One of the things the works of art I love have in common is a sense that everybody within that world could carry a series of their own. And if we’re being honest, that hasn’t been true of the first three episodes of Rev., where characters like Nigel or the homeless man or Adoha were allowed to be funny but were mostly there for people like Adam or Alex to bounce off of. I was holding out hope that the series would develop everybody within its ensemble so that they had the same amount of agency and motivation as our main characters, but with the limited amount of time writers have in a six-episode season, I wasn’t sure there would be space to do so. And while that would be okay, I really found myself hoping that the series would show the kind of generosity to all of its characters that it’s showed to, say, Colin, who’s a drunken reprobate much of the time but is also a man stumbling toward his own sense of what’s right.
“The One Show” (renamed “The Rival” for Hulu for some reason) repays whatever debt the show has built up in earnest. Not every character on the show has been “dimensionalized” (to use a Hollywood term), but the way the episode treats Nigel and Adam’s old friend, now rival Roland suggests that it has time for everybody’s point-of-view. This isn’t just about one man’s search for God. It’s the story of all of these people trying to find their way toward the divine, and that’s much more interesting than just a gentle sitcom about a vicar and his unruly congregation. I’ve liked all of the episodes of this show so far, but “The One Show” is the first that I’ve unabashedly loved, and it has everything to do with how the show handles the Roland storyline.
The way to the Roland story has some expertly deployed cringe comedy. Adam has gone on a talk show to represent the church, and the fellow guest is a member of the ABBA fan club. When Adam’s asked if the members of the church enjoy ABBA, he jokingly says that, yes, of course, everybody’s gay in the church. In that moment, Tom Hollander plays the split-second when Adam realizes he’s dug a hole he won’t get out of just perfectly. The look on his face freezes in a horrified, “oh, shit” moment, and we then cut to Alex and Adam watching the show together on the couch, Adam beating himself up over and over for what was said. It sounds glib at best and homophobic at worst. And Adam prides himself on being neither.
From there, though, the episode takes a more interesting journey. The big laughs of the episode out of the way, James Wood’s script treats what happens next essentially seriously. Adam has made a fairly egregious error, and he’s going to have to suffer somehow. The first suffering involves Nigel chewing him out about how what he’s said makes the church seem small-minded, and the church is not small-minded. Indeed, their denomination is quite open, and Adam has made it seem like all the old prejudices about what the church stands for are accurate. Nigel has been such a ponce-y, comic-relief type of character that I enjoyed seeing him get to be in the right. He has this one over Adam, and he doesn’t rub it in. He’s angry, and he has every right to be. Adam’s not going to get off the hook so easily this time.
The Archdeacon decides that what Adam needs is to learn some lessons in dealing with the media from Roland, the aforementioned old friend whose career has brought him to a place where he’s on the radio most mornings, to offer a little thought about religion or spirituality for the day. Adam hates these little moments, which apparently wake him up with regularity, but he has to grudgingly accept the dinner with Roland if he ever hopes to rise up in the ranks of visibility within the church (which is apparently something the vicars all want). These scenes with the Archdeacon and the Smallbones waiting for Roland to show up are filled with the sorts of “oh, that’s not something a vicar would do!” jokes that somehow haven’t been exhausted yet. (For instance, the moment when Adam is holding Colin’s joint, then has to figure out a way to dispose of it while indicating to the Archdeacon that it isn’t his features some expert physical comedy from Hollander.) Yet the last 10 minutes of the episode are largely dramatic.
Roland, you see, is lonely. His life has taken him to a place where he’s increasingly doubt-ridden about his calling, about what his purpose on this Earth is. He looks at Adam’s life, in a small vicarage with a loving wife and a congregation that, while strange, is at least devoted, and he sees everything he wants. It’s a fairly cliché reversal—everybody wants what somebody else has!—but the moment is played beautifully by all involved. It’s just a quiet conversation between two old friends over a dinner table, and the stakes couldn’t be higher within the show’s world. To give into doubt means that Roland would be abandoning everything he knows. But he can’t deny that his life seems increasingly empty.
So Adam does the only thing he knows how to do: He brings Roland to his church the next morning, and the two of them do their morning prayers together. Religious rituals may feel increasingly rote and unnecessary in modern society, yet they’re one of the things that makes religion still so attractive. There’s a beauty to be found in participating in a ceremony that has its roots in something ancient, that is carried out in much the same way it was decades or even centuries ago. Ritual provides both the comfort of familiarity and the space needed for contemplation. (It’s why, I suspect, Adam is so suspicious of the megachurch, which constantly needs noise and entertainment, rather than the quiet silence of considering the eternal.) This moment is supremely moving, and it’s not at all what I expected to happen when the episode began. Rev.’s loose storytelling style can feel shambling and made-up-as-it-goes-along, yet it can also feel beautiful and profound when it arrives at something like this after a story that began with cringe comedy.
Roland, of course, steals the prayer Adam leaves him with, and that returns everything to the status quo. Adam is upset with his old friend, turning off the radio as soon as his voice turns up, and he’ll never attain the fame Roland has. Yet the two men have had a moment of connection that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. And even if everything returns to the way it was before, thanks to Roland taking Adam’s favorite saying and broadcasting it to the nation, that moment of connection will hang with them. Even if there is no God to be praying to, there’s a value and meaning in that, a hope that can be clung to.
- I liked the storyline where Adam went after the vestments, but it didn’t have the power of the other story. Colin trying out being a Rastafarian was pretty funny, though, particularly Adam’s dismissal of the whole movement.
- Alex’s method of dealing with the homeless man was pretty ingenious, if I do say so myself. Taking him to the train station and calling his bluff was the perfect way to kindly handle that situation.
- The way the relationship between the Archdeacon and Adam is developing is one of my favorite things about the series. The Archdeacon knows Adam is one of his most promising young vicars, but he also has a mild contempt for him that makes their interactions interesting. You never quite know how a scene between the two is going to end.