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Blackadder: The Whole Damn Dynasty, Richard Curtis, Rowan Atkinson, and Ben Elton, Michael Joseph, 1998, ISBN 0-7181-4372-8, f15.99, 455pp.

I stumbled upon the Blackadder comedy series one night in the 1980s while channel surfing. Something was weird, I thought–there’s this sniveling coward, and this even more sniveling sycophant, and then the dogsbody who has dung all over him. Looks interesting. And as I watched, I found it extremely funny, as well. It required a knowledge of history (or Shakespeare, as you see fit), yet wasn’t afraid to do the occasional fart joke. Puerile, yet intelligent. That described me at the time as well.

The successive series (Blackadder II, Blackadder the Third, and Blackadder Goes Forth) shifted over into the more intelligent realm (with the third series being the most so), although the running jokes about Baldrick (the dogsbody) being little better than the dung he came from remained. Blackadder II, set in the court of the virgin queen, starred Miranda Richardson, who was perfect in her cruelty towards the hapless Blackadder. The third series had Hugh Laurie as the Prince Regent, a befuddled German idiot who is being taken advantage of by Blackadder, the butler (think of a dark Wooster/Jeeves match, where the Jeeves character retains his aplomb but becomes extra greedy). I never got to see the fourth series on television, so my experience with it is through this book alone.

And what a great book it is. Published to benefit Comic Relief, the organization trying to aid the poor and destitute in England and Africa, it contains the scripts to each episode of the four series with faux historical documents and a running summary of the line of Blackadder. For an American, the scripts are almost a necessity to catch some of the more obscure language used in the series–especially the curses. The endpapers have color pictures of the main characters in each series, and there are some black and white stills with humorous captions included within the pages.

To say that Blackadder is my favorite TV show is true. I liked the 1970s American sitcom, SOAP, as well, but from its hilarious beginnings, it tapered off into pure silliness (as most American shows tend to do). The nice thing about the Blackadder series is the way that the British limit themselves to sets of shows, rather than endlessly milking the cash cow. Yes, I would like to see a fifth Blackadder (I’ve seen the Christmas Carol special, which was wonderful), but only if it can be of the same quality as these. If not, let’s not ruin a good thing, shall we?

[Finished May 1999]


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