“The sound of hoofbeats ‘cross the glade….good folk, lock up your son and daughter, beware his deadly flashing blade, unless you want to end up shorter….”
Hail and fair winds! I am Jet Jaguar, Defender of all that is Cool and Chief Expensive-Ass Cat to Dante Alighieri, the Keeper of Dante’s Inferno and All Night Video Store. Dante has charged me with giving you the skinny on various movie, TV and special box sets. Being a well rounded cat, I may occasionally voice my opinion of things that you might not ever see outside of obscure video stores.
But first up: Rowan Atkinson. Many of you probably know him as Mr. Bean. But long before there was a Mr. Bean, Atkinson was the title character in one of the funniest shows on UK TV. The show went for four series and several specials which are included in the collector’s set. the story of the Blackadder begins in the dark Ages, when King Richard the Third fought Henry Tudor for the throne. As we are told by the narrator, Tudor was one of history’s greatest liars. Richard didn’t imprison his young nephews in the tower of London, but instead cared for them deeply. One of them, Richard the fourth grew into a strong, powerful knight and had two sons himself, Harry and Edmund. Edmund, a weasly, sneaky bastard accidentally cuts off the King’s head in the battle. He covers his mistake and it leads to his father being crowned King Richard IV. Now a prince of the realm by his own mistaken treachery, Edmund dubs himself “The Black Vegetable” and plots to one day be King. Luckily for him he has a servant, Baldrick, that suggests “the Black Adder” might be a more suitable name. The name sticks, since in the future series the descendants of Edmund all use the surname Blackadder.
The 2nd series takes place in the renaissance, where Blackadder is a noble in the royal court. his goals aren’t as high as his predecessor….he really just schemes to keep queen elizabeth from lopping his head off. Still, in my opinion at least, this is the best of the entire series. The Blackadder in the 2nd series was a far cry from the first. He’s witty, snide and at times vicious, and always hilarious. He plays the straight man to Baldrick and Percy which lets loose with some brilliant dialogue. The third series has Edmund Blackadder as the Butler to the Prince regent of England in the 18th century. There’s no Percy, but Baldrick is there. There’s always a Baldrick. While this series is great, its my least favorite, personally. Blackadder is his usual snide, crafty self, and there are a lot of laughs here, but it never hit home with me. In the fourth and final series Blackadder is a Captain in the British army in World War I. Its final episode ended the series in a way that was moving and sincere for a comedy.
Also included in the set are The Blackadder Specials, Blackadder’s Christmas Carol, Blackadder: The Cavalier Years and Blackadder Back and Forth. There’s also a Who’s Who on each disk to help the viewer keep track of the actors and characters they play. (like Blackadder, many of the characters play incarnations of themselves as each series progresses into different time periods. The one thing that I wish each disk had are subtitles. Its a minor point, but I like subtitles.
The Foretelling: I’m no expert on British history, but the first series of Blackadder suggests an alternate history. The war of the roses ends with Richard the IV (Brian Blessed!) attaining the throne. My knowledge of English history is…well, limited, but a helpful narrator tells us that Henry Tudor gave a bogus account of what happened. Richard has 2 sons, Harry and Edmund. Harry is the favored one and Edmund is the sneaky, evil, but totally inept one. however Edmund believes he is a lot more clever than he really is, and along with his henchmen, Percy a noble of the court and Baldrick, a peasant, he attempts to gain real power in the kingdom. Life is cheap, disease is commonplace and the land is ruled by morons. Hey, its the dark ages, right?
Born to be King: When the king goes off to the Crusades, he leaves Prince Harry in charge and Prince Edmund assigned to tend the sheep. But Edmund has a plan to discredit Harry and embarrass his own mother, the Queen, with news from a thuggish Scottish warrior.
The Archbishop: The church is gaining too much land and power and King Richard IV wants to put an end to that. He appoints the most weak willed and feeble man in the kingdom to the position of Archbishop…his own slimy son, Edmund. Can Edmund survive his father’s wrath and the Catholic Church at the same time?
The Queen of Spain’s Beard: The King orders Edmund to marry a Spanish noble. A very large and homely Spanish noble.
The Witch Smeller Pursuivant: Omens of evil plague the land and the people blame witchcraft! Why only this morning Lord Percy saw a horse with two heads and two bodies! (Two horses standing next to each other…) The renowned Witch Smeller Pursuivant comes to the Castle and detects the chief witch…Prince Edmund! Can the Blackadder wriggle out of being burned at the stake?
The Black Seal :Sadly, its the last episode of series one, but it is absolutely hilarious. Edmund plans to taking over the throne with the help of six of the most evil men the world has ever known. (One of which is called Unspeakably Violent Jack….you have to see the episode to get the joke in that.) His plans me thwarted however by an enemy from his childhood.
There are a lot of changes in Series two. Its no longer the Dark Ages, its the renaissance. Edmund Blackadder, descendant of the original (still played by Rowan Atkinson) is a noble in the court of Queen Elizabeth. He’s still got his sidekicks though, Lord Percy and Baldrick (Tim McInnerny and Tony Robinson). The biggest change is the character of Blackadder himself. In the first series he was a bumbling idiot with delusions of grandeur, but in this series and the ones that follow he’s sharp, witty and intelligent. Its an improvement, for though the first series was funny, Blackadder with brains is even funnier.
