Posts Tagged ‘Rev.’

Smithy and England's team for Comic Relief Image credit BBC

Smithy and England’s team for Comic Relief
Image credit BBC

Seeing as all this World Cup fervor is going on, I wrote this post for WETA’s Telly Visions blog.  It’s written from the point of view of an American who watches a lot of telly but very little football. Click on the link below to read my poorly informed insights.


The Comic Side of World Cup Soccer | Telly Visions.


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So far in this series I haven’t really touched on the religious side of holiday celebrations in the UK.  I’ve not attended a Christmas service myself in over a decade so identifying the differences between spirtual traditions in the US and Britian is not an area I feel very comfortable commenting on.

However I saw something on the Christmas episode of Rev. last year that struck me as different – Reverend Smallbone and his assistant Nigel taking oranges and decorating them thusly.

Christingles are often handed out at Christmas Eve services

Christingles are often handed out at Christmas Eve services


So I thought I’d put it out there and see if anyone could verify the Britishness of the Christingle or at least the fact that they are a common part of Christmas services in the UK. (As I understand it, they originated in Germany.)

I found a nice video about the meaning behind this fruit embellished with symbolism and how to assemble one yourself.



So who’s ever heard of a Christingle?  I’d be interested to know how universal they might actually be. Also please enjoy this clever photo from the aforementioned episode of Rev. – I call it “The Last Christmas Supper.”


Rev. Christmas dinner


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In the spirit of this wondrous holiday season I’ve planned a series of posts concerning the lessons I’ve learned about British Christmas traditions, one per day for the next twelve days. Though many of our rituals and celebrations have sprung from a common place, I’ve found enough examples over the years to contend that, while the message is universal, Christmas doesn’t look exactly the same in the US as it does in the UK.  Please enjoy my observations and, to my British readers, feel free to correct me if I’ve gotten the wrong end of the stick along the way.

When I was a kid, the yearly visit to Santa was an exciting yet daunting prospect.  Sure you got to tell Old St. Nick what you wanted for Christmas first hand. But there was the whole sitting on a strange man’s lap stipulation. ( I didn’t like strange men much when I was young. I apparently didn’t like my Aunt Joan with the deep voice at that stage either.)

Santa held court in the midst of a winter wonderland of sorts in a chair that resembled a throne.  He was most likely surrounded by elf helpers who took pictures and escorted you in and out of Santa’s presence. All the other parents and kids in line could see you and if you got overwhelmed and started to cry, your humiliation was very public indeed.

Actually the department store scene from A Christmas Story, while a bit exaggerated and cartoonish, wasn’t really that far off from how a shy young child might feel upon approaching the most beloved and feared man they can imagine.




On the other hand, British children must enter Santa’s Grotto, an enclosure decorated to resemble his abode or workshop at the North Pole.  It doesn’t make talking to Father Christmas any less intimidating, but it does afford a degree of privacy when sharing your Christmas wishes with the big guy in red. That is unless talking to Santa makes you really nervous.  Then privacy is not guaranteed and you’re busted in front of everyone in line.



And once the kids are older and jaded, Father Christmas has an entirely different set of issues to contend with. Not even Santa is safe from the cruelty of the Grotto.



Whether it’s out in the open or hidden away in something resembling a wedding reception tent, meeting Santa is usually a traumatizing event that parents have obviously blocked from their own childhood memories. Why else would generation after generation subject their offspring to this?


Terrified Child in Santa's Grotto   image credit The Daily Mail

Terrified Child in Santa’s Grotto image credit The Daily Mail

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As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a religious person.  But seeing as it’s Holy Week, a spiritually themed post seems in order.   In fact religion has been quite prominent in the media lately what with this guy newly on the scene…

Pope Francis I image credit ABC News

Pope Francis I image credit ABC News


And this recent and shocking revelation behind the failure to pass the proposal that would have allowed female vicars to become bishops in the Anglican church…


Therefore, I thought it appropriate to share my recent telly encounters with two men of faith – the first is a small village Catholic priest who solves murders in his ample spare time and the other, a well-meaning Anglican vicar who’s in over his head trying to manage his shambolic inner city parish.

Father Brown

Father Brown image credit bbc.co.uk

Father Brown as portrayed by Mark Williams, well-known for playing other famous “fathers” including Arthur Weasley and Brian, Rory Williams’ dad from Doctor Who
image credit bbc.co.uk


While it’s obvious that the Church is Father Brown’s primary gig, the investigation of murders and other serious crimes in the 1950’s Cotswolds village of Kembleford is certainly his avocation.  Armed with his ever-present black umbrella, our cleric can frequently be seen, cassock fluttering behind him as he pedals his trusty bicycle hither and yon in pursuit of elusive criminals. Most importantly, he always seeks the truth, even when another explanation might be more convenient.

