Review: Rev, BBC2

Rev

The third series of Rev kicks off with Alex Smallbone (Olivia Colman) going into labour in a London taxi, while fellow passenger Archdeacon Robert (Simon McBurney) gets to look into a vestibule he doesn't see every day. It's an uncharacteristically raucous start to this wonderful series that elsewhere manages to be both gentle and quite satirically sharp at the same time. Some have said it's like The Thick Of It for the clergy, but there's a lot more to it than that. And a lot less swearing.

In the first episode of this third series the central plot involves hard-pressed inner city vicar Adam Smallbone (Tom Hollander) teaming up with local imam Yussef (Kayvan Novak) to raise money to sort out a local playground. The contrast between Christian and Muslim is beautifully played out. Modern, liberal Yussef has a brilliantly deadpan sense of humour that keeps wrong-footing Adam and making him think he has said the wrong thing. And when it comes to collecting from congregations the Mosque puts St Saviours firmly in the shade.

There is much to enjoy here, from the portrayal of daily religious life to the murky politics of the church. We also get to meet the Area Dean and Diocesan Secretary, played respectively by Joanna Scanlan and Vicki Pepperdine. While it initially feels as if they've been hired as a job lot from Getting On their characters here are sufficiently different as they memorably play good cop/bad cop in a cab and warn Adam that he has to raise his game. Pepperdine's stern Secretary has a particular sinister undertow – there's more than a hint of Rosa Klebb in there.

Rev is peppered with little scenes like this that stick in the mind. Hollander is positively lovely as the flawed but well-meaning leader of his pretty hopeless flock. At one point he looks like he is having a crafty fag in the playground. It turns out to be an e-cigarette, but the way things are going he will probably be back on the real thing by episode two. In another gem of a scene Jimmy Akingbola is amiably scary as local oddball Mick, who offers to do some babysitting, making the Smallbones an offer they can easily refuse - "baby still alive when you return".

Oh, and lest we forget, there is also Miles Jupp as Adam's sidekick Nigel, who has to step into the fray when Adam drops everything during a wedding ceremony to be with his wife and new baby. But best of all in this episode is the aforementioned Kayvan Novak as Yussef. Novak has come a long way since Fonejacker and really is a very versatile comic actor. I think he has various projects already in development, but if the BBC was really clever they would give Yussef a spin-off series of his own.

Rev, Mondays, 10pm, BBC2

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