Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Blackadder Back and Forth

(UK, 1999)

The ever-craven Blackadder family has its last hurrah in this modern-day incarnation, made to be shown in the Millennium Dome in London. Intending to scam his friends, Edmund has Baldrick build a replica of Leonardo Da Vinci’s model for a time machine. But the blasted thing works! The first thing they see is a T. Rex eager to eat them. They slay it by slinging Baldrick’s filthy underdrawers into the Cretaceous, thus apparently killing all the dinosaurs. Along the way they manage to kill Robin Hood and, more seriously, the Duke of Wellington on the eve of Waterloo. Naturally, when they return to present time, they find England is French. That will never do, so they go back and try to set things right. They overdo it a little. Would you believe King Edmund the First, and his loyal Prime Minister Baldrick?
If none of this is making any sense to you, you must … I mean must, must, MUST, run out this very moment and rent the entire Blackadder series, which, with “Mr. Bean” and “Fawlty Towers,” are the funniest series ever made for television by the BBC.
They began in 1983 with “The Black Adder,” set in the Dark Ages, in which we meet the sniveling little twit who founds the Blackadder family. There are 12 episodes, I believe, and they are very, very funny, and this is the weakest of the series.
In 1986 Rowan Atkinson and many of the same crew came up with “Blackadder II,” set in the time of Queen Elizabeth I, who it turns out is mad as a hatter. This series sets the pattern for the rest, with the same people with the same names, descendants of the originals, and always still pretty much in the same social positions as their ancestors. The exception is the brilliant Miranda Richardson, who isn’t known for comedy but who is a total riot as the Queen, and doesn’t appear again in the series.
On to “Blackadder the Third,” in 1987, where Edmund is the butler for the Prince of Wales, the man who will become George IV, who sets standards in stupidity not touched until 2000, by another George (the second) on this side of the Atlantic. And finally, there is “Blackadder Goes Forth,” set in the trenches of World War I. In all of them but the first, Blackadder is scheming, ruthless, amoral, and the total master of the sarcastic insult. Those around him are, by and large, too stupid to understand that they have been insulted. These 30-minute gems are among the funniest things I have ever seen. The humor is broad but somehow sophisticated at the same time, in the way that only the British seem able to do.
In addition to the millennium reunion, there is another stand-alone episode, “Blackadder’s Christmas Carol,” where what has to be seen as the black sheep of the family is the kindest man in Victorian, Dickensian England … so naturally everyone takes advantage of him. Standing the original story on its head, he has an epiphany one night as he is visited by three ghosts who, inadvertently, show him he should change his life and become a stingier man than Scrooge ever was. Hilarious.