In this weekly column, I’ll introduce you to the world of British comedy in the chronology of how I, an American anglophile, discovered it in my life. This week: Blackadder.
I’ve mentioned it in previous editions of this column, but I’ll say it again: nobody does anti-heroes like the British. From Basil Fawlty to David Brent, the best of UK television has revolved around some of the most awful people imaginable.
Which takes me to maybe the greatest sitcom anti-hero of all time, Blackadder. Starring Rowan Atkinson in the titular role, and co-created by the legendary Richard Curtis, Blackadder follows the oft ill-fated adventures of Edmund Blackadder, a conniving, self-centered egotist.
The show has a twist, though.
Blackadder is a historical sitcom, so each season jumps in time to a different era of British history. The show began in the middle ages in series one, then progressed through the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth (a never more brilliant Miranda Richarson!) for series two, the Regency era (co-starring Dr. House himself, Hugh Laurie as the Prince of Wales) for season three and wraps things up in the fox-holes of the Western front of WWI in series four (featuring the brilliant Stephen Fry).
Miranda Richardson as Queen Elizabeth I:
Hugh Laurie as the Prince of Wales:
But no matter where the show went in time, the series regulars generally remained the same and played their own descendants in each installment.
The charm of the show came from the too-smart-for-his-own-good Blackadder perpetually having his plans to get over on the world thwarted by the dangerously arrogant or completely moronic buffoons around him. None were more frustrating than his servent, Baldrick, played by the hilarious Tony Robinson.
Blackadder tries to teach Baldrick math:
Atkinson’s withering glares and classic put-downs as Blackadder made for some of the finest comedic moments in British TV history, and pushed the boundaries of both what a sitcom could be and who we could empathize with. But, then again, don’t we all feel like we’re the genius epicenter of a life surrounded by dolts and dullards?
Maybe that’s just me.
Blackadder has also been featured in several televised sketches and one-off TV specials including the very funny Blackadder Christmas Carol and Blackadder: Back and Forth (a time traveling adventure).
One of my favorite things about the show is how it ends in series 4. I won’t spoil it for you here, but it’s a quite surprising final image and one that still resonates with me today.
As always, I leave you with some best of moments from the show, courtesy of YouTube.
Curtis Gwinn is a writer and comedian living in LA. He’s written for The Onion, MTV’s Human Giant, Comedy Central and FOX Searchlight Pictures. He also co-starred in and co-wrote Fat Guy Stuck in Internet on Adult Swim.