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TV preview: Rev | Bloody Foreigners | Forever Young - How Rock 'N' Roll Grew Up | Doctor Who

When Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews created Father Ted in 1995, they breathed new life into the stereotype of the comedy vicar, a character that for too long had been suffocated by the tyrannical stranglehold of Derek Nimmo.

Unfortunately Richard Curtis simultaneously came up with The Vicar of Dibley, a programme as twee and mediocre as any number of Nimmo's cassock-based comedies.

Perhaps realising that the realm of the ecclesiastical sitcom hasn't been successfully exploited in a while, acclaimed comic actor Tom Hollander has co-created REV, in which he plays a harassed vicar at a struggling inner city London church.

Sadly, despite the talent involved – the cast also includes Alexander Armstrong, Finding Eric's Steve Evets, Peep Show's Olivia Colman and comedian Miles Jupp – this low-key comedy is a disappointment. The blame must lie with writer James Wood, who also wrote the similarly underwhelming media satire Freezing, in which Hollander's ferocious comic performance was the sole highlight.

The jokes in Rev are sparse, weak and principally based around the supposedly amusing conceit of a vicar acting in ways you wouldn't expect. So, the Reverend Adam Smallbone, played with amiable anxiety by the always watchable Hollander, smokes, drinks, swears and enjoys sex with his wife.

So, I imagine, do a lot of modern priests – indeed, a group of them are credited as technical advisors – but that doesn't mean the concept is funny in itself. Father Ted admittedly employed similar material, albeit far more inventively than Wood does.

The opening episode takes underpowered swipes at middle-class pretentions and hypocrisies when Smallbone faces a moral dilemma over the sudden rise in church attendance due to a glowing Ofsted report on a local church school. But the episode just dawdles along and not even Hollander's bumbling charm can save it. Rev, like many sitcoms before, may improve as it goes on, but there's precious little here to encourage you to find out.

BLOODY FOREIGNERS is thankfully not, as the title suggests, a Party Political Broadcast on behalf of the BNP. Instead it's a new series of historical drama-documentaries screening over four consecutive nights, each one focusing on the overlooked roles played by foreigners during some of the most pivotal moments in Britain's history.

Produced by the justly lauded Hardy Pictures, which specialise in meticulously researched docu-dramas such as The Relief of Belsen, it contains grittily realised dramatic reconstructions of the Battle of Trafalgar, the Battle of Britain, the Great Fire of London and the Roman invasion of Britain. These epic sagas are told, in typical Hardy fashion, from the perspective of unheralded foot soldiers, such as the former slaves who fought for Nelson, and the Polish fighter pilots who struck a decisive blow against the Luftwaffe.

These are fascinating human dramas about people putting aside their cultural differences and overcoming prejudices in pursuit of a greater good. Yet they are thrown into sharp perspective by the disturbing account of 17th century Londoners exacting violent revenge on the immigrants whom they believed were responsible for starting the fire of London.

Thursday's episode is the most revealing of all, as it chronicles the generally unknown story of Ancient Rome's only black Emperor. An African who seized Rome's imperial throne in a bloody civil war, Septimius Severus subsequently waged a brutal – and ultimately futile – campaign in Britain, which resulted in the formation of the England/Scotland divide we recognise today. So if you want to blame anyone for that, blame him.

In FOREVER YOUNG – HOW ROCK 'N' ROLL GREW UP, various ageing rockers reveal their thoughts on growing old in what is ostensibly a young person's racket. Given the array of talking heads on display, the programme gives good quote (Lemmy from Motrhead's advice for staying alive in rock 'n'roll? "Just keep breathing at all times"), but the history that it charts and the tropes it explores will be all too familiar to the audience it's targeting.

Nevertheless, it contains some candid contributions from the likes of Iggy Pop, who admits that he'll never again write a song as good as anything from his youth, but that age (and the insurance adverts) has brought him the kind of stable contentment he never had before. Meanwhile, Eric Burdon from The Animals wryly notes that he "tried living fast and dying young, but it just didn't work".

He is, of course, referring to those who avoided the pitfalls of growing old in rock by dying prematurely, leaving their myths preserved in aspic. Although no-one looks forward to a future appearance on the mystery line-up in Never Mind the Buzzcocks, having a fatal drugs overdose at the age of 27 seems like a rather extreme avoidance measure.

Ultimately, this mildly diverting programme pays deserved tribute to the first generation of British rockers, for whom singing "I hope I die before I get old" in their sixties was never part of the plan. But at least some of them manage this anomaly with dignity and a touch of humour.

Tonight's DOCTOR WHO should with luck provide a satisfying climax to a generally superb new series, in which the show-runner Steven Moffat proved himself more than capable, and the brilliant Matt Smith exceeded all expectations. Thankfully, both protagonists have committed to at least another series of the sci-fi drama.

REV

Monday, BBC2, 10pm

BLOODY FOREIGNERS

Monday to Thursday, Channel 4, 9pm

FOREVER YOUNG – HOW ROCK 'N' ROLL GREW UP

Friday, BBC 4, 9:30pm

DOCTOR WHO

Today, BBC1, 6:05pm

&#149 This article was first published in The Scotsman on Saturday, June 26, 2010

 
 
 

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