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Black Books? More Like Crack Hooks! - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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September 16th, 2012


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11:13 pm - Black Books? More Like Crack Hooks!
After enjoying The IT Crowd, I decided it was finally time to check out earlier Graham Linehan creation Black Books, which I had heard about for years from Dylan Moran fans foresthouse and dachelle and other Anglophiles. I heard that it was better and less sexist!

Black Books takes place at the titular Black Books, owned by Bernard Black. Bernard hates everything. No, seriously, he hates everything. And everyone. He doesn't want to be bothered by customers, even when they would like to give him money for books; in fact, here, have some money, get out of his store. I did have some trouble suspending my disbelief at the store's very existence as a financially viable operation, given how Bernard treats his customers and how little he seems to know about running a business. He is ludicrously unable to take care of himself, his hair a constant mess and his home (in the back of the bookstore) a Level 3 hazard zone. Dylan Moran—also co-creator and writer/co-writer on every episode—actually manages to make Bernard somewhat endearing at times, which is impressive, given what a terrible arse he is. It helps that he does get some hilarious lines and the occasional genuinely sympathetic moment.

In contrast to Bernard the misanthrope, we have Manny Bianco, who is incredibly cheerful but ludicrously incompetent. Manny loves customers and will do his very best to serve them and help them find the books they need, but don't bother giving him instructions because he will probably mishear and/or forget them, leading to comical shenanigans. Bernard constantly torments him and calls him nickname after nickname to make fun of his hair (as if his bird's nest of a 'do is so great), but they have a very co-dependent relationship, as Manny essentially becomes Bernard's caretaker/slave/son, and both of them are quite attached to their roles. Every so often, Manny does attempt to grow a backbone and break free of the cycle of abuse, but he always comes back because this show likes the status quo. Bill Bailey plays Manny with much gusto, and even when he's being an idiot, you can't help but love him. It helps that he's not always an idiot, and he often has great moments of inspiration.

Rounding out the trio is Fran Katzenjammer, Bernard's oldest friend and a regular presence in the store. Although she fulfills a necessary role in the character dynamics of the show, she doesn't have as strong a character definition as Bernard or Manny. In comparison, she is relatively normal, but only in comparison. Like Bernard, she is often found drinking and/or smoking, but unlike Bernard, she treats Manny nicely. Hey, there is one episode where people make fun of her hair, so let's keep that theme going. Because Fran doesn't work at the bookshop, she gets a variety of plots that allow us to see the outside world more often than usual. Tamsin Greig gives Fran an awkward likability. It helps that unlike Jen from The IT Crowd, she actually feels like a real person instead of a female stereotype.

Bernard, Manny, and Fran have all sorts of wacky adventures that stem from problem customers, authors doing readings, and even many things not involving the bookstore at all. I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of stories but dismayed at the lack of continuity; only a few episodes even acknowledge anything that happened in a previous episode. But there is no bad episode in the eighteen; each one is pretty solid. Interestingly, even though my final motivation to watch the show was Graham Linehan's involvement, he was only involved with the first season, so the show is really more of a Dylan Moran joint. And, well, the show actually gets better once Linehan leaves. Although I did like the surreal nature of some first-season episodes, the rest of the series is more grounded and mines humor from the characters rather than stylistic departures and flights of fancy. I didn't laugh out loud all that frequently, but the show is very funny and has just the right dose of oddball strangeness. I did appreciate the amount of work the show sometimes went to pull off a brilliant visual gag, although I think that was a Linehan thing.

The show is also notable for its parade of guest stars, which include several people from Spaced, a couple from Green Wing, and even one from Garth Marenghi's Darkplace.

As I consult my records, I realize that Black Books is a show I was first recommended six years ago, before I even watched my first British comedy, Green Wing (followed soon after by Spaced). I'm glad to have finally seen this Britcom classic!
Current Mood: relaxedrelaxed
Current Music: Mike Shinoda featuring Chino Moreno - Razors Out

(29 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:pica_scribit
Date:September 17th, 2012 06:51 am (UTC)
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Bernard hates everything. No, seriously, he hates everything.

Not true! He loves alcohol!

I did have some trouble suspending my disbelief at the store's very existence as a financially viable operation, given how Bernard treats his customers and how little he seems to know about running a business.

Have you been in used book stores? I don't know how some of them survive, especially the weird little ones with irregular hours, or that are "by appointment only".

In contrast to Bernard the misanthrope, we have Manny Bianco, who is incredibly cheerful but ludicrously incompetent.

It just this moment occurred to me that Bianco means "white", so Manny is the literal opposite of Bernard Black.

Tamsin Greig gives Fran an awkward likability. It helps that unlike Jen from The IT Crowd, she actually feels like a real person instead of a female stereotype.

I have such a crush on Tamsin Greig after watching this show. What is wrong with me? Her character is totally dysfunctional.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:September 17th, 2012 06:59 am (UTC)
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It just this moment occurred to me that Bianco means "white", so Manny is the literal opposite of Bernard Black.
HA!

I have such a crush on Tamsin Greig after watching this show. What is wrong with me? Her character is totally dysfunctional.
Have you seen Green Wing or Episodes?
[User Picture]
From:pica_scribit
Date:September 17th, 2012 07:02 am (UTC)
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I have not. Where can I find them?
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:September 17th, 2012 07:21 am (UTC)
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Torrents? If you can't find Green Wing, I have it all downloaded. It also features a practically unrecognizable Mark Heap. Episodes is on Showtime, and the second season just finished. It's been renewed for a third. Should be easy to find. Both shows are good for feeding a Tamsin Greig crush! (Episodes is a Green Wing reunion of sorts, as it also features Stephen Mangan.)