Bells: Blackadder, unaware that his new manservant is a woman disguised as man, fears he’s becoming a “whoopsie”. That is until he spies the contents of “Bob’s” tights.
Head: The Queen appoints Blackadder as Lord High Executioner, but its his own head on the block when he has the wrong man beheaded.
Potato: Jealous of the attention Sir Walter Raleigh gets from the Queen, Blackadder, Baldrick and Percy set sail to discover new lands and become famous. well, the plan was to really sail to France, lay low, then return to England with a cock and bull story. Too bad they hired the worst ship’s captain in Europe, Captain Rum. (Played by former Doctor Who Tom Baker)
Money: Blackadder has the same problem we all have. He owes money to an institution. Unfortunately he owes money to the church and the Baby-Eating Bishop of Bath and Wales has come to collect the cash or put a red hot poker in Edmunds nether regions.
Beer: A drinking contest, two zealous, puritanical relatives and a big fat inheritance collide. Blackadder’s only chance to win is to use his incredibly strong ale and a turnip shaped just like a ‘thingie”.
Chains :Just after advising the Queen not to give into ransom demands from kidnappers, Blackadder and his nemesis in the court, Lord Melchett (Steven Fry) find themselves prisoners of Ludwig the Indestructible.
Moving further along into history, this descendant of Blackadder (still named Edmund Blackadder) is a butler to the Prince regent in the late 18th century. As always, Baldrick is there as Blackadder’s dogs body. Hugh Laurie plays Prince George, a thickheaded lout. This Blackadder schemes and plans, but his goal is to make a fat wad of cash.
Dish and Dishonesty: Blackadder has to rig an election to get Baldrick appointed to the House of Lords, or Pip the Younger, the new Prime minister, will bankrupt the stupid Prince George. This is the first episode of Series three and in my opinion the weakest. Its still funny and clever, but if you don’t know anything about UK politics of the past you won’t find it as funny. We do find out that Baldrick’s first name is “Sod-Off”.
Ink and incapability: Dr. Johnson has just completed the 1st English dictionary! Too bad Baldrick threw the only manuscript into the “hot orangey thing”. (fireplace) Now Blackadder must rewrite it in 24 hours or Dr. Johnson and his cronies will kill him. Guest stars Robbie Coltrane as Johnson.
Nob and Nobility: To win a bet, Blackadder and Baldrick plan to outdo the scarlet Pimpernel by rescuing a noble from the French Revolution. Tim McInnerny returns in this episode as a foppish noble, and Red Dwarf’s Chris Barrie guest stars as a French revolutionary.
Sense and Sensibility: Prince George hires two actors to help him rehearse a speech, much to Blackadder’s disapproval. When shouting “MacBeth” at them isn’t enough, Blackadder comes up with a plan to get rid of the fops. (Again, you have to see the episode to get the “MacBeth” joke)
Amy and Amiability: When a plan to marry the prince to a millionaire’s daughter falls through, Blackadder and Baldrick become highway to raise money. Well, Blackadder is the highwayman and Baldrick is the horse.
Duel and Duality: The Duke of Wellington challenges the Prince to a duel after he sleeps with two of his relatives. As he says, whosever soils a Wellington, puts his foot in it”. Blackadder comes up with an idea to save the moronic prince, but it will only work if he can enlist the aid of his Scottish berserker cousin, Macadder.
Captain Edmund Blackadder wants nothing more than to escape the trenches of WW1. But he’s hindered with several obstacles. his commander, General Melchett is a buffoon, and he still has Baldrick with him, as Private Baldrick. To make it worse, Lt. George (Hugh Laurie) is just as stupid as Baldrick.
Captain Cook: Blackadder plans to escape the trenches by posing as an artist…until he learns that general Melchett wants a battlefield artist. that is someone to go out of the trenches and draw what they see before the Germans cut them to ribbons.
Corporal Punishment: Captain Blackadder finds himself behind a court martial for shooting speckled Jim. The general’s favorite messenger pigeon.
Major Star: Captain Blackadder again tries to get out of the trenches through show business. But general Melchett falls in love with his lead act…Lt. George dressed up as a woman!
Private Plane: Captain Blackadder and his friends volunteer to join the Royal Flying Corps. Five minutes into the air and Blackadder and Baldrick are shot down and captured. Who can rescue our friends from the most humiliating fate for a soldier…teaching home economics to girls in Heidelberg?
General Hospital: There’s a spy in the field hospital and General Melchett orders Blackadder to find out who. can the intrepid Captain do so while he’s having a tryst with Nurse Mary? (Miranda Richardson)
Goodbyeeee: The Big Push is coming and Blackadder definitely does not want to be shot to pieces charging out of the trenches. His plan? Put his underwear on his head and say “Fibble”.
JET JAGUAR’S TALLY: Special Features include a Who’s Who guide to help you keep track of the characters in the Blackadder universe, and a What’s What Guide to help you with historical events! There’s also a sing along so you can get into the catchy theme song.
ARE THERE SUBTITLES?: Nope. Too bad.
WHO’S GONNA WANT IT?: Well, if you like British humor you’re gonna love it. If you like comedy in general you’ll probably like it. The only people that probably won’t like it are people who just plain don’t like comedy. But don’t expect Mr. bean. Rowan Atkinson plays that character, but its a lot different from Mr. bean.