The Good: Funny, Rewatchable, Good acting, Fun characters, Nice premise
The Bad: Style repeats too much by the end, DVD bonus problems
The Basics: Edmund Blackadder and his servant Baldrick journey through historical England trying to get noticed and move up the social rungs without being killed. It's funny how they fail.
I can think of no other comedy that attempted to use essentially the same characters in various historical time periods, which would make Black Adder a true original. The boxed set The Complete BlackAdder is a true comic masterpiece and a treat to those who have seen the show and those ready to fall in love with a smart, funny comedy that quits (mostly) before it gets dull.
The boxed set has five incarnations of Black Adder (okay, seven if you're a real fan!) and they run as follows: BlackAdder finds Prince Edmund Blackadder, unloved son of King Henry the Fourth of England (history scholars know there was no such man, but that's dealt with in the first five minutes of the series), Blackadder II which finds Blackadder as a courtesan to crazy Queen Elizabeth, Blackadder The Third wherein Edmund finds himself a servant to the idiot Prince Regent, Blackadder Goes Fourth where Edmund is a general on the German Front in World War I, and Blackadder Back And Forth where Edmund creates a time machine and goes on a fun adventure, basically rewriting the series. There are two specials on the discs, Blackadder: The Cavalier Years and A Blackadder Christmas Carol (which is hilarious), though Back And Forth is technically a special as well, with the other four being six-episode seasons.
Basically, Edmund Blackadder is a British person whose social standing and position alter radically through history as his descendants find themselves in different historical periods. So, while all of the protagonists in Blackadder are named Edmund Blackadder, they are not the same person (which isn't as difficult to follow as it might sound as we see some of the Edmunds die). Getting beyond the strange family line of Blackadder is quite easy. Figuring out how his sidekick, Baldrick mates in order to reproduce to keep the Baldrick line running concurrent to the Blackadders is the real mystery and stretch of the imagination.
This is a historical comedy and the nicest thing about it is that it is funny. Hands down, episode after episode, this is a funny series. You watch it, you laugh. You want to rewatch it. It's a DVD, you can! The comedy of Blackadder is basically in watching the repugnant Blackadder, along with his sidekick Baldrick try to weasel his way into power and out of responsibility. For example, in Blackadder II, there is an episode devoted to money (entitled "Money") wherein Blackadder and Baldrick scheme to make money, while their dimwitted friend Percy tries his had at alchemy. Percy creates green instead of gold and every attempt Blackadder makes to make money is foiled by the insane queen who calls on Blackadder on her whims and subtly robs him each time.
Blackadder is populated by interesting characters. Usually, after the first BlackAdder, Blackadder is a cunning man surrounded by idiots who have all the power, while he has little or none. Blackadder attempts to manipulate British politics, for example, by whispering his plans through the Prince Regent in Blackadder the Third. The standards throughout history (in the Blackadder universe) are:
Edmund Blackadder - Whose greed, ambition and intelligence are often thwarted, but he survives and remains interesting with his rapier wit, his biting sarcasm and his knack for getting out of trouble at the last second,
Baldrick - Blackadder's servant throughout time. He's a filthy, smelly idiot who Blackadder barely tolerates, though he does occasionally have a cunning plan,
Lord Percy (later Darling) - An utter moron who is usually the easy whipping post for Blackadder,
George - The more powerful moron who replaces Percy as Blackadder's whipping post,
Melchett - A wise person usually a rung or two above Blackadder on the social scale, giving him opportunity and position to thwart Blackadder,
And, despite what you might suspect from that line-up, there are women, too. They usually play supporting roles (especially in Blackadder Goes Fourth, as that is a military story), some of whom are quite powerful. Obviously, Blackadder II would be quite different were the Queen and her Nursie absent from it. However, the inclusion of Mrs. Miggens in Blackadder The Third does make one wonder; going out of the way to put a female character there works slightly to the detriment of that series as she feels added.
The acting here is top notch. Rowan Atkinson plays Blackadder and he is hilarious as him. Atkinson has a way of twisting his full face up that can make one laugh. Combine that disgusted look with witty dialog and you have the magic of BlackAdder. Atkinson's sense of comic timing truly is genius and BlackAdder, being his first big project, allows him to utilize that most organically.
Accompanying him in all of the incarnations is Tony Robinson as Baldrick. Robinson plays off Atkinson's extreme physical expressions with perfect blankness. He makes Baldrick fun and intriguing by being more than simply a wall to bounce ideas off of, but by playing off Atkinson to use Blackadder's conceits against him. It is truly a perfect pairing as the two play off one another with timing that keeps the intelligence and humor at the forefront. That is a rare thing.
The supporting cast includes Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie (before their Jeeves and Wooster days!), Tim McInnerny, and Miranda Richardson. These are all people who are fine actors and actresses and do an amazing job at giving Rowan and Tony things to work with. The ensemble that is built by "Blackadder Back and Forth" is truly impressive and it makes that special seem like a welcome trip with some old friends.
The only real blemish against this boxed set is that by the end of it, Blackadder's sarcasm wears thin. His ability to put Baldrick down becomes repetitive. I recommend watching one series a week, that stretches it out and mitigates this problem. The only other problem with this otherwise wonderful DVD set is that each disc has a gallery for historical background (so you can understand better some of Blackadders specific references) and for information on the actors of the series. Both bonuses have audio tracks that cut out before they are finished. So, mid-sentence trying to learn more about Stephen Fry and the disc will bring you back to the menu.
All in all, this is fun, intelligent comedy at its best. BlackAdder develops as one family's quest to rule England and all of the historical forces that stop him. It's funny, well acted and it holds up well after years of watching.
For a more complete idea of what this boxed set entails (including links to each episode) please check out my reviews of:
Blackadder The Third
Blackadder's Christmas Carol
Blackadder Goes Forth
Blackadder Back And Forth
For other television reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2012, 2009, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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