80s brought a plethora of timeless entertainment but nothing more entertaining the The Black Adder. The Blackadder(s) ran from 1983 to 2002. Best thing on television.
Don’t take my word for it.
Who would know British comedy better than the Brits? Blackadder was voted the second best British sitcom of all time. It was also ranked as the 20th Best TV Show of All Time by Empire Magazine and ranked at 16 in the “100 Greatest British Television Programmes”, as compiled by the British Film Institute.
This innovative series follows the rise (and mostly falls) of the Machievellian Blackadder through the generations. Think of a snarky, frustrated yet hilarious Macbeth and you get the man who would be king that Atkinson plays. One famous episode actually has Macbeth’s three witches promising him “he will be King” but it turns out to be a case of mistaken identity.
Blackadder is not one series but four. The series, all sitcoms set in various historic eras, follow Atkinson’s character as well as that of his loyal idiot servant Baldrick (Tony Robinson) through their generational transformations. As well as being inextricably linked to each other through the centuries each Blackadder and Baldrick are also overshadowed by a charmingly moronic aristocrat. This role was taken in the first two series by Lord Percy Percy played by Tim McInnerny. While McInnerny did a fine job, he was certainly overshadowed in the later series when Hugh Laurie joined the cast and took over the role of royal idiot. Laurie shines in the third series as Prince George, Prince Regent, and in the fourth as Lieutenant George.
In each different time era, the fortunes and usually misfortunes of Edmund Blackadder (Atkinson) throw him into the web of historic events. Similar to the running joke in Forrest Gump, but infinitely subtler and of course Britisher, Edmund Blackadder is thrust into significant periods and places in British history.
If you’re like most Americans, that means absolutely nothing to you. Fortunately you don’t have to know nothin’ to be in on the joke.
The first Blackadder series called The Black Adder aired in 1983. It is set in the 15th Century. Prince Edmund Plantagenet, adopts the title “The Black Adder” as befits his dark ambitions. Each series was set in a different period of English history, beginning in 1485 and ending in 1917. With very modern cynicism and humor the opportunistic Blackadder mocks historical lunacy from the medieval religious witch-hunts, bizarre traditions and petty whims the upperclasses to the horrors of World War I, the so-called War to End All Wars.
In spite of his centuries of plotting, with each incarnation Blackadder descends the social ladder. He’s reduced from prince, to lord, to royal butler, and finally a regular army captain.
The Blackadder of the first series is less cunning than his descendants; less competent in his deviousness. (Although it should be noted that genius and competency did not help later Blackadders prevail.) Some pratfall-ish humor in series one, gives a window into what will later be Rowan Atkinson’s beloved character Mr. Bean. Later series all such jokes/farce are divided between Baldrick and Prince/Lt. George. They are well delivered but lack the physicality that Atkinson brings to all his work.
The burning question: So close so many times– including almost marrying Elizabeth I in series 2– does Blackadder ever get the crown he envies?
At the end of series three “Blackadder the Third”, Blackadder assumes the identity of Prince Regent (after Laurie’s character is killed by the Duke of Wellington) from which the viewer may infer that he takes the throne and rules as King George IV.
Series one “The Black Adder” is my favorite, even lacking the young talents of Hugh Laurie. It ends with Blackadder becoming King for about 30 seconds after mistakenly toasting his success with wine he’d poisoned.