When it comes to British comedy, Monty Python reigns supreme. They’re the Tolkien of the fantasy genre in that, while there were those that came before, and those that were better since, they define the field. And I love me some Monty Python, not just because they split my sides, but because they helped introduce me to Blackadder.
For those not growing up in Dallas in the mid-90s (and I’m guessing there are at least three or four of you out there), there were only about six TV channels at the time. Mainly because my parents flatly refused to get cable until I moved out. Which was probably wise on their part. But that’s beside the point, which was that viewing selection was rather limited in my household. Fortunately, the local PBS station (KERA) played a block of British comedy on Saturday nights. I initially came for the Monty Python, but soon tuned in each week for Blackadder.
Ah, so many members and so many memories.
I cannot express how mind blowing a show Blackadder was to me at the time; for being different than everything else if nothing else. The dinosaurs known as sitcoms still roamed the land at the time, which meant I was raised on one bland deviation of domestic comedy after the other. Occasionally shows like The Simpsons and Married With Children would rearranging the furniture in terms of formula, but for the most part everything was familiar and formulaic.
Blackadder (and also Red Dwarf, which will get its own post someday) eschewed the formula entirely by each season revolving around an acerbic anti-hero and his mush-brained servant navigating utterly different centuries populated by the same absurd archetypes.
Also, some Shakespeare. At least I always assumed it was Shakespeare.
This was an amazing breath of fresh air as I stayed at home alone every Saturday night to watch Edmund try and improve his position in the most horrible means possible. And the fact this erudite and biting fellow was the same actor who played the bumbling (and boring IMO) Mr. Bean just blew my mind. And the show expected stuff of me since it never explained its time periods, history, or plot points. They just tossed their cards to the table and I was expected to figure out the game.
It never talked down to me as an audience member, and I appreciated that.
And the insults. Oh, the insults. Those kept me hooked since I so badly wanted to say them myself. Because, as a teenager who was staying home on Saturday nights to watch British TV rather than hanging out with friends, I had a lot of anger I wanted to unleash. That, coupled with the teenage misconception that I was superior to the world, meant Edmund was saying the things I wished I could come up with on the spot. We both shared the same intelligence and affront that this did not afford us the status we obviously deserved from the world, and he vented this spleen for me.
I’ve since mellowed since those days, but I still love me some Edmund and his insults. So I’ll just let them play us out as we remember the beauty that was Blackadder.