Sunday, March 14, 2010

Underrated TV on DVD #1: Black Books

It's TV Week here at Cockeyed Caravan:

Series: Black Books
Years: 2000-2004, 3 short seasons, 18 episodes total
Creators: Graham Linehan, Dylan Moran
Stars: Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey, Tamsin Greig

The Concept: A misanthropic intellectual runs a tiny book shop in London, where he makes life hell for his sole employee and guzzles wine with the lady from the neighboring store.
Recommended If You’re a Fan Of: “The Office” or “Fawlty Towers”
How it Came to be Underrated: “The Office” and “Spaced” got more attention here in America, but this is the flat-out funniest of the new breed of brit-coms.
Sample Episode: 3.2, “Elephants and Hens”
Writers: Dylan Moran, Kevin Cecil, and Andy Riley
The Story: Greig spends the weekend bonding with old friends, so Moran and Bailey use the time to collaborate on writing a childrens’ picture book. As usual, both endeavors end in total disaster.

Why It’s Great:
  1. The show is first and foremost a showcase for the genius of Moran, who almost begs us to dislike his wretched character. If we’d been asked to like him, we’d hate him, but because he takes not one step towards meeting us in the middle, we gladly cross the whole distance ourselves. We love him because he’s so adorably abject.
  2. American shows featuring cynical characters either force us to approve of their point-of-view (“Seinfeld”) or hustle them towards redemption by the end of the first episode (“Community”). The brits do neither, which is why Americans are happy to wade across the pond.
  3. The women are supposed celebrating an upcoming wedding, but they really want to ambush each other with long-suppressed hostility. They start off with four ingredients: “Games! Cake! Booze! Truth!” and inevitably finish with bitter recriminations: “I can’t believe you kissed my dad.”
  4. The first draft of the kids’ book is 1030 pages, and not entirely age-appropriate, but Moran can explain: “It’s perfectly simple: There’s the academic who survived the Stalinist purges, his daughter whose long bitter marriage is collapsing around her, and the journalist who falls obsessively in love with the daughter and then sacrifices his whole career to become a lens grinder in Omsk. What’s the problem? I don’t think we should talk down to children.” “Yes, but, I have two tiny suggestions. Instead of the academic and the journalist and the daughter, perhaps it could be about... an elephant?” [bitterly] “I see. What’s your other suggestion?” “Well, instead of the Stalinist purges, it could be about [delicately] losing a balloon.” “An elephant who loses his balloon?” “That’s it.” [pause, then…] “But it would still be my story, in essence? My vision?” “Oh yes, completely.” [sudden mania:] “Let’s do it!”
How Available Is It?: Each season fits on one disk, and you can rent them all through Netflix.
But Don’t Take My Word For It: Embedding is disabled but you can watch the whole episode on YouTube here.


Monica Edinger said...

I think I saw somewhere that they are doing another season of this? But perhaps I just dreamed it.

Cassandra Mortmain said...

But... but.. the laugh track. It's so incessant. And annoying. My friends and I watched the first episode and couldn't get any further because it was just so LAUGHY.

Did you not mind this, or does it get better deeper in?

JK Hunter said...

Laugh track or no, I'm with you on this being effing hilarious. Also, did you ever see the Australian show the Librarians? That'd also be on my list