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40 years of the Black … Vegetable!

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This post is a bit late (although nowhere near as late as the A Voyage to Arcturus 100 year anniversary post I’ve almost completed), but I believe that one or two members of the LG&M collective would like to commemorate forty years of cunning plans and turnips. I apologize that I don’t have the time to even figure out the feasibility of an online watch party.

If you don’t know what it all means, click on this link and read the Wikipedia entry, or this synopsis for a Blackadder box set. Or you can try to work it out from this post and the comments. And of course, if this topic is of no interest you please remember that you can stop reading right now and go do something else.

Now that the uncultured knaves are gone: The first episode of The Black Adder aired on June 15, 1983. I reckon it delighted fans of Wm. Shakespeare and scholars of the Plantagenet dynasty and that period of European history. Except for the mentally constipated fun-haters in those groups.

I would learn about the series from a very dear friend a few years later. We watched each season a lot, but we watched II the most. It is the best of the four. Atkinson, McInnerny and Robinson kept their two toadies, one leader shtick but toned down the Shakespearean tragedy performed by amateur hams delivery. And Byrne, Fry and Richardson added a different set of weird weights to the lunacy side of the scales.

Speaking of Richardson, I wonder if they pared back her role. Queen Elizabeth as a perfect porcelain doll with the heart and stomach of a ruthless, sadistic, maniac dominated every scene she was in. The exception being episode 1 (Bells), when Rik Mayall set a speed record for pieces of scenery chewed. But even the actors who only had a few lines seem to have a Lord Flasheart sized blast.

And Atkinson always, always looked good in his very, very tight tights.

If it isn’t obvious, I haven’t read any Making Of books or articles about the show. So I don’t know why E. Blackadder changed so much over the centuries:

  1. Powerful coward and bully who schemes for more power. Dies ‘orribly.
  2. Same again only less goofy, more sexy. Dies horribly. Howwibwy.
  3. High-ranking servant who runs rings around the boss he despises and bullies underlings. Gets his boss killed. Assumes his boss’ identity, title and power. Plus whatever money and socks he hasn’t already stolen.
  4. World War I officer who wants to get out of the trenches and go home. And bullies underlings. Dies violently of another man’s a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face.

The Third was odd because Blackadder was a clear underdog and he came out on top. But I thought Edmund Four would be someone in Victoria’s orbit. A WWI army captain was another big shift and a Blackadder who is easy to empathize and even sympathize with was even bigger. And it would be impossible not to extend both to someone who just wants to get the hell out of the trenches before his feet rot or freeze off, the lice give him triple typhus or he’s blown to pieces. So Three and Four were funny. But not as funny as a nasty noble who repeatedly steps on rakes.

On rare occasions I wish the show had had a longer run. But then I remember that I’m used to U.S. T.V. shows which, when successful, seem to have 96 episodes per season and run at least 12 seasons past the season someone should have buried it at the crossroads with its mouth full of sea salt and a stake through its heart. One of the things that keeps Blackadder fun for the viewer is everything ended before everyone was obviously and utterly sick of the sight of everyone else.

I also sometimes worry that some deluded human will think they can create a U.S. version of the series. Earlier this year I learned about a near miss: CBS created an abomination that was inspired by the show in 1992. Fortunately it didn’t make it past the pilot episode.

Episode 417 of The Consumption’s Failure to Launch podcast (R.I.P.), covers 1775. Here’s the podcast’s synopsis:

Failure to Launch enters a new year by going BACK IN TIME! Synergy!

This week we drop back to 1992 for a pilot that takes us to 1775, aptly titled ‘1775’. Someone at CBS thought the year before the violent, bloody American Revolution would be a good setting for some Married with Children alternate-universe fanfic, so that’s what we’ve got.

The eldest daughter’s kissing boys oh dear, Dad’s a dud root, Mum hates him and there’s two other kids but who gives a shit about them. It’s set in 1775 though, so they run a tavern and Dad’s cousin is George Washington (Adam West).

Anyway.

That doesn’t prepare the listener for the big lumps of unBlackadderian anti-laughter they’ll hear in clips from the show. Nothing could.

Here are some quotes from the people who subjected themselves to the pilot, which help explain why a U.S. Blackadder is as likely as cold fusion.

It’s clear that what they’re aiming for Blackadder and what they’re hitting is Married, With Children.

Blackadder was about a single, sniveling, power hungry sociopath. But this is a very typical American sitcom family … You could take Blackadder – OK recasting it would be difficult – but set it in the Revolutionary War. But still have that Blackadder character who’s trying to rise through the ranks of power.

This is my fundamental anti-Americanism here, but they just can’t bring themselves to. It’s like they can’t have ugly people and they can’t have miserable people.

But don’t take the word of a bunch of antipodeans. It’s on YouTube. So can waste 23 precious irreplaceable minutes of life for yourself. (Make sure you appreciate the effort that went into the costumes.)

And Blackadder the show wasn’t historical fiction about one heel and a cast of non-assholes. Or even a main cast of assholes and the hijinx that ensue when they interact with a secondary cast who aren’t assholes. The majority of Blackadder’s regular characters were in some way or another, fucked up. And as one of the FtL team points out, the main cast tends to die horribly (howwibwy) at the end of the season. That’s not going to happen in a U.S. show.

Really, as a subspecies I think Homo Usamericanus is just too uptight for those sorts of larks. But I have a cunning plan if someone did want to give it another go: Outsource the project to the British. British comedians doing American accents and making fun of American history. It would be perfect.

Put your favorite Blackadderian fact, quote or scene in the comments.

People who post off-topic comments are the yellow wobbly bits in the stew of life and will have an onion fall on their head.

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