Some say it’s thin on jokes, others that the humour is gentle though “life affirming” (is that a whisper of faint praise?). I disagree. Little makes me laugh out loud on television – once a month I’d reckon if I was carrying out a time and motion study and I watch TV for a living – but my moment for March came on Monday night in the opening sequence of the new series of Tom Hollander’s terrific comedy. Olivia Colman giving birth in a taxi, attended by a hapless archdeacon singularly unsuited for emergency midwifery, was very funny. Fawlty Towers funny. And that’s saying something.
But I’ll tell you what’s really funny about Rev: that so many are prepared to cut it the slack, to judge it on its merits, because it is religion on television and that normally means people have made up their mind before the titles sequence has even finished. Okay, it’s religion in the very loosest sense but Rev has enough soul to be a winner at the annual Sandford St Martin Trust’s Awards for religious broadcasting and a favourite on the Radio Times Readers’ Award shortlist in 2011.
So why do so many believe in Rev and the travails of Hollander’s creation (he co-wrote the show) the Reverend Adam Smallbone? The atheists aren’t carping, the church isn’t grumbling, the critics are applauding (even if they’re not guffawing) and the audience are watching in their millions (Rev is giving Michael MacIntyre a run for his money over on BBC1 in a similar time slot).
“There is certainly something inherently funny about men wearing dresses, but we set out not to make Adam Smallbone a comedy character,” is what Hollander told me before the last series: “In a way he’s the straight man of the show and that’s why we have been welcomed by the church because, unusually, we don’t make the priest appear ridiculous. His predicaments are ridiculous, but he’s not a stuttering, hand-wringing stereotype of a vicar. We have tried to create someone who is as ordinary as you or I, a sort of Everyman in an extraordinary environment.”
Which is of course what we can all identify with. If we want to know about life on earth we can switch on David Attenborough, Brian Cox can stroll open-mouthed through the wonders of the universe. But if you want to know about the human condition and the world we live in, better call on someone in the thick of it (no pun on another television comedy intended). And that is where you will find the Reverend Adam Smallbone at 10pm every Monday night on BBC2.