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A movie directed by Graham Linehan and Martin Dennis

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A Slightly Used Formula Made Fresh

  • Feb 8, 2006
  • by
I hate sitcoms. Let me tell you why I hate sitcoms: the viewer is expected to suspect -- for the most part -- all disbelief at otherwise reasonably intelligent characters performing utterly insane activities all for the sake of a laugh. In the end, people of modest know-how are knocked a few pegs down the evolutionary ladder, landing somewhere near the chimpanzee, and I'm supposed to find that laughable.

Enter BLACK BOOKS. Here, a curmudgeon of an intelligent man wears the shell of a drunk with pride as he spits one-liners and trades barbs with the customers and his few friends ... and it works almost perfectly throughout. A knucklehead of an accountant loses his job but finds himself by cosmically happening across this one bookshop desperately in need of a finance specialist ... and it works almost perfectly. The way-too-attractive British lady of the town runs a 'Nifty Gifty' shop, splitting her times between selling trinkets she can't quite figure out and tossing back a bottle of wine with her two friends in the Black Books shop next store ... and it works almost perfectly.

BLACK BOOKS begins its series very strong (don't they all, the really good ones?) with a fall-down laughable performance across the board about how these three lovable souls meet and become friends, and the six-episode run tracks them through their assorted adventures ... whether its sharing a bottle of wine, ruining a bottle of wine, or anything else you can do with a bottle of wine in between ... whether its destroying the Pope's only chance at sipping a centuries old Merlot or spoofing the high-handed television adventure of cop shows ... and it works almost perfectly.

Yes, I said "almost" perfectly, and it's really a minor nitpick for a five-star review: the last episode satirized ... erm ... let's just say it satirized a very specific area of sex trafficking and, while the episode brought a smile to my lips, it really didn't produce that many laughs. Perhaps it was the fact that pornography, in one sense, is such a volatile topic that I don't see the sense in lampooning an evil, corrosive crime ... but, when you're talking about comedy, there really are as many flavors as there are bottles of wine, and I'd like to think that's what they were going for.

Great laughs, great zingers, and great characters make BLACK BOOKS more than should be judged by its cover.

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Ed ()
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What? You don't know enough about me from the picture? Get a clue! I'm a graduate from the School of Hard Knocks! You can find me around the web as "Trekscribbler" or "Manchops".   … more
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About this movie


How can the concept of a drunk owning a bookshop be surreally funny? Well,Black Booksmay be owned by Bernard Black on screen, but off screen it belongs to writer-director Graham Linehan ofFather Tedfame, that’s how. His writing partnership with Dylan Moran (Black) produced the strangest situation comedy of 2001, fully deserving its British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award. The almost blissfully vague plotline begins when stressed-out office worker Manny Bianco (Bill Bailey) accidentally swallowsThe Little Book of Calm. Somehow his beard and Bernard's booze get on well enough for them to work together in the shop. They're ably assisted/distracted/confused by the hormonal interruptions of neighboring storeowner Fran (Tamsin Greig). And that’s about it. But across six episodes, this first year crammed in an enormous amount of insanity and sight gags. Definite highlights include Fran's over-the-radio seduction by Shipping News broadcaster Howell Granger, a good cop/bad copSweeneyspoof and a cameo by Nick Frost (Mike inSpaced) as a more than slightly over-the-top security system installer. The standout episode is "The Grapes of Wrath," in which Bernard and Manny agree to babysit a valuable wine cellar. No prizes for guessing what happens! Kevin Eldon guest stars as The Cleaner, declaring the shop to be "dirty." Manny already knew that. When he made the appointment he had to confess, "Right now I'm eating scrambled egg with a comb out of a shoe."--Paul Tonks
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