The plot of Peacock’s new comedy Irreverent will feel familiar to you, if only distantly: a streetwise American tied in with the Chicago mob gets unlucky, crosses some powerful people, and is forced to flee. He winds up in Australia, where another set of coincidences forces him to assume the identity of a reverend who was just about to start working in a small town in the middle of nowhere. His immediate plans are self-serving, but circumstances force him to remain in town, and he starts caring about the people and ends up actually being a pretty decent reverend. All the while, his past life chases him, and his old enemies close in.
If that’s not the exact plot of some previous show, it’s at least a paint-by-numbers simulacrum of something we’ve seen in various forms, and you can almost imagine the moment when it was pitched, and how safe it must have sounded. You could even compare it to a dramatic series like Ozark or the Netflix miniseries Midnight Mass—a lighter, romp-ish version of a very common story. None of that is necessarily condemnatory, because you can probably reduce even the greatest shows to short descriptions that sound derivative (“star chef returns to hometown to take over dead brother’s shabby beef restaurant,” or “character from Star Wars universe does spy things for 12 episodes”)—and this kind of stuff can still work with the proper writers, directors, and cast.
So, we’re left with a few questions. Does Irreverent rise above a cliched premise? No. Assuredly not. Is it sort of fun anyway? Yes, a little. Is there any glaring flaw? Not really. Will I keep watching it beyond what felt like the critic’s due diligence for writing this review? Barring another pandemic that requires the immediate cessation of all TV production, no.
Colin Donnell stars as Paulo, a negotiator of sorts for the Chicago mob, and in the show’s second scene, a delicate discussion goes wrong when the moronic son of a prominent crime family busts into a dark parking lot, shooting everyone in sight. Only Paulo escapes, and he does so by bashing the son on the head with a brick, killing him instantly. He knows better than to stick around, and after retrieving his passport and finding a way to sneak more than a million dollars in cash onto a plane, he’s on the first flight out of town. In this case, that flight is bound for Australia, and on board he meets a recently dumped reverend named Mackenzie (P.J. Byrne) who, as we’ve learned in the first scene, is bound for the northern Queensland beach town of Clump, whose previous reverends keep dying by methods like crocodile attack. One thing leads to another, Mackenzie manages to rob Paulo (who is wasted on booze and painkillers), and in desperation Paulo heads up to Clump to find Mackenzie’s personal items in an attempt to track him down.
That’s the start of the entanglement, and the rest is pretty much as you’d gather; he meets the townspeople, tries his best to escape immediately, is stymied by events beyond his control, has to stay, starts becoming involved, cares, inserts himself into local criminal life to make money for a fake ID while the beautiful but suspicious cop slowly sniffs him out, etc. etc. Donnell’s performance is fine—he’s got that snarky-slick persona that works in contrast with the locals—but none of this is funny enough or, on the flip side, dramatic enough to carry much weight. In other words, you’re in for a frivolous romp of sorts, but you’re not laughing all that often. It’s not unpleasant, per se, but like Clump itself, it doesn’t seem like a place you’d want to stick around for very long without a good reason.
In short, it’s not a very ambitious effort, and while “ambition” can read as a bad word—the dreaded label of “trying too hard”—a lack of it leaves you in a sort of comedic purgatory where general competence quickly gives way to stasis. It’s the kind of show I watched almost hoping it would spiral downward, because that would make things easy. Instead, it coasts along, defiantly mediocre, not trying to do very much and succeeding in that pursuit of the middle road, never having the good grace to fail. I suspect there won’t be much audience for this, but if that audience exists, it’s the kind who view good television as something that can comfortably exist in the background without arousing much in the way of feeling. It’s clear that the creators of Irreverent never bothered to challenge themselves very much, and if their show finds a demographic…well, it will be their people. Amen.
Irreverent premieres Wednesday, November 30th on Peacock.
Shane Ryan is a writer and editor. You can find more of his writing and podcasting at Apocalypse Sports, and follow him on Twitter here .
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