November 14, 2002

Under the Radar

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This week I’m cheating a little. Blackadder was actually a TV show (the only good thing to come out of Thatcher England) but its entire run is available on video and DVD. A deft meld of sublimely erudite and wonderfully filthy humor, Blackadder follows one misanthropic man (Rowan Atkinson) and his not so loyal servant (Tony Robinson) through four historical periods. It’s a measure of the show’s genius that all of its characters are at once totally unsympathetic (all villains or idiots) and completely appealing. Although each season had the same actors and characters, they differ vastly in tone and quality. The original series was by far the weakest although still vastly amusing. Prince Edmund Blackadder (Atkinson) is remarkably stupid in this incarnation, but is usually kept out of trouble by his serf, Baldrick (Robinson). The show as it’s remembered though, really starts with the second season.

The second season is probably the best of the series, with the Elizabethean costumes, leather, and beard combining to make Rowan Atkinson attractive, which is miraculous in itself. This is the season where the show’s subtlety and wit really begin to shine. Lord Edmund is a courtier of a totally insane, if adorable Queen Elizabeth (Miranda Richardson, all breathy voice and childlike cruelty). Edmund is attended by his friend Lord Percy (Tim McInnery) and servant, Baldrick, who lost his intelligence between the last season and this one. The two stand out episodes are “Beer” and “Chains.” The former has Edmund throwing a booze up for some friends in one room and attempting to wine and dine his puritan aunt and uncle in the other (his aunt won’t let him refer to her as such, because that would be evidence of sex, and sex is the devil’s tool