Saturday, January 14, 2012

Still Funny, Blackadder The Third Begins To Show Its Wear Some!

The Good: Funny, Moments of acting, Hugh Laurie makes a good addition to the mix
The Bad: Repetitive plots and concepts, Joke style becoming more familiar than funny.
The Basics: Funny, but wearing a little thinner after ten years of watching the same six episodes, Blackadder The Third is enduring historical comedy!

Have you ever returned to one of your favorite things from your youth only to discover in your adulthood that it is not as wonderful as you remember it being? I think that is precisely where I am with Blackadder The Third, the third season/series of Blackadder. I have been going back through my collection of Blackadder DVDs (I have the Complete Collection, reviewed here!) and I have been watching each of the discs and I was surprised to find I enjoyed Blackadder The Third less this time through than I ever had before. This was, in fact, the series (season) of Blackadder that I had initially fallen in love with the series watching. This time, it felt more familiar than audacious, which I suppose it so be expected some.

Where Blackadder was the story of Prince Edmund, the Blackadder, in the Dark Ages and Blackadder II was the tale of Edmund Blackadder, minor lord in the court of Queen Elizabeth, Blackadder The Third follows Mr. Blackadder, manservant to the Prince Regent, George. Like his ancestors, Edmund is a deeply sarcastic man who is accompanied by his servant (called a dogboy in this time) Baldrick and they wait upon the dimwitted Prince Regent. As well, they take regular trips to Mrs. Miggins' Pie Shop and interact with her. The Prince Regent, largely an idiot, is neglectful but stupidly rich, allowing Blackadder to frequently take advantage of him. In this time period, Edmund is quite intelligent and seldom takes Baldrick up on his "very cunning plans."

Edmund Blackadder is a snobby servant who is abused, neglected and ridiculed by Prince Regent George, who Blackadder is quite a bit smarter than. In his time Edmund tries to get ahead, usually by lying to all involved about his wealth and status, while working to achieve the latter by getting some of the former! Often forced to entertain the Prince Regent, he escapes his social better to pick on his intellectual inferiors, Baldrick and Mrs. Miggins.

In this time, Edmund finds himself struggling for money and eager to keep his employer rolling in the dough. As a result, he attempts to get Baldrick into the House Of Commons and himself into the House Of Lords. He spars with the leading writers of the day, avoids the Francophiles as the French Revolution reigns and despises Baldrick all the more for adoring a highwayman's lifestyle. He treats actors with utter contempt and when the time comes, he becomes part of a cunning plan to save the Regent's life by swapping places with him in a duel!

Three of the principle characters will be familiar to fans of Blackadder as Edmund Blackadder and Baldrick are each played by the same people in roughly the same capacity as they appeared in the first two series' of Blackadder. Gone is Percy and Tim McInnerny, though McInnerny appears in one episode as a liberator of French aristocrats! As well, Mrs. Miggins appears in this new incarnation to add some new blood to the series. This has the effect of keeping the series fresh and she works in one or two scenes, but otherwise does not add anything extraordinary. Instead of simply being Edmund criticizing the Regent's stupidity and insulting Baldrick's hygiene, he is often forced to be deferential to the Regent or George's visitors, who are considered Blackadder's social betters.

The principle characters of Blackadder The Third are:

Mr. Edmund Blackadder - A manservant, he is educated but fairly poor. Waiting on the Prince Regent has left him bitter and he is often dry and ironic. He uses his innate intelligence and disdain for the order of things to scheme to try to get money. He still uses Baldrick to do his dirty work, which includes, standing in as an example of the foul ways the Regent would have to dress if he wanted to go to France,

Baldrick - The completely worthless dogboy of Edmund. His best idea is to have Edmund rewrite the world's only dictionary over the course of a weekend after he burns Cooleridge's only copy in a fire,

The Prince Regent George - A bit of a thicky, he is stupid, lusty and spoiled. He is gullible and Blackadder uses his gullibility and stupidity to advance himself with his own schemes,

and Mrs. Miggins - The somewhat crazy pie shop owner, she secretly lusts for Blackadder and is one of the few people who is kind to Baldrick.

Blackadder The Third works, in part, because the primary actors have great comedic chemistry. As a result Rowan Atkinson as Blackadder plays beautifully with his dry sarcasm off Hugh Laurie's utterly stupid Prince Regent. Similarly, Tony Robinson and Laurie play off one another in a way most comic do not get the opportunity to. In most standard comedies, there is only one buffoon, but in Blackadder The Third, Baldrick and George both fill that niche and it provides a wealth of comic give and take between Robinson and Laurie that works out extraordinarily for the series!

On DVD, Blackadder The Third is a bit of a wash. There are the usual historical notes letting fans know what various obscure jokes are actually referring to. There is also Blackadder's Christmas Carol (reviewed here!) as an added bonus and while it is nice to not have to pay for this separate, it is not a great feature. Despite how unfunny that is and the lack of commentary tracks, the presentation on DVD is still worth the inexpensive price of this.

Despite how I might sound about this, one needs to keep in mind that I have seen all six episodes on this disc at least twelve times each. With humor being based largely on surprise, it is no surprise it is less funny to me now. And if you think that for less than $15, ten years or more of entertainment out of a DVD is a good value, then Blackadder The Third is probably for you, too!

For a more complete idea of exactly what is in this DVD set, please check out my reviews of the individual episodes at:
"Dish and Dishonesty," "Ink And Incapability," "Nob And Nobility"
"Sense And Senility," "Amy And Amiability," "Duel And Duality"

For other works with Hugh Laurie, please visit my reviews of:
Monsters Vs. Aliens
Friends - Season 4


For other television reviews, please check out my television review index page by clicking here!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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