The Good: Funny, Clever, Wonderful characters, Interesting (enough) plots
The Bad: Repetitive sense of humor, Poor use of the medium.
The Basics: A bit more repetitive than groundbreaking, Blackadder The Third, Part 1 slides the franchise a little, though it is still quite funny.
I have a huge respect for the Blackadder franchise. Still, as I have been rewatching the episodes for review, I find that the series I had thought of as my favorite for quite some time is now boring me more than I ever thought possible. That is Blackadder The Third and on video, as I watch the episodes that opened this third iteration, my feeling that this comedy is far more average than I remember it being before now.
It is a rare thing that I end up calling a VHS a poor use of the medium. Indeed, it is a poor medium, but the use of it is often limited only to being that medium. In the case of Blackadder The Third Part 1 it is a poor use of the poor medium: the entire third season of Blackadder could easily have fit on one video whatwith its running time being under three hours. As it is, Blackadder The Third Part 1 contains the first three episodes of the third season of Blackadder, (retitled Blackadder The Third) a historical comedy set during in the rise of Parliament.
In "Dish And Dishonesty," Lord Edmund Blackadder, servant to the Prince Regent, finds himself languishing after the general election, in which almost none of Britain's population was able to vote. News reaches Blackadder that the House Of Commons is moving to strip the Prince Regent of his funding. So threatened, Blackadder leaps into politics to try to save the Prince Regent and his own treasury.
Combating the young Prime Minister (Pitt the Younger) quickly turns problematic when the last possible ally of the monarchy in Parliament dies abruptly. Edmund seizes on the death to run a candidate who is a shill for the Prince for the seat in the Commons. Thus, Baldrick is put up for the position of representing the rotten borough and Blackadder soon discovers this is even more problematic than he thought it might be!
In "Ink And Incapability," the Prince Regent, upset at the increasing vocalness of his detractors, seeks to appear more intelligent. Thus, he sends for Cooleridge, who has been working on the first English Dictionary to become a patron. Blackadder, dismayed because of Cooleridge's popularity and because he once sent the author a novel in hopes of being published through him, is expectantly sour and he prepares to sabotage the meeting.
Cooleridge, far more erudite than the Prince Regent, arrives, has a fit with the Regent's stupidity and leaves in a huff, but not before revealing that his plan for the Dictionary was to earn enough money to publish the book Blackadder wrote. Edmund convinces Cooleridge to hang around over a weekend while he gets the Regent to patronize the Dictionary. Unfortunately, Edmund returns to the manor to discover Baldrick has burned the manuscript to the Dictionary and Blackadder must connive his way out of the problem!
In "Nob And Nobility," Francophilia is spreading through London as the French Revolution rages on. Blackadder, peeved about the legendary Scarlet Pimpernel gaining popularity in Britain, becomes annoyed with the Regent and Baldrick, who both have a bit of hero worship of the Frenchman. Edmund goes so far as to accuse the Scarlet Pimpernel of being a fraud by declaring that anyone could do what he does. With a bet on the line, Edmund heads off to France to rescue an aristocrat from the revolutionaries.
Actually, Edmund just heads down to the basement while the Regent attempts to get on his trousers. After a week of loafing around, Edmund and Baldrick head down to Mrs. Miggins' Pie Shop to find a French aristocrat to "rescue." In the process, they are captured by the revolutionaries and Blackadder must find his way out of the mess!
Blackadder The Third is a wonderful mix of historical one-liners that make obscure references to British and European history and universal, timeless humor. So, for instance, in "Nob And Nobility," there are numerous allusions to various events in French history pertaining to the Revolution. Mixed with those obscure references, there are universal jokes like the humorous way victims of the suicide pills die. There's a good balance between the bawdy jokes about sex and jokes about such things as the machinations of Parliament. The balance makes for a smart and simultaneously universal show.
As well, the characters are fun and interesting. Edmund is hilarious with his could sarcasm and the Prince Regent, George, is an utter idiot. Fans of the Blackadder franchise will likely enjoy seeing Edmund evolve from the first two Blackadders to this point where he is as smart as he was in the prior Blackadder, but forced to stay in his place as the Regent's manservant. As a result, he is once again the smartest character on screen and that works for him. In Blackadder The Third, Baldrick is once again an utter imbecile, as Edmund's dogboy. His catchphrase of "I have a cunning plan" resurfaces. Of course, he is always wrong.
On the character front, these first episodes of Blackadder The Third are fleshed out with the Prince Regent, who is an absolute dolt. The Prince Regent is played by none other than Hugh Laurie, who many people know from House, M.D. He plays the idiot in these episodes flawlessly and as the butt of Edmund's jokes, Laurie's Regent is often forced to recap after the laugh track and Laurie is amazing at that! Those who love his crotchety doctor character will respect his acting talents even more when they see him in this!
The primary acting is great as well, whatwith Rowan Atkinson taking the title role of Edmund Blackadder. Atkinson is given a fairly unique acting challenge: the present essentially the same character (Blackadder) a different way while keeping the performance fresh and funny. Atkinson does this by altering the delivery of his lines. While the first season of Blackadder had Atkinson delivering most of his lines with a sniveling quality and Blackadder II has him delivering them all with pomposity, Blackadder The Third is all about cold sarcasm. Atkinson is a master of the solid, deadpan delivery. Atkinson makes for a credible intellectual snob in this series and he plays off the blank-faced idiocy that Hugh Laurie presents with the Regent perfectly.
In fact, the only real strikes against this video is that is it not living up to its capacity and by this point in the series, the humor is getting a bit repetitive. Blackadder makes analogies constantly to illustrate his ironic points and by this point, some of them are downright predictable.
Still, it is not enough to not recommend this as a timeless, classic bit of British comedy well worth the buy from adults who love to laugh!
[Given that VHS is a rapidly dying medium, a far better investment would be Blackadder - The Complete Third Season, reviewed here!
As well, those who already love Blackadder will find Blackadder - The Complete Series to be an even better buy, reviewed here!
Thanks for reading!]
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© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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