said...

I have no religious faith but I have watched both series of rev and was delighted that it has returned with a third. I was rather disappointed that people were offended by Mondays episode; Adam may be a vicar but he is also a frail human being like the rest of us. His remorse after the kiss was very moving I thought. He gets things wrong, has bad thoughts, struggles with his smoking but always gives time to those people in his parish who most of us would cross the street to avoid. He knows when he has done wrong and prays for forgiveness.
I enjoy the humour in 'Rev' but I think I watch it because it is poignant and human. For me it is a very good advertisement for vicars and the church and religion in general.

Anonymous said...

I agree, Mike. I can't really see what most of the fuss was about. Since the very first series we've known that the portrayal of clergy tends to be warts and all, though done with considerable empathy. I did feel the episode was less funny than usual overall and left me feeling more reflective.

My main issue with it was that the writers went down this stress/burnout/breakdown road at the end of the first series, so there was rather a sense of deja vue. Perhaps those complaining are latecomers to Rev who missed it then. We'll see how it plays out next week.

St said...

Good points Mike. When comedy isn't funny it pulls the rug from under us. Remember the ending of Black Adder Goes Forth?