Rev (Mondays, 10pm) is a sitcom about the vicar of an inner-city parish. It's not particularly funny. It's sweet, it made me smile, but it certainly didn't have me falling off the sofa. All the same, I like it a lot. One reason for this is that the Rev in question is played by Tom Hollander. I love Hollander. He is amazingly funny, but in a sly sort of a way.
Some actors - Alexander Armstrong, for instance, who by coincidence plays the local MP in Rev - shout their funniness, just so you don't miss it. They grin and gurn and emphasise their great timing, and it's all very wearing. Hollander, on the other hand, appears almost to bumble along, delivering his lines so naturalistically, I sometimes strain to hear him. But his voice and face are so hilariously expressive: he does inept and ingratiating, modes that positively invite overacting, better than anyone. And when he's playing a good guy, as he does in Rev, he has a warmth - it's in his smile, which is almost distressingly innocent - that I find irresistible.
The other reason I love Rev - and please don't write in to complain - is that, though its best jokes play on the perilous state in which the Church of England now finds itself (miniature congregations, hole-ridden roofs, a painful and widening schism between charismatics and traditionalists), it cherishes its beating liberal heart. Muddled, craven and impoverished, the Church of England nevertheless keeps its doors determinedly open. This is a beautiful thing.
As Canon Lucy Winkett, formerly at St Paul's Cathedral, once told me, it's not about expecting people to believe (and I don't); it's about
being a place where people can bring, should they choose to, the stuff of their lives. It's about flexibility, inclusiveness and charity, in the best sense of that word. Hollander's character, Adam Smallbone, is often weak: he likes a swift fag in the churchyard and in episode one he is tempted to help a pushy parent get their child into the church school in return for a hefty donation to the church window fund. But, essentially, he is a kind man who wants to do the right thing, not by himself, but by those in his flock. It's just a shame his flock is so very weedy.
Unlike the nauseating Vicar of Dibley, this is a portrait of church any city-dweller will recognise. Rev is filmed in St Leonard's, Shoreditch, in east London, a lovely Palladian barn in which Smallbone's congregation - it consists of six people - looks painfully precarious. "Welcome to our vibrant, dynamic church," he says, gazing sadly at the barren pews. Traffic swirls past it oblivious; tramps sleep inside its graffiti-scarred portico; the vicarage is modern and ugly. James Wood, Rev's writer, has peopled his series with comic types who work through being - with the exception of Armstrong, as Patrick Yam - instantly recognisable.
There is Alex Smallbone (Olivia Coleman), a solicitor who finds it endearing and frustrating in almost equal measure that her husband reads Rowan Williams's memoirs in bed; there is Colin (Steve Evets), a derelict and church regular ("The last vicar never let me into his house!"); and there is a camp, upwardly mobile archdeacon (Simon McBurney), who is always tipping Adam out of his taxi just as it reaches the hell that is Old Street roundabout ("Sorry, but I'm expected at one of Gordon Ramsay's soft openings," he will say, or "I've got to get to Chris Hitchens's book launch").
Most striking of all, given the times in which we live, we sometimes hear Adam talking to God - and, what's more, without it ever being suggested that this is a sign of incipient madness. Good. Because quite a lot of people do still find consolation in Him. The whole thing, to me, seems rather lovely and true, and when the sincerity gets too much, a joke is usually winched in just in time. I've already watched the next episode, in which Adam tells Colin, who is sexually frustrated, that God's love is better than any physical relationship, being so powerful, ceaseless and ineffable. "Yeah, but sometimes, you just want to stick it in, don't you, Vicarage?" says Colin. Hollander's face - like a stoat whose rodent habit has brought on bad wind - is bliss to behold.