Another thing that makes Father Brown such a good detective is his advanced observational and listening skills, honed no doubt during his countless hours as confessor for his flock…and while suffering the endless blithering of village gossip, Mrs. McCarthy.

Father Brown is a man of humility, curiosity, compassion, patience and tolerance; a veritable saint, in fact.  How else could he possibly refrain from gloating every time he proves the village police chief, Inspector Valentine, wrong?



As accepting and calm an influence as Father Brown would no doubt be to a troubled soul, I think I’d prefer Reverend Adam Smallbone to be my spiritual advisor and I’ll tell you why.  He’s as frazzled and screwed up as the rest of us.  Between the demands of his home life (he and wife Alex are trying to conceive), his dysfunctional parishioners, and his charmingly cruel boss, Archdeacon Robert, Adam barely has time to listen to his calling, let alone carry it out.

Rev. Adam Smallbone and his flock image credit guardian.co.uk

Rev. Adam Smallbone (Tom Hollander) and his flock
image credit guardian.co.uk


The point is I can relate to this man; the fact that he is torn in many directions, has doubts about his career, and experiences a multitude of human emotions including jealousy, guilt, conceit and lust.  All these feelings make great fodder for the humorous situations Adam must endure.  But it also makes his private discussions with God and his personal discoveries more endearing, more real.  The vicar is by no means a perfect clergyman like gentle, constant Father Brown, but he lives and learns from what he teaches.


When I think of the way church leaders are portrayed on-screen in the US, my mind goes immediately to the intolerant minister from Footloose (played by John Lithgow) who banned dancing and “devil music” in his small town, the Jim Bakker-brand of televangelist or the priests in horror movies who perform usually unsuccessful exorcisms.  There aren’t many like the kind and ordinary men I’ve mentioned here today.

Both Father Brown and Reverend Smallbone trust in their faith and I can respect that, even when others cannot.

Oh, and did I happen to mention that like Father Brown, Adam is a cycling preacher as well?

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Awhile back I used to write posts now and then entitled “Getting to Know…” wherein I would introduce my readers to a British tv performer who may be unfamiliar to an American audience.  I stopped doing that mainly because I wanted to focus on the lessons I had learned about British society but recently fate and Hulu have conspired to present me with repeated exposure to an actor named Darren Boyd. So I decided to revive the format and share Mr. Boyd’s talents with you.

Darren Boyd with his first BAFTA

I watch ALOT of British television so to find an established actor who hasn’t been on my radar is quite unusual.  My first chance encounter was a guest spot on the sitcom Rev.  In one episode, Boyd portrayed popular charismatic evangelist, Darren Betts (eerily similar names always make me wonder if the actor in question has difficulty remembering their character’s moniker). He attempts to take over Rev. Smallbone’s St. Saviour’s Church with his much larger congregation and sizable donation cash flow.

Next, I stumbled upon a sitcom called Whites starring Alan Davies about an ambitious but uninspired hotel chef named Roland White.  Lo and behold, there was Darren Boyd co-starring as Roland’s dutiful friend and sous chef, Bib. Poor Bib has a lot on his plate, as it were, running the kitchen from which Roland often goes AWOL, attempting to gain the respect of  new trainee, Skoose, and meeting his husbandly obligations by attempting to get his wife pregnant.

In spending a few blissful moments on YouTube browsing through Monty Python clips, I found something called Holy Flying Circus. This appears to be a dramatic, yet surreal, portrayal of the controversy that surrounded the Python’s 1979 feature film, The Life of Brian.  I’m watching a few scenes, noting the great casting they have done for Michael Palin when I realize…it’s that guy again, that Darren Boyd playing a very convincing John Cleese. So far I haven’t been able to find the entire tv movie on-line and it’s only available in Region 2 dvd.

And finally, after all this I find that Darren Boyd won the BAFTA last month for Best Male Performance in a Comedy for the role of Tim in Spy.  Tim is trying to retain custody of his brilliant yet manipulative son, Marcus.  Fed-up with his dead-end job, Tim decides a new career could only help his chances on the legal front.  He applies for a civil service position, but on the day of the interview, gets lost and ends up taking the exam for MI-5 agent trainees. To his surprise, he actually does quite well.  Now he’s living a double life, trying to hold on to his son and his new job as a spy.

If you enjoyed these snippets, I’d recommend sampling more of this actor’s work. Except for the Python film, all these programs are available to view on Hulu.   Wait a minute…do you think it’s possible Darren Boyd might be a part of Hulu’s eviler plot to destroy the world?  If so, I’m already doomed, I’m afraid.

