Rev

1 07 2010

I don’t know why I always do it. I should have learnt by now that virtually everything on British TV is a disappointment.

But still, I had high hopes as I decided to watch the first episode of the new BBC 2 Show Rev on iplayer yesterday. For some inexplicable reason.

The premise intrigued me:

A sitcom about a vicar who finds himself out of his depth as he takes over an inner-city London church, with all the challenges city church leadership has to offer.

It intrigued me not least because I am a member of an inner-city London Church, and the movement I’m a part of, Newfrontiers, is hot on planting city centre churches. We have received a great deal of counsel from guys like Tim Keller and Mark Driscoll about the importance of city based churches, and many in our family of churches are facing the challenges that ought to make up the premise of Rev.

So I was intrigued that the show was making the move from the village to the city. I thought there might be something profound in there. What I found was essentially an urban Vicar of Dibley.

Priest out of his comfort zone. Has an astonishingly dumb sidekick. Placed in a dying Anglican Church. In fact, even the plot of the first episode was remarkably similar/plagiarised: Dibley – a smashed stained glass window costs £11k to repair. Rev – a smashed stained glass window costs £30k to repair. I suppose that just reflects the cost of inner city life. The Rev gets drunk, swears and blasphemes. All in a day’s work…

In fact, it was so obviously Dibley Redux that the only way they could get away with it was a self-deprecating reference as a bunch of builders mock the Rev, labelling him ‘The Vicar of Dibley.’ Well, if nobody had made the link by then, they sure did afterwards…

To be fair, the series may get better. A pilot may not be indicative of the rest of the series. And there were a few good points about it… but not enough to keep me watching. I didn’t find it funny. It was tired. I was only watching for the concept, and that was a let down.

For me the one thing that made it distinctly urban as opposed to rural was that the Rev was terrified riding his bike through the traffic, and nearly got run down by a black cab.

Is this really urban church planting?

I suppose I shouldn’t really have expected the BBC to pull anything profound out of their hat, given that all they keep in there are stock clichés and tired stereotypes. But it did make me wonder:

If they really wanted to do their research and find out what urban church life is like, would they know where to come? Would they know who to ask? Would they find us? And if not, why not?

I hope that as more and more people target cities in their church planting, a new model of Christianity will begin to filter through to the popular media. Wouldn’t Rev be far more exciting if the church were based in a theatre, ran mid-week groups in pubs, led dance academies and homeless shelters, prayed for the sick and saw them instantly healed… but then I suppose there would be less opportunity for cheap gags about choir boys.

Look… If you want a taste of inner-city Church life that is passionate rather than parochial, visit one of the many vibrant London Churches run by godly men, who are making a big difference. Try ChristChurch London for a start. Visit websites like www.ukchurchplanting.org and find out why and how we plant churches in cities. Listen to this excellent talk from Tim Keller when he spoke to Newfrontiers leaders in London recently.

Or alternatively tune in to BBC 2, Monday at 10pm, where I gather this week you may get to see a church fete…

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4 responses

6 07 2010
Ian

Actually, I think you miss the point of it. It is reflective of many inner city parishes, and Tom Hollander and the writer spent seven weeks shadowing vicars in similar circumstances for the show. It isn’t the ONLY thing happening, but it is happening. the profundity of his prayer in the middle, and the simple defence of a creator against Dawkins were incredible moments in the episode, as was the genuine motives of a human being trying to serve God that we saw.

besides, your description of Dibley also looks like Father Ted, and that is a classic (but was panned by critics when first aired).

6 07 2010
liamthatcher

Fair point. I did imagine that they had sone some research – and that it does reflect some aspects of inner city church life. I think my real problems with it were a) It didn’t live up to my expectations b) I didn’t find it funny and c) it’s just a tired format. As you say Father Ted has done it too! I think the ‘struggling vicar out of his depth’ storyline could do with a quiet, respectful but decisive burial!

But each to his own… If it makes some people laugh or think, and keeps reality TV off the airwaves for another 1/2 hour, that can only be a good thing!

6 07 2010
Charles

I didnt think it was very funny and therefore failed as a comedy
However episode 2 was in some ways quite powerful I thought it demonstrated a very incarnational ministry (this guy is always available and builds deep relationships with people who can give him nothing back at all)
The evanglical vicar who came inin episode 2 was a caricature but also a powerful reminder that God doesnt measure success as we do (wealth,size power etc etc) and there was enough truth there to make me as an evangelical feel a bit uncomfortable
Thanks for the original post well worth reading!

12 07 2010
newsong40

Hey Liam,
I agree with you, I actually couldn’t stomach the first episode and gave up half way through (when one of Rev’s parishioners was very obviously coming on to him).

It’s true, as Ian pointed out, that they did do a lot of research and it had got rave previews in the press for being fresh and authentic because of that, but it just made me more depressed about the lives and attitudes of those City-centre vicars whose experience they drew on. (And the only reason he nearly got mown down on his bike was because he deliberately ran a red light!)

I’m not sure about Charles’ assessment of him, yes, he is always available, but it seems to me that that’s because he’s weak and spineless and doesn’t know how to set (loving) boundaries.

Not sure whether to give him another chance or not…
Jennie

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