Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Black Adder (1983) Review

The first Blackadder's greatest ace is the main trio dynamic.

The Black Adder
 is the first series(or season) of a comedy sitcom franchise that was very popular in the UK, but rather obscure to the outside world. When you look at the whole show, it's almost like a British greatest hits: Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Miranda Richardson, Robbie Coltrane, Tom Baker and heaven knows who else.

However, before all that happened, there were six episodes...

You see, the reason why each Blackadder series has its own title is because they're all miniature shows in their own right. Each one depicts a different member of the "Blackadder dynasty"(all with different personality traits, but ultimately the same rotten core) in a different period of British history.

Of course, this brilliant idea came afterwards, when the initial show had failed. But that's a story for another time. We're here to take a look at the series that started it all.

The Black Adder takes place during a secret period in history that was heavily rewritten by Henry Tudor(the alleged victor of the Battle of Bosworth Field). After winning the battle, Richard III(Peter Cook) accidentally gets his head chopped off by his incompetent relative, Edmund Plantagenet(who mistook the helmeted Richard for an enemy). After his own father is crowned King Richard IV(Brian Blessed at his finest) as a result, Edmund becomes a prince and his ambitions go sky high.
The series focuses on Edmund's attempts to bypass his father and brother to the throne and rule England. He is accompanied by Baldrick(Tony Robinson), a lowly servant who takes advantage of Edmund's vanity and gets himself the position of his squire(though he's legitimately loyal to him) and Lord Percy Percy(Tim McInnerny), Edmund's only friend.

While Edmund is fairly intelligent, he is let down by his utter lack of courage or integrity. As such, no one except Percy has any true respect for him(Baldrick's basically leeching off of him). To boost his self-esteem, Edmund gives himself the moniker of "The Black Adder"(and a costume to match). Being Rowan Atkinson, he's naturally likable despite just how pathetic he is. Also, you truly feel sorry for the way he is treated by everyone around him.

As with Edmund, Baldrick is genuinely a nice guy despite his own unfavorable behavior. He uses Edmund to get a better life for himself, but that's just because his own life sucks(he's a dung gatherer) that bad. He does everything in his power to help Edmund achieve his potential and Edmund is glad for the help. The two complement each other and form a friendship based on equal need for each other, though neither would admit it.

Then there's Lord Percy Percy, the dumbest of the group, whose naiv├ęte makes him the target for at least half the jokes. He is the most honest person of the group and helps Edmund out of pure friendship.

That sort of equal dynamic would only be in Blackadder once afterwards, which is a real shame, because I think the characters are far more likable when actually working together(evil plans or not) rather than mocking each other all the time.

The episodes themselves are hit and miss: "The Black Seal" is a classic, riffing on great epics, most notably Robin Hood. On the other hand, there's "The Queen Of Spain's Beard" which is just dumb gay comedy. Gay doesn't equal funny(Blackadder II made the same mistake in "Bells").

The Black Adder ends on an unusually dramatic note for a comedy: everyone dies(almost). As Edmund himself finally kicks the bucket, a tear-inducing piano version of the theme song plays over slow-mo flashbacks of all the good times. It's a great finale, but of course, the story would continue a few hundred years later...





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