Friday, January 13, 2012

Blackadder II - Funny In Any Medium, The Second Part Is Hilarious!

The Good: Funny, Good character work, Surprisingly wonderful acting
The Bad: Medium
The Basics: Hilarious and enduring, Blackadder II, Part 2 holds up with humor over many viewings with a man and his schemes in Elizabethan England!

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 II, Part 2 it is a poor use of the poor medium: the entire second season of Blackadder could easily have fit on one video whatwith its running time being under three hours. As it is, Blackadder II, Part 2 contains the last three episodes of the second season of Blackadder, a historical comedy set in the Elizabethan Era.

In "Money," the Bishop of Bath & Wells interrupts Blackadder's activities with a prostitute to inform him that a loan of one thousand pounds Blackadder took out the year prior with the Church is now due. Threatened with torture, Blackadder begins to scheme to try to get up enough money to pay the Church back. This shocks Percy who has believed Blackadder's web of lies involving his personal wealth and is dismayed to learn that Blackadder is almost destitute.

While Percy attempts to learn alchemy in a day, the Queen repeatedly calls Blackadder to court as a prank. Drained of his purse each time he goes, Blackadder works with Baldrick to try to save his behind from the Church, selling favors to sailors and ultimately his house in the attempt!

In "Beer," Blackadder prepares to entertain his Puritan aunt and uncle, a meeting which could secure him a hefty fortune for an inheritance. Eager that nothing should go wrong, he orders Baldrick to prepare for the faithful vegetarian's arrival. As Baldrick prepares his turnip surprise, Blackadder is called to the Queen's court where Melchard is on death's door. Only, Melchard is not on death's door, he is simply suffering from a terrible hangover.

Blackadder challenges Melchard to a drinking duel, which Queen Elizabeth becomes excited and fascinated about, eager to see what men are like when not around her. So, Edmund deals with two parties in one night that must be kept carefully segregated: his aunt and uncle and his drunken friends. And when the queen - disguised - crashes the party, things really begin to get out of hand for Edmund!

In "Chains," Edmund finds himself at Queen Elizabeth's court ridiculing a friend of Melchard's who has managed to get himself captured by the French and is being held for ransom. After advising Elizabeth to not negotiate with the hostage-takers, Edmund is captured by Germans. Moments later, Melchard is captured as well and the two wake up in the hands of a tormentor they do not understand.

As Percy and Baldrick attempt to entertain Elizabeth, Melchard and Blackadder struggle with their captivity and make an effort to escape their deranged tormentor. But then they meet the brains behind the operation, a scarred German who they have met in their pasts, a master of disguise, leaving Edmund to come up with a cunning plan on his own lest he never see Elizabeth and England again!

Blackadder II is a pretty tight mix of historical one-liners that make obscure references to British and European history and universal, timeless humor. So, for instance, in "Money," there are a number of references to the depravity of the Church, specifically the Bishop Of Bath And Wells. Mixed in with that is the plain humor of descriptions of acts of sexual depravity that leave a lot to the viewer's imagination, but are clear enough to be quite laughable. As well, there is the utter hilarity of Percy in Elizabethan leather S&M wear. Seriously, it is on-the-floor laugh-out-loud funny!

Despite occasionally obscure or dated humor, the characters are fun and interesting. Edmund is hilarious with his schemes to try to get ahead and Percy is an utter idiot. Fans of Blackadder will enjoy Edmund's wit in episodes like "Beer" where he works to come up with a truly convincing explanation for one of the horrible things that happens and he sits, contemplating it, working it all out in his mind before laying it out for his Aunt. This Edmund has some real brains! On the other side, Baldrick is a complete idiot and takes the brunt of virtually all of Edmund's schemes.

On the character front, these last episodes of Blackadder II are fleshed out with Melchard, whose piousness takes a bit of a hit when the viewer learns of his nocturnal activities with sheep (classic British humor!) and Queen Elizabeth who continues to be characterized by violent mood swings. The finale, "Chains," though, actually depends upon the character of Nursie and the way that is woven together is absolutely brilliant.

The acting is pretty decent as well, whatwith Rowan Atkinson taking the title role of Edmund Blackadder and making him into one of the most beautifully demented British comedy roles ever to grace the television. Atkinson has both a great wit with verbal comedy and a pretty impressive sense of physical comedy. In "Chains," he has to act expressively without the use of his body (he is locked into a torture box) and he pulls it off with perfect execution.

In fact, the only real strikes against this video is that is it not living up to its capacity and the ridiculous (even for the time) special effects. There are still moments when the lights wash out the film and that seems ridiculous that it would happen in a program in the 1980s, but one supposes Blackadder II was not the big budget item for the BBC at the time! In general, it's a wonderful collection of humor that holds up well over multiple viewings.

This is exceptionally funny and anyone looking for something different from their comedies will likely enjoy these episodes of Blackadder, regardless of the medium!

[Given that VHS is a rapidly dying medium, a far better investment would be Blackadder - The Complete Second 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!]


For other television reviews, be sure to check out my organized listing of all of the television reviews I have written by clicking here!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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