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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Rev.: “Series Two, Episode Four”

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I know I talked about this at length a couple of weeks ago, but it continues to astound me just how small Adam Smallbone can be. He’s a man driven by petty jealousies and tiny irritations, and he’s a man who can’t seem to pull himself together long enough to be gracious. For a man who’s supposed to be a living exemplar of divine grace, Adam seems to possess very little of it. He pulls himself together when it counts, sure, and that’s why we ultimately are on his side. But in the other moments, he can be a ridiculously small man about nearly everything. Adam wants the world’s focus on him, when he’s in a job where the focus should be on anything but him. It’s an interesting central conflict for a character, and the second series of Rev. seems to be playing it up much, much more than the first series did. (And that series was already fairly driven by this idea in series one to begin with.)

Rev. is fond of pitting Adam against people who have the sort of self-respect he craves, then showing just how far short Adam falls of them. In a way, the kind of self-respect Adam wants is an elaborate game of fooling the people around you into giving it to you. The people who garner that sort of reaction tend to act as if they’re owed it without really thinking about it, and the people around them are only too happy to give it to them. It’s people like Adam, who are constantly aware that they’re not regarded as well as men like science teacher Mr. Feld that preen and dance about for that acceptance but never receive it. There’s very little human beings find more loathsome than people standing up and demanding that others love them, and it’s particularly a problem in fields like Adam’s (or politics).

And what’s interesting about Mr. Feld is that he doesn’t just have the respect Adam craves. He’s also got the ear of the children, and he’s got Ellie on his arm. In addition, he’s an atheist, so there’s the whole thing where the church increasingly feels like an anachronism, washing away in a wave of secularism. Mr. Feld is a threat to Adam on a number of levels, particularly with an examination of the school coming up, one meant to determine if it’s providing the children in its stead with a proper religious education. But there’s the thing as well: Mr. Feld seems to have a better grasp of “religious education” than Adam does, particularly in a school with so many Muslim students. Adam blanks on two of the Five Pillars of Islam, and Mr. Feld’s right there to fill one of them in. If you were going to construct someone for Adam to be supremely jealous of, enormously quickly, well, Mr. Feld’s as good a choice as any.

On the other hand, it’s a bit odd just how often the show goes to this well, isn’t it? Yes, Adam has any number of things to provoke his professional and personal jealousy, and yes, the show does a good job of showing just why he gets that way. But this feels like the millionth time the show has turned to this plot, even though it’s just 10 episodes old. How many times can we watch Adam show how small and human he is, before being blown away by some confrontation with the divine poking its way through the mundanity of his day? How many times can he come into conflict with someone who doesn’t really want to be in conflict with him before everything sorts itself out?

I’m not sure why this episode finally prompted this reaction from me, especially because I quite liked the vast majority of it—having the football match be set to “Onward, Christian Soldiers” was inspired. But I increasingly am enjoying the series for the fillips around the edges, rather than the center of the story. It’s not like the show was ever so strictly plotted that I was tuning into it for its storylines, but season one felt like it offered greater variance within this basic story structure and also broke it up a bit more. Adam’s jealousy and feelings of impotence were important in season one,  but they weren’t the show’s sole source for comedy, as they’ve often felt in the last handful of episodes. There are good things to be done with this story structure still, and that football match was very funny. But I find myself wanting the show to try some slightly different things and leaving wanting.

That said, this was probably the best example of the form this series. Adam’s ultimate ineffectuality was in full evidence throughout, even in his dealings with his wife, and I loved the storyline of Colin’s brief conversion to Buddhism, which provided some really great laughs. (The moment when he admits that he thought Buddha was a big fat god is probably the best line of the episode.) Plus, any storyline that puts Mick, Nigel, Alex, and Adam on the same side of a sporting event is bound to have some good moments in it, and there were plenty throughout the soccer story, especially from the Arch-Deacon’s refereeing. I was also impressed with the way the episode was able to make Mr. Feld feel like he’d always been present, even though we were meeting him for the first time here. Watching as the relationship between him and Ellie became more apparent or as he won the trust and adoration of seemingly everyone but Adam made this guy feel like a really solid antagonist.


And then, of course, he died. And for me, that brought the episode together in the end. It’s not the sort of trick a show can pull often, and I can see the argument that doing something like this is a cheap way to gain sentimentality. But I thought it felt as random and pointless and shattering as death often does, and I was impressed with how well the episode was able to convey the sheer hopelessness many of the characters felt in the wake of that death in a very swift manner. These people loved that man, and now they’re never going to see him again. And this is the time when Adam’s able to shine, when he’s able to put across that, yes, there are greater mysteries and places where he can bestow a small amount of comfort. His eulogy for Mr. Feld is lovely, never once attempting to retroactively make the man into a Christian, but allowing him his small part in the great mystery. And then the sun comes out, and everything makes slightly more sense. For a little while at least.

Stray observations:

  • It really feels like Adoha has been lost in the shuffle this season. Bring back Adoha!
  • Adam taking advantage of his wife’s vomiting to score that goal, instead of going to comfort her, just might be the lowest thing he’s done. But he is technically correct. There was no whistle. The game was still going. The goal he scored should still count. Not that Alex will seem too pleased about it, I’m sure.
  • I had a chance to sit down with Tom Hollander and James Wood at the TCA press tour, and that interview will go up sometime in the next few weeks. I was particularly interested by what they said about how they use prayer in the series. Sadly, it was conducted before series three was confirmed, so I couldn’t ask much about that. But I’m delighted it will happen!