Edited at 2012-09-17 07:28 am (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:sea_of_tethys
Date:September 17th, 2012 08:15 am (UTC)
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So have you seen Father Ted yet?
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:September 17th, 2012 08:33 am (UTC)
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No.
[User Picture]
From:sea_of_tethys
Date:September 17th, 2012 08:39 am (UTC)
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You might well like it -- there's generally a lot of overlap between people who like Black Books/other Linehan stuff and people who like Father Ted.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:September 17th, 2012 02:22 pm (UTC)
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I'm not really interested in the subject matter or the cast, so it's not high up on my list, but maybe one day. It does come up every now and then.
[User Picture]
From:dachelle
Date:September 17th, 2012 11:54 pm (UTC)
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Father Ted is AMAAAAAAZING. It's worth it for the joke where Ted explains perspective to Dougal alone.
[User Picture]
From:sea_of_tethys
Date:September 17th, 2012 08:42 am (UTC)
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Also, it's really good. :)
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:sophia_helix
Date:September 17th, 2012 03:55 pm (UTC)
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That is exactly how we ask for a pickle in my house, with that enraptured giggle. (IMDB is wrong, you are right.)
[User Picture]
From:notemily
Date:September 17th, 2012 11:19 pm (UTC)
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I died laughing when he swallowed the book and turned into Calm Jesus.
[User Picture]
From:taraljc
Date:September 17th, 2012 03:43 pm (UTC)
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I ♥ Bernard SO MUCH OMG. And his hair, which is an entity unto itself.
[User Picture]
From:sophia_helix
Date:September 17th, 2012 03:57 pm (UTC)
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Once I wrote Tris birthday fic about her and Bernard Black. She claims he is her spirit animal.
[User Picture]
From:sabra_n
Date:September 17th, 2012 08:02 pm (UTC)
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Haha, no, this isn't a show that's strong on continuity of any kind, but basically I just watch it to see three hilarious assholes being hilarious assholes, and it always gives me what I'm looking for.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:September 17th, 2012 08:58 pm (UTC)
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It was really frustrating! Especially when there was one episode where a customer came in looking for coffee and Bernard was like WE DON'T DO COFFEE and I was like BUT YOU DID THERE WAS A WHOLE EPISODE DON'T YOU REMEMBER WHY DON'T YOU MAKE SOME JOKE ABOUT IT.

But, yeah, hilarious assholes.
[User Picture]
From:dachelle
Date:September 17th, 2012 11:55 pm (UTC)
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I am so glad you finally saw Black Books! It isn't big on continuity, true, but it's so blissfully deranged. You should check out some of Dylan Moran's stand-up as well. I'm pretty sure some of it is up on YouTube.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:September 18th, 2012 12:03 am (UTC)
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Blissfully deranged! I like that.
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From:dachelle
Date:September 18th, 2012 12:10 am (UTC)
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Me too, actually! That was a pretty good one.

Are you a Red Dwarf fan? I feel like we may have discussed this before but possibly not. Forgive me, I'm just obsessed again at the moment and looking for people to share my series 10 excitement with.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:September 18th, 2012 12:21 am (UTC)
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Nope, never seen that one either.
[User Picture]
From:dachelle
Date:September 18th, 2012 12:25 am (UTC)
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Oooo, you should watch it! All the seasons are free to stream on Amazon Prime if you have it. I do personally refuse to acknowledge the existence of half of series 7 and all of series 8, but 1-6 are classics. There's some really great character comedy and funny one-liners. Do expect to see some dodgy production values and special effects, particularly in the early seasons, though - it started in '89 (I think?).
[User Picture]
From:queenrikki_hp
Date:September 18th, 2012 12:13 am (UTC)
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I love this show so much! I could watch it all the time. It's fun seeing watching someone who doesn't give a single fuck about what anyone else is doing. Black Books, Spaced and The Vicar of Dibley are all British comedies that I have loved, which I tend not to like as a general since I hate seeing people embarrass themselves.
[User Picture]
From:imwalde
Date:September 18th, 2012 03:29 am (UTC)
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WE SAID WE WOULDN'T TALK ABOUT CANADA! An enjoyable and quotable show.
[User Picture]
From:zenkitty_714
Date:September 18th, 2012 12:16 pm (UTC)
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I LOVE Black Books! I will just about pee myself laughing at that show. I should rewatch it. Never mind the lack of continuity - I put them down to Bernard being too drunk to even remember what happened before!

When Bernard yelled "SOMEBODY WASHED MY CLOTHES" and then appeared in a *white* suit, I almost fell off the couch laughing.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:September 18th, 2012 12:28 pm (UTC)
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I totally didn't get that joke until reading Wikipedia. I was wondering how Manny's mom had gotten him into a new suit while he was asleep.
(Deleted comment)
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From:catalyst2
Date:September 18th, 2012 03:27 pm (UTC)
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The opening scenes of the first episode are just genius - the Little Book of Calm!

The other running gag I love is when Manny has to hold up notes to Bernard and/or Fran outside the store because he has locked himself in (or them out .....)
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:September 18th, 2012 03:37 pm (UTC)
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That was wonderful.

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