JUST before the final episode of the BBC2 series Rev
this week (News, 14 March; Features, 28 March), a friend wondered
where the sitcom could go, after the dramatic penultimate episode,
which was set against the background of Passiontide. The answer, it
turned out, was obvious. The final episode dealt with resurrection,
which, it emerged, was far from the same thing as a happy
This comedy series about a kindly bumbling vicar coping with the
unending problems of a deprived inner-city parish has become
something of a surprise hit over the past four years. In the run-up
to last night's final episode in the show's third - and possibly
final - series, it has amassed 1.7 million viewers.
It has been a good advert for the Church of England, and for
faith in general. Its stumbling hero, the Revd Adam Smallbone, has
been brilliantly played by Tom Hollander, who is also one of the
writers of the script. He and his co-writer James Wood have clearly
been assiduous in their background research. The series touches the
pulse of church life with disturbing accuracy.
This has offered a rich vein of humour, affording everything
from wry eyebrow-lifting smiles to outright squealing belly laughs.
But non-believers have also learned some unexpected truths about
how a parish priest's door is ever open to the most motley callers
- from middle-class parents seeking a place at a church school to
inner-city waifs and strays.
What makes Smallbone a heroic figure is that he blunders his
well-meaning way through all this without hiding his struggles with
doubt. And, refreshingly, Rev is a rare commodity in
modern television because it deals with Smallbone's relationship
with God in a direct and uncyncial way. The interior monologues of
the protagonist - and, indeed, everyone in the final episode - were
presented utterly without the sneering that seems de rigueur in
contemporary metropolitan culture.
Towards its end, Rev developed in an interesting way.
It began as a comedy with serious elements. But it became something
more complex and profound. This left some viewers baffled. One
asked last week: "Is it a comedy, a drama, or a soap? It has humour
without being silly, and the main character evokes sympathy, but he
is quite half-hearted for a vicar. . . Is it meant to have a
It certainly is. In this past series, Rev has made the
transition from observational comedy to what, since Gabriel García
Márquez, we have learned to call magic realism. It began subtly,
with the echoes of the Last Supper in episode 4, and became more
In episode 5, a slightly febrile Smallbone took it upon himself
to deliver a life-size cross by carrying it through the streets, in
an episode that became hallucinogenic, and ended with Liam Neeson
making a guest appearance as the kind of Jesus who would have been
at home in an episode of Shameless. In the final episode,
all the main characters gather for an Easter vigil, in a plot twist
that defied everyday logic, but which was freighted with
"Is this what resurrection is?" the hero asks, before he sings
the Easter Exultet with a breathless beauty. It was not a happy
ending, but it finally rejected the suggestion that the series had
seemed to be outlining, that you can survive in the Church only if
you are a conformist, careerist, legalist, pedant, or hypocrite.
The light of a weak dawn flickered, but it offered the prospect of
a new start. And perhaps that is all we can hope for.