Top positive review
The pay's not great, but the work is hard
on 11 January 2015
Somewhere in London, there is a tiny indie bookstore run by the rudest and most misanthropic Irishman since Father Jack Hackett.
Nobody in their right mind would actually shop at Black Books. But watching it? That's a whole other story -- "Black Books - The Complete First Series" is one of the funniest and most underrated Britcoms in history, mixing gloriously wacky dialogue ("I ate all your bees!") with characters so dysfunctional that it is amazing they can even stay alive. This is one of those rare shows that is practically perfect in every way.
Bernard Black (Dylan Moran) runs Black Books in the heart of London... except he seems to have started his business without the awareness that PEOPLE come to bookstores. As a result, he does whatever he can to avoid selling or buying books because that would be work he doesn't want to do. His only friend is Fran (Tamsin Greig) who owns a pretentious junk store two doors down.
But when his accountant runs from the police, Bernard has to do his own taxes -- and after failing miserably, he tries to find a way around it. Self-mutilation and hanging out with door-to-door missionaries are some of his options. His saving grace might be Manny (Bill Bailey), an overstressed accountant who accidentally swallowed and absorbed "The Little Book of Calm," turning him into a holy avatar of relaxation advice.
Bernard drunkenly asks Manny to work at his store, and with some violent intervention by Fran, Manny settles into the filthy little apartment behind the bookstore. Of course, there's immediately lots of comedic mayhem -- they must recreate a bottle of unique wine for the pope, Manny becomes a 70s cop and a beard-prostitute, Bernard ends up wandering the streets all night, and Bernard and Fran swap stories about how he broke his arm (drunken dinner party) and she broke her neck (relationship drama).
"Black Books" was co-created by Graham Linehan, who also made "Father Ted" and "The IT Crowd. It's honestly a shame that it hasn't gotten the widespread love that those shows have -- this is one of those comedies where everything is just RIGHT. The cast, the characters, the writing, the mundane situations blossoming into sheer absurdity -- this is comic gold in every vein.
This is one of those shows that takes something mundane -- house-sitting, taxes, dinner parties, getting locked out -- and explodes it into absurdity. For instance, Bernard's attempt to do his taxes leads to him shrieking "What? What?" and gibbering about his mother. To avoid doing them, he ends up entertaining door-to-door evangelists, tries to get a customer to kneecap him, and eventually starts provoking skinheads in the street. And this isn't even the weirdest thing he and Manny get up to -- they practically act out the whole Frankenstein scenario while trying to create a wine out of household items.
It doesn't hurt that the dialogue is gutsplittingly funny ("Right now I'm eating scrambled eggs, with a comb, from a shoe!"). Every scene and subplot is packed with this sort of interplay, like Bernard hanging out in a porn shop asking for the most obscure kind he can think of ("Senior Administrative Nurses"), just so he won't have to pennilessly wander the cold wet streets for a few more minutes.
But the real crowning gem is the cast. All three of them have superb chemistry with each other, and they fill their roles out nicely -- the hardcore misanthrope, the nice guy, and the sensible person who deals with them both. Series co-creator/star Moran is absolutely hysterical, with his mad-scientist hair and his constant efforts to keep people out of his store, but there's something weirdly endearing about Bernard's grumpy-cat face and constant complaints. Maybe he just voices some of the less-tolerable thoughts we all have ("You know what you are? You're a beard with an idiot hanging off it").
But don't downplay how much Greig and Bailey bring to it -- Bailey plays a sweet innocent guy who balances out Bernard's sourness while sometimes living in his own little world, while Greig plays a hilarious woman who has a disastrous love life and a shop full of useless gadgets she can't even identify. And if you squint, you can find early appearances by pre-fame Martin Freeman and Nick Frost.
"Black Books - The Complete First Series" is one of those rarest of sitcoms: the ones that are actually good and funny almost all the time. No one can truly call themselves a Britcom fan unless they've seen this one.