I’m trying to write this post, and all that keeps running through my head is the catchy theme song to this silly series. The words change on a regular basis, but the tune remains basically the same…and since I watched several BlackAdder episodes over the weekend to prepare myself for blogging, the chorus line is running through my head like a herd of stampeding wildebeests. No coherent thoughts can remain standing against the onslaught, but nevertheless, I shall attempt to persevere…
BlackAdder is really five shows in one. Each season is set during a different time period and follows the adventures of that generation’s BlackAdder, a man with few, if any, redeeming qualities. Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) shows his range and talent as he portrays each BlackAdder in turn. The series and characters change over the course of the show’s development, so I’m going to take a moment to break it down by season:
BlackAdder I: These first six episodes are set in the Dark Ages, during the reign of King Richard IV (Never heard of him? Don’t worry; many eminent British historians haven’t either.) Richard’s youngest son, Edmund, takes the name BlackAdder following the Battle of Bosworth field. BlackAdder seeks to put himself on the throne, and to do so must rely on the help of his two companions, an idiotic nobleman named Percy and a slightly wiser peasant named Baldrick. The sniveling, insipid little man in these early episodes bears little resemblance to BlackAdder’s later incarnations, and these shows are generally not as well received as the later seasons. Even so, I found myself laughing aloud several times.
BlackAdder II: Time jumps forward about a hundred years, and the next Edmund BlackAdder is a favorite in the court of Queen Elizabeth. BlackAdder is much, much cleverer this time around, but he needs to be in order to survive the lunacy of Elizabeth’s court. Baldrick is still a sidekick, as is Percy, but while the character of Percy remains much the same, Baldrick has lost several I.Q. points over the years. BlackAdder’s new intelligence makes the show more interesting, and without this crucial transition, I doubt the show would have had the cultural impact that it ultimately did.
BlackAdder III: BlackAdder is now a butler to the Prince Regent, the son of George III. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, at least for BlackAdders machinations), the Prince (played by Hugh Laurie, familiar to Americans as the star of the TV series House) is a doddering idiot. Baldrick and BlackAdder have to work overtime to keep their idiotic master out of trouble, but BlackAdder is often driven to distraction by his own selfish goals. Laurie is a welcome addition to the cast, and I think this season is one of the best.
BlackAdder Goes Forth: Set in the trenches during WWI, this season is not only funny, but also makes a commentary on the ridiculousness of war. BlackAdder is a captain on the front, where he is “assisted” by fellow officer George (a goofy Laurie again) and the ever-faithful Baldrick. There seems to be a bit more “gross out” humor in this season, which is not as much to my taste, but I love watching the interplay of the three main characters.
BlackAdder Back and Forth: Really this is just one episode, and a slightly disappointing one at that. The twentieth century BlackAdder tries to con his dinner guests (played by actors who appeared in earlier seasons) by convincing them that he has constructed a time machine. Unfortunately for him and Baldrick, the time machine actually works, and they end up bumbling their way through history. It all comes off as a little contrived, but there are still a few funny moments.
The BlackAdder series is an entertaining mix, and the different settings provide it with some welcome variety. The supporting cast is excellent, and many stars went on to other successful projects. It does help for viewers have a little knowledge of British history, but it’s not unapproachable to those who are unfamiliar to the background. Bawdy humor and some questionable language makes this series inappropriate for younger viewers, but older teenagers should be able to enjoy the show alongside their parents.
Now, back to the song running through my head…. “BlackAdder, BlackAdder…with many a cunning plan…BlackAdder, BlackAdder…you horrid little man.” Watch a few episodes, and you’ll be ready and raring to join me in song!