It’s probably a bad omen when a crocodile devours the officiant at a wedding. But these things happen Down Under, with a scream and a tossed bouquet and, soon, a shoulder shrug, and then a “not another reverend’’ air of exasperation. So opens Irreverent, a twee, not-so-irreverent, premise-driven comedic drama that pits sunny, beachy Australian gallows humor against cynical American opportunism, and lightly roasts religious dogma with Mafia viciousness.
Paddy Macrae sets his tale in the fictional, wonderfully named Clump, a fill-in for Clump Point, that was shot, lovingly, sunnily, in Mission Beach, Queensland. The country’s Gold Coast imbues everything with an air of warm breezy bullshit that swirls through the tiny town’s stereotypical plot of petty criminals, slackers, and half-lovable beach-bum luddites. All of them marinate in endless blue sky and blonde beaches and breakfasts of Vegemite, along with the same quotidian frustrations as back here, on the other side of the world.
In Irreverent, Colin Donnell stars as Paulo, a kind of reverse Crocodile Dundee, a generically good-looking leading man, the kind to play as a perennial mom favorite on a network medical drama. (He was Dr. Connor Rhodes in Chicago Med.) He hits like a down-guide cable TV Ryan Reynolds, a dollar store Justin Theroux, with continuous five-o’clock shadow and smartass gritted teeth and a brow-furrowing air of annoyance as he half-heartedly grapples with questions of faith and humanity. Questions he wanted nothing to do with in the first place. In Chicago, he operated as some type of mafia mediator, one able to fall back on loose and affable charm. “You’re not gonna send me to heaven tonight, buddy,” he says to a would-be hitman. In that case, at least, he was right, minutes later ending up the last man standing over a mountainous briefcase full of someone else’s loot. He takes the money and runs, not stopping until his conscience lands him in the pitiful web of a hard-drinking ex-reverend in Australia. Paulo is capable of mafia negotiations, auto theft, pick-pocketing, and fisticuffs, and he even plays a little keys. But when he wakes up on the first day of lamming it, with his stolen wares missing, he needs to don this holy man’s discarded robe to begin a trail back to what he lost.
Yes, the premise makes little sense, in an almost impressive way. Just know that the basic conceit is the contrast of a pseudo-gangster-connected guy spruced up—in his “dog collar”—as a leader of a faraway flock. It is a fish-out-of-water mobster scenario, unfortunately premiering the same month as another, flashier one: Tulsa King, which features a septuagenarian tough guy turn from Sylvester Stallone. The difference, of course, is that that telling boasts one of the biggest Hollywood stars to ever live and two of the most gifted showrunner/writers of this generation (Taylor Sheridan and Terence Winter). A generous reading could suggest that Irreverent is My Blue Heaven to that show’s Goodfellas (both movies were released within a month of each other, both angles on the story of real-life mobster Henry Hill). But, really, neither are likely to leave much of an impression. While Tulsa scratches the boomer itch for muscly knowing swagger, this show feels like a whimsical early winter dose of sunshiney cutesy. Both feature a protagonist out of their element, snarky and bemused, doing what they know, and instinctively building new crews of sorts.
Paulo busily, worriedly tries to track down the man who stole his small fortune (Mackenzie, the comedic highlight of the show, played by P.J. Byrne from The Wolf of Wall Street—yet another connection to Terence Winter and Tulsa King), navigating single-bar cell reception for hushed talks with Lou back home, the helpful sidekick, who assists while stalking amongst his gym’s punching bags in Chicago. Meanwhile, Mackenzie doesn’t see the reason he and Paulo can’t still be friends, responding to a phone threat with, “you sound like Liam Neeson.” Eventually, he takes to calling Paulo during Zumba classes to leave advice on how to run weddings, pick Bible passages, and perform other reverential duties.
At the same time, Paulo’s former outfit back home puts out a hit, leading him further into the relatively safe confines of holiness and middle-of-nowhere, end-of-the-world Australia. Just when he thought he was out, they pull him back in. And back in, and back in, until inevitably, he’s climbing a bell tower for reception, leading Palm Sunday mass, and emceeing as the holy man for the funerals of a dog and a beloved local bar owner.
Clump is a well-packed pantry of such stock, if not entirely unlovable, local characters. There’s the hardass cop and village conscience, the god fearer, distant friends coming back together, wayward teenagers dreaming only of leaving, and the star-crossed lovers who are eager to tie their knot despite the last go-round ending in a wedding video featuring the preacher getting “gnawed” by the aforementioned crocodile.
While it can often feel tender, even endearing, especially the blooming friendship between Paulo and his teenage roommate, Daisy (a wonderful Tegan Stimson), it is only ever really funny in a vaguely sophomoric, obvious way. And it tries very hard to be funny: The locals wager on how long the new reverend will survive; Paulo smashes a broken religious music-bumping stereo with a rock; a hot-to-trot single volunteers hornily to “give him mouth to mouth”; he uses the lord’s name in vain, obviously; and he explains a mile is a “masculine kilometer.” And sure, a non-believer clumsily reading from the big book up at the pulpit is funny, but ... it’s the church. Talk about low-hanging fruit.
Everyone needs him for different reasons, and, yes, he comes to need them. In the meantime, most of the characters spend time bumping into one another, “shouting upstairs waiting for answers,” as one townie refers to praying. “God doesn’t even know where Clump is,” one character opines early on. And that’s really what the show is about: being lost, and found, as Paulo says, “at the end of the world, sweating my balls off, slapping mosquitoes, fighting off…bogans?” By the end of two episodes, you’ll have a good idea of what a bogan is. And by the end of episode five, you’ll be primed to make “then you might be a bogan” jokes yourself.
Irreverent premieres November 30 on Peacock.