Friday, January 6, 2012

Much Underappreciated: Blackadder Begins Strong On Video, Despite The Medium!

The Good: Funny, Clever, Delightfully unlikable characters
The Bad: Special effects, Poor use of the medium.
The Basics: A clever and funny series with universal and educated humorous references, the first three episodes of Blackadder are a winner, even on VHS!

Blackadder is one of the few comedies I own in my permanent collection, for a reason: it is one of the most consistently funny and clever concepts to grace comedy. It is one of the few comedy series' that holds up well over time and has high rewatchability. It is hard to think of a comedy, as well, that put such emphasis on production values as Blackadder; as it is a historical comedy, much needed to be made in terms of sets and costumes.

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, Part 1 it is a poor use of the poor medium: the entire first season of Blackadder could easily have fit on one video whatwith its running time being under three hours. As it is, Blackadder, Part 1 contains the first three episodes of the first season of Blackadder, a historical comedy set in the Dark Ages.

In "The Foretelling," Richard the Third prepares for the Battle Of Bosworth Field with the aid of his trusted ward, Richard Duke Of York, a great and boisterous lord and military tactician. Richard the Duke's charges include the sycophantic Harry and Edmund, a slimy toady who wants to get ahead. After embarrassing himself to the king the night before the battle, Edmund wakes up late for the battle and, accompanied by his servant Baldrick, arrives at Bosworth Field late.

While relieving himself behind a tree, Edmund sees a man about to take off with his horse and he slays him, only to discover that it is Richard III and he has inadvertently committed regicide. He flees with a wounded noble who offers him a lot of money to keep him safe and help him recuperate. As word gets out about Richard's death, Richard ascends to the throne as King and the identity of the man Edmund - now a heartbeat away from the throne - is nursing back to health becomes known to him as he is stalked by Richard III's ghost.

In "Born To Be King," Edmund - now known as the Blackadder - is left as second in charge of England while Richard IV is off fighting the Turks. As the Feast Of St. Leonard nears, Richard IV's Scottish compatriot arrives, bearing news of interest to the Blackadder. Relegated to arranging the entertainment for the Feast, Blackadder is eager to find out what the Scotsman knows that might allow him to depose Harry.

After a woeful attempt to make the Feast go well, Blackadder comes into possession of letters which might serve him well, letters that illustrate that the Queen had an affair and one of her sons is not King Richard's!

In "The Archbishop," the Archbishop of Canterbury is murdered after defying the will of King Richard IV and encouraging the most wealthy landowner in England to turn his land over to the Church moments before he dies. This fate has happened to multiple Archbishops of Canterbury of late and Edmund sees this as an opportune time to dispatch of Harry, hoping his pious brother will get the post.

Unfortunately for Blackadder, Richard appoints Edmund to the post and prepares to have him slain, until Blackadder convinces a landowner to turn his property over to the king. With a new alliance between the crown and church, Richard returns home where two drunken knights overhear him talking to his wife and come to believe the king wants them to kill the Archbishop of Canterbury!

Blackadder 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, before the big battle in "The Foretelling," Edmund reminds everyone, "Remember before you go to don armor in the morning to GO before you don armor!" Sure, it's simple bathroom humor, but it's still funny and everyone can get it.

Even so, the characters are fun and interesting. Edmund is hilarious with his pointless schemes and Percy is an utter idiot. Fans of Blackadder will be surprised to see that in these early episodes, Baldrick is not a complete idiot, nor is he the brunt of all of Blackadder's wrath and frustration. Instead, Baldrick is a cunning companion to Edmund who is the actual power and brains behind most of Edmund's schemes.

On the character front, these first episodes of Blackadder are fleshed out with King Richard IV, a loud, psychopathic king whose machinations toward making war and securing England are comic. Then there is Harry, the goody two-shoes who is truly learned and yet utterly naive. His part in "The Archbishop" is hilarious, like - for example - when he asks if his right hand offends him and he has to cut it off, what is he supposed to do if his left hand offends him after that?

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. As he withdraws from the King's presence in one episode, he has to back out in a sycophantic manner and Atkinson's sense of movement is utterly hilarious.

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. In addition to having a plain silly effect with Richard III's disembodied head, these early episodes suffer from numerous washouts and glares from poor lighting.

That said, it is still very funny and anyone looking for something different from their comedies will likely enjoy these early episodes of Blackadder, regardless of the medium!

[Given that VHS is a rapidly dying medium, a far better investment would be Blackadder - The Complete First 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, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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