Most fans of "Britcoms" have heard of Are You Being Served?, The Vicar of Dibley, Fawlty Towers and The Office. What most fans of the genre miss out on are the lovely Channel 4 comedies such as Spaced and Father Ted. Indeed, I have only found one other person who know what I was talking about in this area.
Being only a slightly informed yank, it seems to me that Channel 4 is an excellent source for comedies that make me laugh. Based on what I know of the comedies that come off it, I just might be a target demographic.
I digress. We are talking about Father Ted (FT). FT is a mid-90s sitcom about a trio of disgraced Irish Catholic priests and their housekeeper in a place called Craggy Island. Its humor stems from three basic sources: Catholic jokes (obviously), personal attacks on the priests (Father Dougal (Ardal O'Hanlon) is extremely idiotic, Father Jack (Frank Kelly) drinks and swears, Father Ted (Dermot Morgan) has a slight addiction to gambling, there is a DJ priest, a priest that gets into an accident everytime he answers his cellphone, a sarcastic priest, a punk priest, etc etc), and surrealism.
The Catholic jokes range from protesting movies with phrases such as "Careful now" to references to the Irish priest sex abuse scandal, to jokes about how nuns make priests feel. Some have claimed they are too anti-Catholic, though some Catholics have said it is all good natured ribbing. I personally find it a bit too much in places, but generally balanced and not too terribly constant to make it unbearable. (An aside: I am NOT Catholic).
The worst joke is probably the one where Father Jack Hackett is believed to be dead. One of the priests ribs the pope (Pope John Paul II) for being a Pole and says that Jack would have been better. Since Jack is a dirty, dirty, dirty old man with severe behaviour problems; this should be construed as an insult. As I was saying, nothing too much, just slightly towards the distasteful side.
The gallery of priests is comical. There is no much to say about it without going into too much detail. But it suffices to say that Father Ted is often the straight-man to the rest of the cast. Outside of the priesthood, there are a few others. There is Mrs. Doyle (Pauline McLynn). There is a married couple actively trying to kill each other (they may actually succeed since the show drops them about half-way through). A milkman. A man with a "I Shot JR" shirt. Besides the three main priests and Mrs. Doyle, the rest of the cast pops in and out of the story almost at random. Enough to sort of give you the feeling of a society, but not enough for you to really get into the other characters.
The surreality is largely where it is at. The show refuses to make complete sense, and that is what makes it endearing. The parochial house gets busted up in many episodes, but always bounces back. Craggy Island is sometimes discussed as a remote island, and other times seems to be merely the name of a town actually on the mainland (since they discuss the mainland in one episode, I assume it is supposed to be an island, perhaps one with a bridge for easy access, because after the first episode, they just leave the concept of it being hard to get to alone). Craggy Island, by the way, is said to have lost its west coast, which just floated off one day. This is in the first episode, including a direct reference to Deliverance and one whacked out fair, so it is arguably in the series' most intense and least returned to level of surreality.
The priests snap back and forth from reasonable to completely unreasonable. Father Dougal is a complete atheist in some episodes but seems devout, if stupid and confused, in others. Father Jack gets worse and worse, but occasionaly has moments of lucidity. Father Ted is loving in some episodes, and arsehole in others. Mrs Doyle goes from being crazily serving to somewhat snarky. It all helps to keep you from just taking things at face value. It enables them to write just about any scenario. The pieces become soft and malleable, and it works well for the show overall.
After three seasons (series), the show had not run its course but it was a good stopping point. They had explored most of the crazy situations, and was close to becoming a series of repetitive jokes. Dermot Morgan wanted to break away from the character, but tragically died right after shooting the last episode, meaning that he never got quite the chance to find another character.
The show gets thumbs up from me. FT will stay one of my favorites for a time to come.
Written by W Doug Bolden
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