Sunday, January 22, 2012

Humor From The Days Of Yore Closes With Blackadder The Third, Part 2

The Good: Funny, Moments of acting
The Bad: Humor is more predictable, Medium
The Basics: Funny, but not timeless in the way the earlier Blackadder incarnations were, Blackadder The Third still ends well with "Part 2!"

It is tough to go back to the old mediums sometimes. In the case of Blackadder, the classic British comedy from the 1980s starring Rowan Atkinson and written by Richard Curtis, this is even more irksome. For while Blackadder is consistently funny, arguably the problem with the series is that the humor becomes repetitive over the various seasons (series') of Blackadder. Thus, by the time one gets to Blackadder The Third, the dry sarcasm and wit of Edmund Blackadder is largely foreseeable.

In Blackadder The Third, Edmund is manservant to the idiotic Prince Regent, George. As Parliament gains in power, Edmund finds his position more and more tenuous as George's buffoonery threatens his place in society and his very life. This video contains the final three episodes of Blackadder The Third and it is something of a waste, as the entire series (season) could have fit on a single video whatwith each episode being less than half an hour. This video presents the episodes "Sense And Senility," "Amy And Amiability" and "Duel And Duality," which caps off the series.

In "Sense and Senility," Blackadder is tiring of the Prince Regent's constant degradations, especially as he begins to fear an uprising from the lower class (in this case, Baldrick). To reassure the masses, Blackadder writes a speech and George has the idea to have local actors train him in how to best deliver it. Unfortunately, the Regent does not exactly understand acting or how it is not real.

As a result, Blackadder brings two local, esteemed actors to the manor, where they mock Blackadder's writing and train the Regent in the most ridiculous forms of public speaking. Upset by both, Blackadder abandons the Regent as Baldrick stumbles upon their apparent plan to murder George!

In "Amy And Amiability," Blackadder finds the bills piling up and no relief in sight. When he approaches the Prince Regent about getting some additional cash, he discovers that George - gullible as he is - has been taken in card games by his peers. The Regent actually asks Edmund for some money and, realizing the circumstances are dire, Edmund decides that the only solution for their problems is to find someone wealthy for George to marry.

As Baldrick goes on and on about the beauty and glory of being a highwayman, Edmund finds the only eligible bachelorette he can find, Amy. Amy is a complete nitwit and the daughter of an industrialist who has the benefit of having never met Prince George. As a result, Blackadder tries to woo her in the Regent's name up until the moment that he learns she is not loaded and not quite what she seems!

In "Duel And Duality," Blackadder finds himself dismayed when the Prince Regent returns from a night on the town wherein he slept with two of the high commander's nieces. As Blackadder suspected he would, the Duke promises death to the Regent for this deflowering. Desperate, the Regent turns to Blackadder for help. Blackadder, preoccupied with his Scottish cousin's arrival in London, can scarcely be bothered to bail out the Regent yet again.

It is Baldrick who comes up with a plan to save the Regent's life: have him swap places with someone willing to impersonate the Regent. Unfortunately for Blackadder, he is volunteered for this mission and as a result, he faces certain death at the hands of the Duke . . . unless his doppelgänger is willing to step in for him!

Blackadder The Third, Part 2 cements the idea that Blackadder is easily the mental superior of the Prince Regent and is hilarious in moments. So, for example, when King George finally makes his appearance at the climax of the final episode, there are laughs that are well-earned. But for fans of Blackadder, the video is not as strong on content in addition to its merits on this medium. "Sense And Senility" pokes fun at the educated actors much the same way the earlier episode in the season, "Ink And Incapability" poked fun at the educated writers of the day. We get it and Blackadder's disdain is pretty much identical in both episodes.

What saves even the video of Blackadder The Third from mediocrity is the use of actor Hugh Laurie. American audiences might know him best from his dramatic role in House, M.D., but his sensibilities are rooted in comedy and that is where he got his start. His role as the Prince Regent on Blackadder The Third is classic and his ability to play the utter idiot in these episodes is still worthy of laughs.

As for star Rowan Atkinson, these episodes merely illustrate the polish with which he can perfect the role, much the same as Tony Robinson's portrayal of the lowly Baldrick. Atkinson and Baldrick play essentially the same characters through the different time periods and by this point, both seem quite adept at their roles with little genuine challenge for their acting abilities. Atkinson is dry and consistently sardonic, Robinson plays the blank-faced idiot through most of his time on screen and they play off one another well.

Blackadder The Third is a comedy and it holds up fairly well (the humor outlasts the video tape medium) over multiple viewings and while I have seen each of these three episodes over ten times each, I still come back to them about once a year. There are no bonus features, as this is video, not DVD, and for those looking for uncommon British Comedy, it is hard to do better than this, even if fans will see most of it coming by this point.

[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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