Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. Radio & Podcasts
20 October 2021

BBC Radio 4’s God Squad has borrowed from Life of Brian – but left behind the laughs

This sitcom about a University Christian Association is reminiscent, ironically, of a student sketch show.

By Rachel Cunliffe

There’s a proud history of mixing comedy with religion – just ask Monty Python, or Bill Hicks, or Tim Minchin. So, as someone who can sing Tom Lehrer’s “Vatican Rag” off by heart, when I saw Radio 4 had a sitcom about a University Christian Association struggling to remain relevant in this apathetic age, I was intrigued.

God Squad follows UCA president Sophie, cheese-loving theologist Phil and evangelical hardliner Kat fighting over the soul of their college society. Outsider Dan – a swanky eco-activist who does yoga in the multi-faith chapel – enters and shakes things up. His actual level of faith is questionable (“Late nights with my twin poisons: Hitchens, Dawkins – shot, chaser”), but while Phil and Kat have their doubts about the newcomer, Sophie is convinced Dan is the answer to making Christianity cool again. In a plot development clearly borrowed from Life of Brian, UCA splits between the Modernisers and the True Believers, and hilarity ensues.

Or rather, it doesn’t. God Squad trundles along with a narrative reminiscent, ironically, of a student sketch show. The jokes are painfully obvious – Phil gets his foot stuck in a mop bucket, for instance, purely so that Kat can exclaim “Forget your wet shoes, there’s a more important soul at stake here” (soul/sole – geddit?). The climax might have been vaguely amusing (“I’m Protesting! I am, after all, a Protest-ant!”) if we’d been given some reason to care about any of the characters.

Everyone is so terrified of causing offence – either to Christians or to those who find religious zealotry distasteful – that they can’t decide whose side they’re on. Are we meant to laugh at the fundamentalists, or see them as loveable misfits staying true to their beliefs? God Squad doesn’t know. There is definitely something witty to be written on student attitudes to religion – about naivety and intolerance and the blind faith we all have that our world-view is right – but this isn’t it. If your punchline is a pun on the pronunciation of Jesus in Spanish, you should probably stop now.

God Squad
BBC Radio 4, 29 October, 11.30am

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

[see also: Storytime with Seth Rogen is a fresh take on the celebrity podcast]

Content from our partners
Why public health policy needs to refocus
The five key tech areas for the public sector in 2023
You wouldn’t give your house keys to anyone, so why do that with your computers?

Topics in this article: ,

This article appears in the 20 Oct 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Twilight of the West