Mumford on Rev: Utterly confusing

Apparently: “Rev is insidious because it’s just so good.” I think I know what Mumford is getting at. Because so many people like the hit BBC sitcom Rev (because its so good), so the logic goes, there is a danger that the show will become the lookinglass through which society see’s the church. This is problematic, Mumford believes, because: “Rev is an outsider’s imaginative construction of an insider viewpoint – a secular take on the sacred.” But its not. It might not be a perfect summary of the best church can offer, but that’s phony kak anyway.

Mumford justifies his assertion that Rev isn’t really about the church by pointing to Colin, the drug addict who never changes. According to Mumford: “There’s never a question of faith freeing him from addiction.” This should be a point well taken, if all addiction was always cured by faith of the right sort. Colin’s starting point is in such a different place, its even a miracle he attends church regularly. Yes, Colin continually lets Adam down over issues of personal loyalty, but is Colin really meant to change, particularly given that this is a comedy and Colin stands in for the one that continually tries but fails in the area we want him to succeed? But to the observer who cares from time to time, there is a glimpse of Colin’s faithfulness, fruit we might not notice because we are too distracted by Colin’s “big problems”.

There are other reasons Mumford thinks the show is from the outside: “An insider view of the church would, by contrast, revolve around the reality of shared faith. From the outset, Rev’s operating assumption is that faith is individual. The Rev Smallbone’s prayer monologues are purely personal. Faith is not something held in common.”

This point is the only one worth considering. But to consider it tempts the genre. The Archers this ain’t. But Mumford is right to point out the prayer monologues (by definition!), the locked-in nature of Adams self in relation to other as atoms. But isn’t that part of the fun? Isn’t the fun exploring the honesty behind how he feels, rather than how we think he should feel? Don’t we often pray the way we think we should pray, rather than in a spirit of what is actually bugging us? Isn’t this what comedy should do?

Honesty is not the paramount virtue of course, but I would rather Adam pray than have the deafening silence between all the characters who, as Mumford rightly points out, don’t share faith. And yet again, isn’t this perhaps a reality for many who darken the doors of an Anglican church each Sunday? Even if they attend an HTB church plant? Its a terribly lonely place to be, church, from time to time. Sure not all the time, but then this would be a sit com and not a comedy.

Moreover, how often are Adams prayers answered? How many times are yours? I think a cursory review of episode after episode shows a link between Adams monologues and subtle plot development that hints at God. In case you have not tried, keep a prayer diary. You might find subtle plot developments in your own life that hint at God.

Mumfords insider/outsider criticism does not end there however, and here is where his points get particularly problematic.

He criticizes the authors over the episode on gay marriage: “Adam, our hero, summons the courage to marry his gay friends in a secret ceremony. ‘God won’t bless our union?’ says his bewildered friend. Adam: ‘God will. Of course He will.’” And thus, according to Mumford: “By coming down on one side, and by pillorying the characters who support the church’s position, Rev again imposes an outsider’s viewpoint.”

The problem is Adam does not marry them [Edit, a friend pointed out that technically he does at the end], not at the beginning anyway, though for all intense and purposes he might as well have. But the technicality is important, because Adam clearly sees the issue as a technicality because he also wants to do right by the church. His is not a gay pride parade, his is what he can offer and still stay within the letter of canonical law (despite feeling embarrassed towards his gay friends). In the end Adam does marry the couple but if memory serves me correctly, he does so because of the intense scrutiny he is put under by the church to see if cannon law was broken. That is to say, is the whole dramatic tension of the episode. So far from being an outsiders view, the episode is very much about the internal tension both of the institutions and of the individuals within it!

Mumford, I guess, cannot imagine himself into the shoes of a vicar who has been asked by his gay friends to marry them. Perhaps the outcome could have been different in the show, but to be honest, neither party was completely happy (Archdeacon, Rev, or gay couple), and Adams rebellion at the end is testament to this internal tension, rather than a condemnation of it.

Nevertheless and going beyond technicalities, forgive me for pointing out the obvious, but there are plenty of insiders who would be happy to do what Adam did. This is hardly an outsiders view. But more importantly, and perhaps Mumford was in America for previous seasons of Rev, it was the Archdeacon who was passed over for a Bishopric because of his sexuality. This very same Archdeacon that we all love to hate, the manipulative, from time to time nasty, narcissistic and selfish Archdeacon. I wonder whose really inside and whose out on that point? Nobody.

Finally Mumford makes the most astonishing claim, namely that: “Rev goes nowere near the supernatural…” This a most strange, if not down right ignorant and untimely a claim since in the most recent episode, the penultimate, to the season finale, Adam meets God. In the form of Liam Neeson. But there are other times when as I have previously said, the monologue prayers anticipates, in a literary sense, god speaking.

As somebody said, the insider advisers who help the writers, it is their churchmanship and experience that inform the tone of the show and perhaps it is that what Mumford really has trouble with, since his churchmanship is likely different. But then he should have said so rather than usurping the right to the pulpit of what church life looks like for-himself, because apparently: “Believers who hate the church love how [Rev] lampoons everything they want to change.” Quite right Mumford, if only you loved her a little more as she is, you might find Rev a little less insidious. But then that too would diminish the need for comedy, which if it is to be any good, must be insidious though not pernicious.

If its pernicious, somebody has to explain to me a little more clearly how.

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