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It’s hard to be a priest, these days. And especially if he is Irish catholic, confined to a desolate parish - inhabited by a bunch of poor souls ‘forgotten by God’. Father Ted defends his mission in Craggy Island with the obstinacy reminiscent of the last Japanese soldier left on Iwo Jima. He is helped by two other priests, whom he has to confront daily (risking his own mental sanity). One is Father Dougal MacGuire (played by Ardal O’Hanlan), who is the religious version of Forrest Gump, he has very confused ideas about catholic doctrine and has a passion for woollen vests. Father Jack Hackett (played by Frank Kelly), is a sort of alcoholic sub-human who loses his patience very easily and who sits in the armchair of his sitting room almost constantly. He is able to pronounce three words only: “Drink!”, “Girls!”, “Feck” (= Fuck), and on occasion “Arse!”. One could easily say that only God knows how he has become priest. Mrs Doyle – a hyperactive and intrusive landlady (played by Pauline McLynn) - takes care of the threesome and systematically forces her guests to gulp down her tea (ready at any time of the day) and her indigestible sandwiches. Father Ted stands out as the “one with brain” amongst this bunch of rascals; his “common sense” enables him to halt Father Jack’s embarrassing reactions. However, sometimes he also gives in to some very human temptations. First of all, Father Jack is very poor. He has a very modest life, which he accepts as part of his mission. However, he often can’t help but envy those priests who are luckier than him, those who have gone “up in their career” and who live in nice houses, dress elegantly, are surrounded by beautiful women and even have a mobile telephone. Consequently, many of his anecdotes originate from his need to rack up some money, not only with the aim of doing some repair work in the house (which is run down) but also to stand out from misery and from an anonymous life… And that’s why he writes a song with Father Dougal. The song, which is meant to be presented at Eurofestival, and is called “My Lovely Horse”, is is already a hit amongst Father Ted’s fans. on another occasion, he becomes chaperon to a local rock star, who he also puts up at the presbytery for a short time. Father Ted is a man and as a man he lives in a reality which is sometimes foolish, sometimes depressing, sometimes quite unique in a certain type of suburbia. But he is so enthusiastic and genuine that in the end even when things go wrong (which usually happens) he never makes a big deal out of it.
Finally, I’d like to make a comment on two main features of the TV series: first of all about the house in which Father Ted’s and his colleagues’ stories take place. Secondly, about the general approach to Catholicism.
The house is a very modest building in the Irish suburbs: it’s noticeable from the very beginning as the building is shot from high up to gradually appear in a field right in the middle of nowhere. This view already gives a feeling of isolation. As we watch the show, we see the inside of the house, which basically consists of two main rooms, the sitting room and Father Ted’s and Father Dougal’s bedroom (they’re indeed too poor to have single bedrooms). Its furniture, which is also quite typical of British houses (similar to that seen in Mr. Bean’s shows), constantly reminds us of familiar Catholic icons, which are more elaborated, baroque and unintentionally in poor taste. We see paintings of the Virgin Mary with an open and shining heart, pictures of Christ in bizarre places – even on a couch cover – which are used as interior décor to the presbytery.
Their aim is not to desecrate: it is in fact very funny to see Father Ted and his friends move amongst all this street-market-clutter, as if it were their own world, without even noticing its consumerist reality, which would probably irritate many Catholics. This leads to the show’s second feature, people’s approach to religion.
When reading about Father Ted, one would expect to hear very naughty and witty jokes about the Church, the priests and the Pope: in other words, a politically incorrect and intentionally provocative type of humour. Well, there’s nothing like that, there’s no swearing against priests, or obvious jokes about monks or anything like that. Simply, there’s no intention to shock the audience because in the show every line is so ‘natural’ and funny that not even the most defensive catholic would be shocked. In Father Ted, religion is taught through its dogmas and therefore it is often hard to understand it (especially for someone with a limited brain such as Father Dougal); priests behave more like normal men rather than saints (isn’t that so in real life?), and sometimes even give the impression of forgetting that they’re priests.
In other words, Father Ted’s secret is a sort of lightness, a foolish unawareness, a benign indulgence about everybody’s petty sins and its irresistible humour comes from the fact that those who commit these sins are the priests themselves, from whom one would expect much ‘higher’ acts. But you know, it’s really hard to be a priest these days… especially at Craggy Island.



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