Sunday, February 5, 2012

Daring To Not Be Funny As Blackadder Goes Forth Reaches Its End!

The Good: Funny, Poignant, Some decent performances
The Bad: Medium
The Basics: Blackadder Goes Forth closes with "Part 2," a generally darker video to embody the darkness of the Great War.

Sometimes, there is an instinct within me to bump some of my favorite things up a notch or two just because I enjoy them and with the Blackadder saga, I have found I have held to my standards pretty well over reviewing the different seasons and episodes. So when I reached the final episodes of the final regular television series of Blackadder - Blackadder Goes Forth - I found myself actually having to review my objective standards to not rate the tape, Blackadder Goes Forth Part 2 too high. This is because the video has three episodes, one great, one good and one terrible.

As always, I find myself in this case griping some about the medium: Blackadder Goes Forth on video could have fit the entire series on a single video, so splitting it into "Part 1" and "Part 2" is somewhat wasteful, even for VHS. And while I ultimately recommend this video, it is a much better deal to find the episodes on DVD. This final tape for Blackadder Goes Forth has the last three episodes of that series, with "Private Plane," "General Hospital" and "Goodbyeee."

In "Private Plane," Blackadder's loathing of the war reaches a new high when he practices duck and cover during an air raid, only to discover the flyby is by British pilots. The pilot in question is actually Squadron Commander Flashheart and the lusty pilot lives up to family's promiscuous and sexually powerful line. After being knocked about by Flashheart, Blackadder realizes that the best way to survive the war might well be by becoming a pilot.

Attempting to get airmen training from Darling, Blackadder finds himself shut out. However, Melchard soon approves it and with five minutes training from Flashheart, Blackadder is set to join the twenty minute club. With Baldrick as his navigator, Blackadder stays in the air for less than twenty minutes, crashing on the German side of the lines where it looks like the war might be over for the reluctant soldier!

In "General Hospital," Edmund finds himself disgusted when - after a thoroughly witless game of "I Spy" between George and Baldrick, George is nearly blown up by a German bomb. Recovering in the hospital, he finds himself fancying Nurse Mary and writing letters to one of his many uncles. He is then recalled the headquarters where paranoia is running higher than usual.

There is a spy, it seems, in hospital and General Melchard wants Blackadder to go there to smoke out the guilty party. Darling, distrustful as ever of Blackadder, convinced Melchard to let him go to hospital to spy on Blackadder. Shot in the foot by Melchard, Darling then spies on Blackadder as he susses out the German spy!

In "Goodbyeee," Blackadder, George and Baldrick begin reminiscing about the war and their lives when they are given notice that the big push is to begin the next morning. Faced with the likelihood of certain death, Edmund becomes despondent and opts for the less-than cunning plan he picked up in the Sudan: to fake insanity. George, buying the act entirely, sends for General Melchard and Blackadder revels in the possibility of surviving the war.

When Melchard arrives, though, he mentions shooting soldiers who faked insanity, prompting Edmund to quit his charade. With the big push only hours away, Blackadder is stuck philosophizing with Baldrick and George on the very nature of war and peace and as dawn breaks, all three lives - and that of Darling - are changed forever.

The problem with Blackadder Goes Forth Part 2 is that it is irregular. "Private Plane" has the return of Flashheart, one of the characters who appeared in "Bells" (reviewed here!) in Blackadder II. He is still oversexed, horny and quite crazy. This incarnation is given an even bigger part than the earlier one, though his self-absorption is still as high as his ancestors. As the Squadron Commander, Flashheart provides a screwball adversary for Blackadder for an episode and that works wonderfully to shake things up.

Unfortunately, "General Hospital" is possibly the most mundane episode of the entire franchise and it sucks this video down like nothing else could. Not nearly as funny as the others, the return of Miranda Richardson - this time as a nurse - is welcome, but her part does not give her nearly enough to do to impress the viewer and it holds up poorly over multiple viewings.

What gets even better with subsequent viewings is "Goodbyeee" which does not even attempt to be funny. Instead, this episode muses on war and peace and the interchange between Baldrick and George on the subject might well be the best exchange Tony Robinson gets in the entire franchise and Hugh Laurie's sputtering as George in response to Baldrick's simple question of "what if we just stopped fighting?" is priceless. It is not funny, though. The episode treads toward the philosophical and clever, avoiding humor, save in the scenes where Edmund plays as crazy.

This video sends the Blackadder franchise off well, though it is hard for those who are not fans already to appreciate the significance and darkness of "Goodbyeee." Sure, casual viewers can understand the antiwar arguments, but the emotional resonance of the final scene of Blackadder Goes Forth is intended entirely for those who have been watching the series from the beginning. Again, writer Richard Curtis does not aim for funny, but he manages to be quite meaningful and the result is arguably one of the best series finales of all time, certainly of a comedy.

In the end, which this is for Blackadder, the episodes are held together largely on the consistent acting talent of Rowan Atkinson. As Blackadder, he is given the chance in these three episodes to step away from his deep sarcasm - at least in the final two episodes - and portray Edmund with a stronger sense of humanity. Atkinson loosens Edmund's body language and this sells the viewer on the idea that his character is truly someone who wants to live, to survive the great war.

And the Blackadder franchise - at least as a weekly television series - closes there with Edmund and Baldrick in World War One and the end feels very much like an end. Despite the problems with this tape, it is a worthy end to the characters and the series as it is.

[Given that VHS is a rapidly dying medium, a far better investment would be Blackadder Goes Forth, 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!]


For other television reviews, please be sure to check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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