Blightyvision: “Black Books”

Created by Dylan Moran
Starring Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey, and Tamsin Greig

My first wind-catching of “Black Books” was in reference to the pilot episode, which was apparently devastatingly dark and focused almost entirely on the two main characters contemplating and attempting suicide.  When I finally got hold of the show for myself — despite my affinity for morbid comedy if presented to me — I was a bit glad to see that the series went a different direction.  But that’s mainly because it’s three seasons long, and that’s a long time to wonder about someone possibly killing themselves.

What the show does end up being is less a dark comedy and more a moody one, due mainly to the attitude of the titular store’s owner.  Bernard Black (Moran) is hateful, antisocial, and puts the prospect of making money from his business off to one side in favor of being hateful and antisocial.  Working next door is Fran (Greig), the local lady booze-hound with whom Bernard will clearly never have any sort of relationship no matter how very much to the contrary they seem to act.  Into their world comes Manny (Bailey), an overstressed gentleman whose outlook on life changes drastically when he accidentally swallows a self-help book.  Manny is brought on as the sole employee at Black Books, and the Odd Couple-esque jokes begin.

“Black Books” is very much of the consequences-free school of comedy, where each episode is self-contained and no matter what horrible things happen to our protagonists, you know they won’t suffer long-term scars for it.  In that respect, it can be watched out of order if it comes to it — because if Manny runs away or Bernard changes the store’s appearance, it’ll have resolved itself before the end credits.

While not nearly as stream-of-consciousness and surreal as “The Mighty Boosh” and its kind, it will stretch its jokes to unrealistic comic extremes.  When Manny runs away in a clear mirroring of a troubled youth leaving home, for example, they go the whole nine yards, complete with sketchy photographers and sketchier businessmen.  But really, being completely unprepared for that sort of humor is a great part of the humor in and of itself.  It’s bizarre humor and over-the-top, but not of the sort that sets out to make you squeamish.  Well, unless you count all the odd things living in Bernard and Manny’s flat.

If you’re currently pondering watching this show, odds are it’s because you’re a fan of one of the main castmembers.  In this case, that’s a perfectly legitimate reason to watch.  Everyone’s used to the fullest of their ability — including one episode that’s just an enormous excuse for Bill Bailey to play the piano.  There are also a few fun cameos, including stop-ins from Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

The sheer accessibility of the show makes it worth a watch: at three series of six episodes each with no pressing metaplot to speak of, it’s perfect if you’re just in the mood for something straight-up funny.  “Blackadder” fans would likely find it especially appealing, but anyone with a penchant for snarky humor will have plenty of fun with it.

“Black Books” is available to watch free in its entirety on Hulu.  Isn’t living in the future neat?