It started as a sit-com, but has become, according to some, a compelling social commentary. It’s always been compelling for me – but the latest series of Rev. has proved to have more of a Marmite quality, sharply dividing opinion. Comments from the Archbishop of Canterbury and Dr Tim Stanley are probably the tip of an iceberg of discomfort: ‘vicars should not be like this’ – and anguish – ‘goodness, some are’.
Why do I find it compelling? Not because of Adam’s personality or his performance in role. If he and I were colleagues I can only imagine it going badly. Adam should get himself sorted out – that seems plain enough. But in this he is no different to Fr Ted or the Vicar of Dibley. You don’t make good entertainment out of perfect exemplars.
Rev. is compelling because so much of the stuff around Adam rings true. Of course there are exaggerations – and guess what, it’s not done in real-time either. This is not a documentary or a ‘how to’ DVD. Like many people, Adam has a strength relevant to his role – a convincingly clerical combination of still-need-to-think-it-through faith and broad compassion – but in his case it adds up to tragic weakness, because it’s not balanced out by other strengths. Quite what these might be – well, there’s a subject for an extremely interesting and helpful discussion, a ‘training day’ for clergy, perhaps. Personally I’d like to see him a bit more decisive and determined, and if it were down to me he’d be moving towards an assertiveness programme to help him beyond his passive-aggressive oscillations, which seem to be getting worse and might be his downfall in the end. (BTW: Adams are prone to downfalls – geddit?)
Adam needs help – that’s part of the story. But there’s another part too, and that is that no one is able to give it to him. His pathetic relationship with Ellie is the clue. He doesn’t want her so much as he wants to be her, or at least to be like her. With her drive and skills and professionalism he’d certainly make a better job of it.
Except that he might not. And therein lies the rub. What does it take to deal with Colin and Adoah and Nigel? And who is there to help Adam do it?
This series of Rev. has become a bit of a squirm-fest for me. Not only because of Adam’s ineptitude and well-meaning muddle-headedness, but also because of his isolation and lack of support. The Archdeacon has softened, now that he knows that Adam knows, but the real powers and forces are the Diocesan Secretary and Area Dean; so powerful that they need hardly ever appear . That’s menace for you – unseen power.
Another compelling point about Rev. is that is so knowing about the Church of England. It almost always gets the detail exactly right. Notice the church noticeboard in the opening sequence: Adam’s name being crudely superimposed over his predecessor’s. That tells its own story – and it’s a story that is replicated across less-confident-than-they-should-be churches across the land, where people feel that the clergy are passing through, pretending to do ‘presence and engagement’ while others get on with ‘real life’.
What’s compelling about Rev. is the clinical way it depicts the actual, improbable but apparently intractable situations that fill ministrial days and minds. The tragedy is that some of the situations are avoidable and others are manageable.
The thing about Adam is that he makes good mistakes – the sort that we (the real people who watch the fictional him) can feel something about and learn from.
The great thing about Rev. is that it brushes nothing under the carpet. In fact, it lifts up the carpet and exposes all the dust and dirt that has been swept there. That’s why it’s uncomfortable and unbalanced, but also why it is good watching for Lent, and compelling matter for reflection in Holy Week.
Provided we don’t think it’s just a matter of Adam getting a grip.