In Shakespearean times—and I’m totally not fact-checking this assertion that was made to me by my high school English teacher—the line between tragedy and comedy was simple. If it had a happy ending, it was a comedy. If it had a sad ending, it was a tragedy. Shakespeare’s tragedies bustle with comedic figures—the nurse in Romeo & Juliet is probably the most famous figure—and many of his comedies teeter on the edge of being tragedies before resolving happily (including my favorite of his comedies, Much Ado About Nothing). The question of comedy vs. drama in Shakespeare’s times was less one of tone and more one of knowing what you were going to get. You went to a comedy if you wanted to leave the theater on a high. You went to a tragedy if you wanted to contemplate the darkness of your own existence, I guess.
Now, we think we know what a comedy is: It’s something that makes us laugh. But I think this is a rather limiting definition. Rev. isn’t a show that makes me laugh nearly as much as other comedies I like, yet I’d classify it as a comedy, no doubt. I think it’s because the series leaves me on something of a pleasant high once I’m done watching it. Even in this third episode, which has more laugh-out-loud moments than any episode so far (most stemming from Colin), it’d be hard to call it the most joke-packed show on TV. The camera lingers on things here. It shows us bits and pieces of Adam’s life that aren’t especially hilarious but are meaningful to him. It leaves us in a place where we feel good and where we believe these people really care about each other, but it’s not going out of its way to make sure every moment is building toward some giant gag. This is a loose, shambling show, and even the jokes reflect that fact.
This is a deal-breaker for some of you. When discussing this show with people from the United Kingdom, I’ve encountered quite a bit of the “but it isn’t funny” resistance. And that’s fine. I get that a lot of people turn to TV comedy for something that gives them a half-hour of solid laughs on a weekly basis, because there’s nothing better than to laugh yourself silly. Yet I often find that I also like quieter, gentler shows, shows that might have good laughs here and there but are also after something more than just packing the episode full of jokes. I sometimes like to call these shows “people in your neighborhood” shows, and they often have the feel of just spending a quiet evening with interesting folks, who have interesting things to say. I’d say Rev. falls into that category rather decisively, and that’s why I can’t be too bothered by the fact that it’s not as funny as some of my other favorite comedies.
Part of that’s just the setting, I guess. This is a pretty hyper-specific place to set a series, and it reminds me quite a bit of those old jokes made by pastors in church about how the members of their congregation are superior to the members of some other denomination’s congregation, not in that the show is trying to tear other religions or denominations down, but in the fact that a joke like that presumes the audience has some sort of familiarity with the world the joke is set in. There’s a lot of humor in religious specificity here, and if you’re not a church member (or haven’t been one recently), I’m sure there’s stuff here that leaves you scratching your head as to why it’s apparently meant to be a big punchline. I mean, yes, Colin with his “shovel of justice” is going to be funny to just about everybody, but some of the other stuff is a little more subtle.
To that end, I think Colin’s a useful character for the show. He’s the most obviously comedic supporting player here, and he’s a riff on a type most of us know from many, many sitcoms—the drunken lost soul with a heart of gold. This episode is the one with the most Colin so far, and it’s also the one with the biggest laughs, particularly when the guy is trying to figure out who Muslims are and suggests that women in burqas might be “religious ninjas.” It’s a funny idea, and it’s coupled with a strong plot where he moves into the church to stop some lead thieves, and ends up making things even more strained for Adam, what with the way Colin captures the thief in such a way that he only creates legal trouble for himself. The one gag I didn’t buy in the episode was Colin in the burqa. It felt like something out of another show entirely and was just a touch too broad for what the series has established as its style so far.
Other than that, I liked the way this episode revolved around Adam confronting others in his community who are from different religions or different walks of life entirely. When he rents out the church to the Muslim children’s school, he reflects on how Christians show little excitement about their religion, compared to the kids and their teachers, and the show nicely reflects how Adam is never really sure how to deal with the parishioners in his flock who don’t have a real commitment to the faith. Christianity is such a de facto choice in Western society that most Christians don’t take it all that seriously, going to church only once in a great while. That’s often the position of something that has a certain cultural dominance. It doesn’t need to fight for members, so its members are necessarily less devout.
Indeed, Adam has more in common with the Muslim teacher than he does with many of his parishioners, seemingly. The man who signs the petition to keep the strip club from opening up across from the church’s school is found, of course, at that strip club (another moment that felt a little over-obvious coming from this show), and the girl Ellie taught in high school who’s now a stripper puts him decidedly ill-at-ease when she comes on to him. (That said, it’s easy to see why this is the case. She’s a very beautiful woman, and it’s quite a temptation to resist.) Adam is so often quiet and still that the show gets its greatest humor from the world swirling around him and from the few moments when he does seem a bit peeved, as he does with the homeless man who asks him for cash for his sick mother—just a week after asking for cash to help with his mother’s funeral. (The discussion of the various homeless signs marking the vicarage was very funny.)
Yet that’s one of the reasons I think the show works as well as it does. Adam is a small, still voice at the center of a lot of crazy bustle, and he doesn’t always have to be funny. Just spending time with this kind, gentle man, who honestly seems to be searching and questing for some kind of deeper truth, is relaxing and reassuring all at once. Rev. may not be the funniest show on TV, but it’s a series that features a hero whose company is almost guaranteed to refresh and revitalize. This is a show about seeking order in the chaos and seeking calm amid the noise, and I can think of few things more pleasant than that. Even when the ending’s more ambiguous than “happy,” I’d say that still marks this as one of the most enjoyable of comedies.
- So just what is up with that glove on the gate? Well, clearly, somebody’s kid lost their glove, and somebody found it and put it up on the gate. That’s not so hard to figure out, right?
- The Arch-Deacon is quickly becoming my favorite supporting character because he, like Adam, is basically a good man trying to do the right thing, yet he’s pulled in so many other directions. It’s easy ot see Adam evolving into this man in 10-20 years time.
- Another funny moment, though more quietly funny than hilariously funny: Adam and Adoha’s little bit about whether the strip club is run by pedophiles.