Television: Black Books

I watched this because Netflix recommended it based on other things I'd watched and liked, and because there weren't so many episodes (only 18) to make me feel like I would never get through it all. And it was really funny. Though I have to say the second series [season] was something of a slump, on the whole it was a very good show.

Black Books centers around three main characters: Bernard Black (Dylan Moran), owner of the titular bookstore, his lackey/employee Manny (Bill Bailey), and Bernard's friend Fran (Tamsin Greig). It aired in the early to mid-2000s and is visibly a product of its time, an odd cross of something like Friends married to the absurdity of, say, a Monty Python sketch. That is to say, take everything that would fly in a typical sitcom—a plot about a heatwave, for example—and push it past the limits of what one might reasonably expect in a pseudo-realistic framework, and you get (a) Manny suffering from a syndrome that prevents him from being able to get hotter than 88°, and (b) Fran's landlord installing a sliding wall that slowly makes her flat [apartment] smaller.

The show ran for three seasons, six episodes each, and even took home a couple BAFTAs. It is Bernard's vituperative nature that gets the most laughs, followed by Manny's bumbling responses, and these are driven by the absurd circumstances that build around them (i.e., housesitting for someone and then drinking a precious wine, which leads them to trying to make a new wine and re-cork the bottle) . . . The finale does end on a strange note, which makes one wonder whether they'd intended to do more, though I've been told they felt they'd run out of material. Now, a lot of shows go on long after they've run out of plots, but quitting while you're ahead isn't a bad idea, and the somewhat uneven feel of Black Books demonstrates that maybe they were right to stop when they did. But I wouldn't mind seeing a reunion show of some kind, just to find out where they all ended up.

On the whole, then, very funny, and I'm glad I watched it. Now Netflix is telling me I should move on to Spaced, but I don't know yet if I'm ready for that . . .

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