TV Review: “Black Books” – ‘This is Fantastic… I’m in Heaven’

Written by Jesse Gelinas June 13, 2012

“Enjoy. It’s dreadful but quite short.”

Welcome to Black Books, books old and new. If you’re looking for great service, good coffee, and a nice quiet corner to read the latest best-sellers… it’s not that kind of operation. Bernard doesn’t concern himself with catering to the hobbly-hides. No one needs information points. No one needs couches that eat you. Selling lots of books, getting on with the customers, going outside, it’s bourgeois!

This little Channel 4 gem came to us from Britain over a decade ago, and lasted only three short seasons. The series follows the antics of Bernard Black, owner and permanent resident of Black Books. When he is joined by his bearded human plaything, Manny (aka Thor, Lord of the Rings, Fu Manchu, etc) and their neighbour Fran things only get better. The trio discuss the finer things in life such as cigarettes, wine, and their complete and utter disdain of the outside world and everyone in it.

The series was created and written by star, Dylan Moran, and his comedic genius really shines here. Anyone who has enjoyed his stand-up knows he can make just about anything funny. His cantankerous world views and self-deprecating nature make his Bernard Black an absolute joy. As dirty, disgusting, poor, and probably itchy as he is, you can’t help but have the tiniest wish inside that you were like him. He makes hatefulness seem so appealing.

Bernard L. Black. The L is for Ludwig, obviously.

“Don’t you dare use the word ‘party’ as a verb in this shop!”

Manny and Fran round out the cast as Bernard’s only friends and they try their hardest to keep him alive while struggling to surviving his constant verbal (and sometimes physical) assaults. The chemistry between the three is really something precious, and few comedies from our side of the pond have the same genuine friendship that can be seen between these three actors. There was real love on this set and it comes through in the way the show plays out.

The humour is a blend of high-brow British (sorry, Irish) wit and slapstick physical comedy. Think “Fawlty Towers” meets “The Three Stooges”. One minute Bernard can be waxing intellectual on the nature of romantic love, and the next Manny gets a face full of ketchup. Classic! The show does lack what would be considered an ongoing narrative. Each episode seems to begin and end with the characters right back where we last left them without any real growth or progress. Because of this, aside from the first two episodes any episode can be watched in basically any order (I myself suggest leaving the series finale last simply for the emotional impact).

"Look! I'm a prostitute robot from the future!

M: “It will be some time before I want to sacrifice another monkey.”

B: “We said we wouldn’t talk about Canada!”

The show’s only real drawback is its obvious shoestring budget. The bookshop is really the only set aside from the occasional pub or street corner, but it makes it work. You forgive any bad prop when you get to the hilarious payoff. It did manage to garner some great guest stars in its day, and so a few familiar faces may pop up while watching, including Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Martin Freeman.

“Black Books” makes me laugh. I think it will make you laugh. Too many comedies today follow the same formula and set-up and become indistinguishable. It’s nice to see something different sometimes.  It may not have had the staying power of “The Simpsons” or “Frasier”, but it does have the ability to make you laugh out loud repeatedly. This two-time BAFTA winner is definitely worth your time if you’re a fan of British comedy and especially if you know any of Moran’s other work. This is life, apparently. We suffer, we slave, and expire! Might as well have a laugh first.

My Rating: 9/10


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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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