Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Terribly Average, Blackadder’s Christmas Carol Has Its Moments, But Holds Up Poorly.

The Good: Moments of humor, Funny concept
The Bad: Not great acting, Concept gets old quickly
The Basics: Despite the usual humor of Blackadder, Blackadder’s Christmas Carol holds up remarkably poorly over many viewings.

For those who might not follow my reviews, I am a bit of a fan of the British comedy Blackadder (reviewed here!), which was a historical comedy staring Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson in the 1980s. It was a clever concept that followed various incarnations of Blackadder (Atkinson) and his faithful servant Baldrick (Robinson) in different time periods throughout history. Always living in London, Blackadder has relationships with the royalty or notables of the time and schemes to get ahead or keep his head (depending on the time period).

So, if anything, I was inherently biased towards Blackadder’s Christmas Carol when I sat down to watch it the first time. I remember being much more disappointed with it the first time than I was with it the last time when I sat down to watch it for this review. Still, over the course of watching the Blackadder series' in the franchise, it is plagued by repetition and Blackadder’s Christmas Carol is no exception to that. In fact, after the first viewing, it is hard to muster up the enthusiasm to watch this a second time and I cannot imagine well when I would be so eager to pick it up for a third (or beyond) viewing. That might be why, in addition to appearing alone on video and DVD, it appears as a DVD bonus feature for the third series (Blackadder The Third) of Blackadder. It's nice to get it for free, but it is remarkably hard to get excited about getting it on its own.

Ebenezer Blackadder is living in Victorian England where he is renowned as the most kind and charitable man in London, if not all of Britain. In fact, hounded by his niece and local orphans, he gives away the scant remains of the year's profits and gifts he had, leaving Baldrick and him to spend Christmas in the cold. While Queen Victoria plans to honor Blackadder with riches on Christmas for his goodness, Baldrick and Ebenezer fall asleep in the cold.

Blackadder is then visited by the Spirit Of Christmas, who comes in, has a friendly chat with Ebenezer Blackadder and is shocked by how good Blackadder is and how he appears ignorant of his family's history. So, the Spirit Of Christmas shows Ebenezer his rotten line, including Lord Blackadder, attending Queen Elizabeth, who schemes to get ahead by giving a great gift to the queen, then having Melchard put to death, and the Blackadder who served the Prince Regent and tries to swindle the Regent out of all his gifts. Inspired by the way his ancestors all got ahead - and plagued by visions of two futures where he has the potential to rule the universe - through their conniving, Ebenezer Blackadder vows to make some changes.

Blackadder’s Christmas Carol is a pretty obvious outing, which takes the classic Charles Dickens novella and turns it on its ear. Instead of a miserly person turning charitable, Richard Curtis pens a tale about the virtue of not getting stepped on. The appeal of the concept is an obvious one; no one wants to be ridiculed and taken advantage of and almost all of us find ourselves compromising at one point or another.

Ebenezer Blackadder, then, is one of the lost links in the Blackadder chain and up until now, it is easy to not be bothered by that absence. The result of this outing, though, is to leave fans baffled as to why the series didn't leave it blank. In fact, one wonders why Curtis and Atkinson went ahead with this project; did the franchise seriously need a Christmas episode?

This is not to say it is thoroughly unpleasant. Ebenezer Blackadder witnesses various past incarnations of Edmund and there is something wonderful about seeing Lord Blackadder and Melchard sparring again. The actors instantly recapture the character and tenor of their prior works and they make watching the episode bearable.

The fundamental problem, though, is that this adds nothing of significance to the overall story. Instead, the character growth is all about a single reversal and once the viewer gets where that is going, it is hardly worthwhile or impressive upon repeating. Moreover, the jokes tend to be the same ironic observations on the elements of the time that have classified all of the previous incarnations of Blackadder. The only fundamental difference is that Rowan Atkinson delivers them with enthusiasm instead of growled sarcasm.

Furthermore, Atkinson and Robinson seldom seem excited about the project. Atkinson appears like he is sleep-acting when he is not playing incarnations of Edmund and Robinson looks about as uncomfortable as the audience in the future scenes. The new elements, like Ebenezer's screeching niece Milicent, are more annoying than memorable and lower the overall appeal of the forty-five minute episode.

Fans of Blackadder will not miss much by not seeing the kindly Ebenezer Blackadder robbed blind by the locals, the fat jokes and the bored quality with which many of the performers act through Blackadder’s Christmas Carol and if one needs to get this, try to pick it up on DVD (not video) and not as a standalone episode; otherwise, it's not likely to get much play. At least as a bonus feature on the season three discs, there's nothing put out special for this work.

For other Christmas movies, please check out my reviews of:
Disney's A Christmas Carol
Four Christmases


For other television reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

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