• Michael Randall

Father Ted - The Curious Case of the Best Show That (a Number of) Students Haven't Watched

This year, I have started to get involved with our 3rd year elective class ‘Law, Film and Popular Culture’, which uses film as a lens through which to view and discuss legal issues – the portrayal of law on film, whether that is in the courtroom (juries and military justice), or portrayal of lawyers as heroes and villains.

Last week, I gave the first core lecture of the class on censorship and the law, which broadly speaking, discussed the regulation of ‘video nasties’ and horror films in the 1970s. The 2nd slide, though, featured a screen shot from an episode of Father Ted, called ‘The Passion of Saint Tiberius’, which features a protest of an allegedly blasphemous film which backfires, and makes it the most successful film on the island. This was used as a very self-indulgent example to make the point that if you censor a film, it gives it notoriety/more people want to see it.

However, from what I can tell, and from dropping in casual Father Ted references into conversations with students, it seems that very few current undergraduate students have actually ever seen/heard of the show. This makes me feel very old. And it disappoints me greatly. This could easily be the shortest blog entry that I have written here, in which I just write in capital letters “JUST GO AND WATCH FATHER TED IN FULL NOW. THANK ME LATER”. But, alas, some setup might help.

For anyone who hasn’t seen it, Father Ted follows the travails of a catholic priest, who (as a punishment) is sent to remote island of misfits. We see him living with other priests, the dim-witted Dougal and the perpetually drunk Father Jack. It is only 25 episodes. Each one stands the test of time. It is a near-perfect show. The only thing I would say is as far as Channel 4 comedies go, I would give the nod to Peep Show instead, but honestly, it is one of the greatest programmes you could hope to watch.

In addition to The Passion of Saint Tiberius episode, we have episodes involving ‘The Golden Cleric’ award, rigging a raffle, Ted trying to convince people that he’s not racist, a daring escape from the lingerie section of a department store, parodies of the film ‘Speed’ involving a milk float, and the ‘Kicking Bishop Brennan up the arse’ storyline. The secondary/minor characters and misfits are superb. I could go on about this for hours and hours.

The other thing that I find is that if I mention it to students, I’ll get a polite “I’ll have to check it some time”, but it’s so near-perfect, that you want to almost set it as required viewing. However, you don’t want to over-push it. It is the same as trying to get someone to watch your favourite film – after a while, you stop focusing on how good the film is/what you like about it, and start picking apart why the other person can’t see its brilliance.

The best thing I can say about it is I’ve seen all the episodes, and each one still makes me laugh. Whether I know what is coming up, or I’ve forgotten sections, it still hits the spot. I am very jealous of anyone who has not seen it, and gets to experience the show with fresh eyes, and get that original experience.

One other thing which the show has, for me at least, is a perfect/bittersweet ending. I’m normally very wary of TV shows which stay on the air for too long. This tends to be an American thing (honestly, when you have seasons of 24 episodes, and run for 10-11 seasons, it is too much, you get bad episodes, and the show loses its heart). The Big Bang Theory went past its sell by date. Friends exhausted all possibilities well before it finished. But Fawlty Towers was 12 episodes. The Office (UK) was only 14 episodes. Yes, Peep Show ran for 10 series and I love it, but the overall ending was a bit flat for me. The very last episode of Father Ted ends just where it needs to. I won't spoil it for anyone who wants to watch it, but I'd struggle to think of a series finale, particularly a comedy one, which 'sticks the landing' (the 'How I Met Your Mother' one is dreadful, for example).

There is, of course, a very clear reason why the show didn’t ever come back/continue. The day after the final episode finished filming, Dermot Morgan, who played Ted, passed away of a heart attack. When you know this, it makes the finale even more poignant. Near-perfect, there won’t be anything like it ever again (yes, even if Graham Linehan wrote ‘The IT Crowd’, it’s not even close to that level). If you haven’t seen it, go and watch it now.

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