I know that I’m one of the few people that loves British TV that has never seen Blackadder. I’m familiar with the show, but have never watched it. I’ll say right now that not every single British TV show that I’ll write about will be one that I’ll love, but most of them are worth taking a look at for one reason or another.
Because I’ve been seeking out the work of Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, I watched Blackadder. I slogged through the first series hoping to see either one of them, but didn’t. It wasn’t until Series 2 through 4 that Hugh and Stephen joined the cast.
I’m not a huge fan of Rowan Atkinson, actually more accurately, not a fan of Mr. Bean. Just doesn’t do it for me. But after watching Blackadder Series 2 through 4, I have a new appreciation for Rowan.
Basically, the show takes place in four different time periods, but centers around the exploits of Edmund Blackadder and his servant, Baldrick. Each series stands alone. You don’t have to see them in order really. Had I known that beforehand, I wouldn’t have bothered with Series 1.
Series 1 takes place in 1485 at the end of the British Middle Ages. Edmund, the king’s second son, tries various things to get in good standing with his father and to potentially overthrow him. Many of the “historical” storylines and references are not necessarily accurate, but created for the sake of comedy. I have to say of the four series, this is my least favorite and the least funny. This Edmund is a Mr. Bean type character, pretty much a bumbling idiot.
But by Series 2, when comedian and writer Ben Elton joined the production, it evolved into something much more entertaining. Edmund in this series is a bit more clever and witty, but at the bottom rung of the social ladder. The running gag throughout the four series is that Blackadder and Baldrick are always coming up with “cunning plans” that they never seem to pull off successfully. When Baldrick conjures them up, Blackadder usually dismisses them anyway. In Series 2, Blackadder tries to stay on the good side of Queen Elizabeth I, who is portrayed as a ditzy loon by Miranda Richardson. This is the first series where Stephen Fry plays a recurring role, as Lord Melchett.
Series 3 introduces us to the Blackadder of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This time he’s the butler to the Prince Regent, Prince George, played by Hugh Laurie. Like Queen Elizabeth in Series 2, George is an absolute moron. Stephen Fry makes an appearance in one episode as the Duke of Wellington.
Series 4 takes Blackadder to the year 1917, hanging out in the trenches during World War I. Throughout this series, Edmund tries everything he can to keep from being killed, trying to get out of the war, but his schemes never seem to work. Hugh Laurie is Lieutenant George, upper class twit of the year while Stephen Fry plays General Melchett – a definite runner-up.
In addition to Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry and Miranda Richardson, the series has many guest stars including Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson and Nigel Planer, all of The Young Ones; Tom Baker of Dr. Who; Simon Jones from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy TV mini-series; and Geoffrey Palmer who starred with Judi Dench in As Time Goes By.
Some of my favorite scenes:
Series 2: Because of the language barrier, Edmund determines his torture via charades with his Spanish Inquisitor.
Series 3: Hugh Laurie as the Prince Regent gets the royal crap kicked out of him by Blackadder and the Duke of Wellington (Stephen Fry).
Series 4: When Lieutenant George (Laurie) dresses in drag for a stage show, General Melchett (Fry) falls in love with him.
Three specials were produced in 1988 and 2000 – Blackadder: The Cavalier Years; Blackadder’s Christmas Carol; and Blackadder: Back & Forth. I haven’t seen any of these, but the stories still center around the adventures of Edmund and his sidekick Baldrick.
Overall impression, worth watching. I wasn’t crazy about Series 1, but Series 2 through 4 certainly have some funny bits you might want to check out. And to see Hugh Laurie play a dimwitted aristocrat, or two, is quite fun to watch.
Rowan Atkinson – Edmund Blackadder
Tony Robinson – Baldrick
Stephen Fry – Lord Melchett, General Melchett
Tim McInnerny – Lord Percy, Captain Darling
Hugh Laurie – Prince Regent, Lieutenant George
Miranda Richardson – Queen Elizabeth I
Brian Blessed – King Richard
Patsy Byrne – Nursie
Helen Atkinson-Wood – Mrs. Miggins
Total Seasons: 4 (24 episodes, plus 3 specials)
Seasons Available on US Formatted DVD: 4
In Production: 1983-1989
Viewer Discretion: Some adult situations