In The Hall of Great British Comedy, where all manner of witty, farcical and bawdy behavior is stored for safekeeping, there are a handful of TV shows which preside over all the rest. Fare such as Fawlty Towers, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Absolutely Fabulous, The Office and Mr. Bean are all concepts that are so perfect in their conception and execution that they’ve found big audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. Alas, poor Blackadder, despite airings on both A&E and PBS, has never had much more than a cult following here in the U.S – which is unfortunate, since it’s every bit the standout as the aforementioned programs and is more than deserving of being spoken of in the same breath. It details the exploits of one Edmund Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) and his exploits throughout different eras of English history. Throughout his numerous incarnations, he’s accompanied by the reliably dimwitted Baldrick (Tony Robinson) and a handful of bumbling confidants and comical nemeses.
For a series with numerous strengths, perhaps its strongest is its wordplay: the way it deftly shifts from highbrow, almost lyrical comedic prose to simplistic, monosyllabic insult humor. If by some chance you feel it’s going over your head, stick around a few minutes and a penis or fart gag will invariably pop up. It’s tempting to throw out some quotes from the series, but frankly there are far too many to choose from, and I’m not even sure how they’d come across without the delivery of the fine cast which makes up the whole of Blackadder.
Ah, yes, the cast! Leading the troupe is, of course, Atkinson, and he’s probably never been finer than he is as Blackadder. For as big as Mr. Bean made him, this is an entirely different side of the man. You may have glimpsed flashes of his Adder brilliance in some of his other roles, but I’m pretty sure he’s never been given material that’s as suited to his talents as what writers Richard Curtis (Love Actually) and Ben Elton (The Young Ones) cooked up throughout the course of this series. This is largely a suave, calculated performance, and it’s impossible to imagine anyone other than Atkinson playing the part. He’s a true leading man, and far removed from the inept supporting player he so often seems to end up playing elsewhere. Tony Robinson’s Baldrick is, on the other hand, a simpleton – he represents the common man thrust into otherwise uncommon situations. Again, Robinson’s portrayal is so ideal that it becomes very easy to assume that he’s an imbecile in real life, although as various interviews on this set prove, he’s actually an incredibly well-spoken man (and, as I understand it, heavily involved in shaping the political landscape in his country). The rest of the main cast we’ll get to in due course, but before getting there, a roll call must be made of various actors that litter the Blackadder landscape in guest shots throughout the series: Jim Broadbent, Miriam Margolyes, Peter Cook, Rik Mayall, Tom Baker, Simon Jones, Ronald Lacey, Robbie Coltrane, Nigel Planer, Chris Barrie, Adrian Edmondson, Geoffrey Palmer, Colin Firth, and even Kate Moss! Those are only the most noticeable ones, and yet that’s still a pretty hefty cross-section of U.K. talent.
So we’ve got a slew of great actors delivering an even greater slew of pitch-perfect dialogue. Additionally, Blackadder boasts outstanding costumes. It’s the kind of stuff you’d see in any given BBC-produced period drama, only here it dresses up the comedy. Whether a character needs to appear a part of the regal aristocracy or a grungy manservant, the seemingly effortless capture of the period dress is a big part of what makes Blackadder so special.
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