[25 February 2008]
Although people often deservingly praise the comedy of John Cleese in Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Fawlty Towers and more recently Ricky Gervais in both The Office and Extras, there are some British sitcoms that for one reason or another don’t resonate on the US of the ocean but end up with the “cult status” moniker hung around them.
Regardless of the reasons though, there have been quite a few over the last ten years that deserved a far better fate in North American circles, including Drop The Dead Donkey, Black Books and one which followed Father Ted Crilly and his colleagues around the delightful, ridiculous isle of Craggy Island.
With only three series filmed, and 25 episodes shot, Father Ted still packs as much laughter and pokes as much fun at various institutions now as it did during its original run from 1995 to 1998. And this new 5-DVD package (far slimmer than the rather bulky box set The Holy Trilogy released a few years ago) captures the characters at their craziest.
Perhaps the biggest reason why Father Ted worked so well was mixing the ridiculous with the sublime using Crilly (Dermot Morgan), his younger but intelligence-challenged cohort Father Dougal McGuire (Ardal O’Hanlon), and the alcoholic, foul-mouthed, quasi-womanizing Father Jack Hackett. Whether it was Father Jack tossing empty liquor bottles through television sets and occasionally tossing Father Ted through windows, or Father Ted explaining the difference between a miniature toy cow and actual cows to Father Dougal in the “Hell” episode (“Okay, one last time. These are small…but the ones are there are far away…small….far away…ah forget it!”).
Another asset the show had was how often and easily the characters poked fun at the Catholic Church and its teachings, albeit in a rather harmless and fairly inoffensive manner. As the series continued, though, the doubts both Father Ted and Father Dougal have about religion are raised more frequently. A good example of this is Father Dougal stating the only problem he has with Christianity was accepting this whole idea with someone looking down from heaven, the crucifixion, and resurrection.
Even the language and swear words used were often not swear words at all but certainly sounded good. “Feck” is one of the signature ones but in another scene where “No Swearing” is allowed, “Fop” becomes just as powerful as any other imaginable F-bomb.
And while the core trio of priests was integral to each episode, the writers also inserted other priests: the dancing priest, the boring priest, the laughing priest, the sarcastic priest, and Father Larry Duff, who has the uncanny ability of answering his cell phone at the most unfortunate times. Throw in a persistent Miss Doyle who must pour guests a cup of tea and the show is fully fleshed out.
The extras here are far better than those found in The Holy Trilogy, although they repeat some of that bonus material such as the interview with the show’s creators. All 25 episodes contain commentary from the show’s writers with Graham Linehan doing a large chunk of the commentary throughout, at times seemingly unsure if he’s boring himself, the viewer, or both. He does have several stories and behind-the-scenes anecdotes to relay thankfully, but getting some of the actors to give their two cents worth wouldn’t have hurt at all.
There is plenty of additional footage as well, including a 2007 celebration of the show/commemoration of Morgan called a “Father Ted Weekend”, similar to a mini-Trekkie convention but with more alcohol consumption and dancing and less trivial details and space age banter. And highlights from a soccer match between two Irish locales who claimed they were the real Craggy Island. Plans are also afoot for a similar celebration in 2008.
As much laughter found in The Definitive Collection, there’s a touch of sadness surrounding the entire show, as well. Following the last day of shooting for the third series in February 1998, Morgan held a dinner party at his London home. However, during the party he collapsed and died at the age of 45. While Morgan was not coy about his opposition to the church as an institution, he would be glad to know that his character is still as humorous and ridiculous as it was more than a decade ago. To quote some diehard fans, this collection is feckin’ brilliant!