Father Ted: The Complete 1st Series Review
If people have to name the best British sitcom of the 1970s, the answer is normally Fawlty Towers. In the 1980s, Blackadder is also a pretty consistent choice, but the 1990s are more difficult. Having said that, my own choice would be Father Ted, a series that induces laughter regardless of however many times it's watched, just because it's so well scripted (by Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews), and superbly acted. It's quite telling that neither O'Hanlon or McLynn have had any significant success in any other roles apart from Father Dougal and Mrs Doyle, as they are seen as being synonymous with, respectively, an idiotic young priest and the 'eccentric' housekeeper with a penchant for offering 'a nice cup of tea'.
Arguably, the second series was slightly superior, being more consistent in its plotting and also being even wackier and more surreal. However, this is very nearly as good, with only the slightly weak fifth episode losing the series a point. As you probably know the plot and set-up already, it's probably easiest just to do mini-reviews of each episode.
Good Luck, Father Ted
The first ever episode, and one so totally bizarre that it's hard to imagine what any audience must have thought of it on first glance. In some ways, it's one of the weaker ones- the central plot, about Ted believing that he is about to achieve TV stardom, is one of the lesser ones- but the awesome depiction of the funfair, complete with rides like 'Cat on a table' and 'fierce man to point at' is enough to make this well up to the genius standards of the rest of the series.
Entertaining Father Stone
As Linehan notes on his commentary, the emphasis with this episode was on character, rather than plot, and so we have an almost Beckettian situation of the priests being landed with the awesomely dull Father Stone, a man who inspires feelings of intense boredom and depression in all who he comes into contact with. Because it's somewhat light on plot, it's a bit hard to describe this one on paper, but it's one of the funniest in the series, with the comic invention coming thick and fast.
The Passion of St Tibulus
Arguably the best episode of the series, this concerns Bishop Brennan's attempts to ban a 'blasphemous' film about St Tibulus- obviously modelled on Derek Jarman's Sebastiane- and Ted and Dougal's ineffectual protesting, which, unsurprisingly, makes the film a vast success. A slightly more satirical episode than the others, with some good digs at film censorship and ecumenical impropriety, it has some wonderful lines, including Dougal's immortal comment, about the pornographic film, 'Ah, Ted, did you see when he gave a banana to that young boy?', only to be met with the world-weary answer 'That wasn't a banana, Dougal.'
Another stunning episode, this introduces the inhabitants of Rugged Island, the exact doubles of the Craggy Island priests, as they try to win an all-priests's Stars in their Eyes competition, as judged by the Keith Chegwin/Terry Wogan character Henry Sellers. Father Jack comes to the forefront rather more in this one, especially in a wonderfully staged hunting scene late in the episode, and the Elvis jokes are hilariously done.
And God Created Woman
The weakest episode in the entire series, this is a comparatively lacklustre skit on Ted developing feelings for the controversial novelist Polly Clarke, and wondering whether to give up the priesthood for her. There are many funny gags and nice touches, but it feels far more conventional than many other episodes, and loses much of the ensemble playing that makes the show so entertaining. Ironically, the funniest section is the descent into random farce over the end credits.
Grant Unto Him Eternal Rest
Father Jack dies. Well, he doesn't actually, but it appears that he does. Obviously done as a would-be final episode in case the series wasn't recommissioned, this is constantly funny, with some hysterically funny flashbacks to Jack's life as a slightly younger priest, complete with licentious feelings towards young girls. The best episodes of Ted are the ones which feature other priests, and this one has a great assembly of them, all with one especially amusing character trait.
It's a 4:3 PAL picture of a low-budget sitcom which was shot on video. There's really nothing else to say, other than it looks fine, with slightly sharper definition than VHS, and that there's no noticeable damage to the video source, which makes everything very watchable. That said, you're hardly watching this for the sweeping widescreen vistas, or the beautiful anamorphic transfer (and if you are, you're going to be very disappointed!)
A stereo mix is provided, which is more than adequate for The Divine Comedy's theme tune and the dialogue's presentation. There's no real use of surrounds, as you'd expect, but this really isn't the sort of thing which requires a DTS 6.1 EX soundtrack.
Only one extra is provided, but it's a very good one; it's a commentary by the co-writer Graham Linehan. Linehan is one of the best comedy writers working today, being responsible, with or without Arthur Matthews or other collaborators, for such things as Ralph and Ted from The Fast Show, Brass Eye, Black Books, Blue Jam, and, of course, Ted. Therefore, a commentary track by him is hardly going to be dull, and it proves to be extremely good indeed. He doesn't bother going into lengthy descriptions of how difficult it was to make the show, or character motivation, but he talks about every aspect of Ted, from its inception to Dermot Morgan's unfortunate death (which, Linehan notes wryly, had casting agents calling him to ask who they could replace Morgan with). There are some occasional moments where it's obvious that he's watching- and enjoying, unsurprisingly, because of his constant laughter- the series, but this is certainly a better commentary than, say, the in-jokery of Spaced.
A seminal TV series is presented on a technically adequate disc with one outstanding extra. By now, you probably know whether you want to get the disc or not, and my recommendation will only be 'Ah, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on!!!!!!