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The BAFTA awards for television (similar to our Emmy awards) were given out in London a couple of weeks ago and I’ve finally had the opportunity to study the list of winners.  Since I live in the US and don’t have access to the original broadcasts of these programs, I use it as a tool to plan my viewing for the coming year.  Creativity and perseverance are key to this exercise.

Let me take you through an example.  In the category of Situation Comedy, the nominees were Mrs. Brown’s BoysFresh MeatFriday Night Dinner and Rev.   I hadn’t seen any of these series yet, so I sat down at my laptop and opened five, yes, five tabs to accommodate the five essential sites – IMDb, Hulu, Netflix, YouTube and my local library catalog.  I usually start with the Internet Movie Database to research the show – the premise, who’s in it, etc. in order to determine whether I can be bothered to investigate further.

If it sounds worthwhile, I move on to each of the other sites listed to see if the program is available to order or view.  I used to always look at the library catalog first as a matter of course. Sadly, I’ve been seduced by the idea of getting it fast instead of waiting for the physical dvd to arrive and watching it on my more luxurious television screen.  So many shows, so little time.  That is truly my motto.

In this case I was fairly lucky. Hulu has just begun to add episodes from series one of Rev.  It stars Tom Hollander and Olivia Colman as The Reverend Adam Smallbone and his wife Alex who have recently moved from a country parish to a struggling urban church in London.  Everyone seems to want something from the poor vicar – money, a school placement, surrender of his chapel, sex…that last one would be from his wife’s honey-do list. I’ve seen the first two episodes so far and have enjoyed it.  It’s an urban Vicar of Dibley minus the chocolate cravings and the big bosooms.

Rev. Smallbone with his committed, albeit sparse, congregation/staff.

I was able to find both Friday Night Dinner and Mrs. Brown’s Boys on YouTube.  After watching the first episodes of each series, it’s a draw.

I wasn’t very impressed with Mrs. Brown; however, I can see the more unique aspects that might attract viewers.  Irish widow, Mrs. Brown (played by Brendan O’Carroll) speaks directly to the audience, walks among the sets exposing the cameras and crew, and even makes reference to the fact that “she” is actually a “he”. It appears to be an homage/parody of classic British sitcoms, but the broad humor and glut of sexual innuendos aren’t really my cup of tea. That being said, my rule of thumb is to watch two or three episodes before making a judgement, especially since the first episode must carry the burden of setting up the circumstances and characters. Besides I haven’t even met all of Mrs. Brown’s boys yet.

Despite winning the sitcom BAFTA, this jury’s still out on Mrs. Brown.

On the other hand, Friday Night Dinner, seems to be a more promising program for me.  Starring Tamsin Greig and Simon Bird, this show centers around an empty nest couple and their two grown sons.  In the first episode at least, all the action plays out during a Friday night dinner gathering – the parents’ constant bickering, the boys’ sibling rivalry and childish pranking, and the creepy neighbor (Mark Heap) constantly hanging about. When it comes to settling into a new series, I find that being familiar with a number of the actors in the cast jump starts the whole process for me since I already have a reason to watch.

Friday Night Dysfunction might be a more apt title and that’s just fine by me.

Fresh Meat, a show about first year students at university sharing a house, was the only one I had no luck finding. So I will add it to my list of non-available titles and eventually it will show up somewhere.  I know there are other streaming websites out there , but I’m hesitant to venture into some of those more questionable URLs. It’s not about legality as much as a fear of contracting some virus, worm or spyware that will bring my already antiquated equipment to a literal standstill. In the meantime, there’s usually a stack of dvds and an ever-present queue of on-line material to watch.  And if there’s something I absolutely must see, my multi-region dvd player and Amazon.co.uk stand at the ready.

Other BAFTA nominees and winners on my future to-watch list are:

Appropriate Adult – winner of three acting awards in the drama category

Call the Midwife– to be shown this September on Masterpiece Theater with Miranda Hart (yea!) nominated for a dramatic supporting actress role.

Stella – a dramedy starring and co-written by Ruth Jones, another of those performers who makes everything they’re in worth watching.

Spy– a comedy starring comedy BAFTA winner, Darren Boyd and currently available on Hulu.

Admittedly, it is a convoluted system which may soon become even more intricate if I add BBC America to the arsenal.  Some might say it’s a sickness but this font of knowledge actually comes in handy at times. For example, the other day a library member asked me the name of the heavy-set character on Doctor Who with  a son who wants to to be an IT computer guy instead of  working with his father. I was able to answer without hesitation, “That’s  Bert Large, the plumber from Doc Martinwho by the way played Churchill on Doctor Who.  See how useful my addiction is?

Besides, if I do have Britishtellyitis, I don’t want to be cured as I’m convinced this condition will be responsible for making my fortune one day.

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