Mr. Bean and Dr. House take on history and (sort of) win.
There was a time in the mid eighties when British Comedy seemed to have given up on ever making anything that could rival the greatness of John Cleese going medieval on his car with a piece of tree in Fawlty Towers. Other than the odd satirical diamond in the TV turd such as Yes Prime Minister (Like the West Wing but with a hell of a lot more sitting down with a nice cup of tea) and Spitting image (making fun of leaders and celebrities of the day with terrifying, lookalike rubber puppets), most comedies had one plot line: Neanderthal husband and shrew wife hate each other. Sometimes Neanderthal and Shrew would be in a different setting ala wartime France in Allo Allo (for the love of god don't youtube it) or add a hot neighbour, but in 1980's TV land there appeared to be just the one script being passed around from creatively bankrupt production house to fuck-clump director and back again.
Cue a TV saviour in the unlikely form of Richard 'stuttering gets you laid' Curtis and Rowan 'Mr. Bean' Atkinson, who after much research discovered that the English love two things above everything else- hating those in charge and a scheming bastard.
Blackadder is a fictional secret history of Britain telling the story of four different members of the Blackadder dynasty. The Blackadders (always called Edmund) are genetically dedicated to the security, advancement and sexual fulfilment of the one person in the world that they love the most- themselves. Each incarnation is a scheming, backstabbing, weasel-bastard with an acid-fuelled bullshit detector and a black belt in poison-tipped sarcasm and similes. We, the lucky audience view the monkey bars of history through his capable eyes.
As well as co-writing the first Season, Rowan Atkinson also plays each incarnation of Blackadder. Before this, Rowan was most famous in Britain for his one man show and this short sketch of him almost walking into a pole:
Following Blackadder down the genetic toilet are the Baldricks (played by Tony Robinson), a family who throughout history never manage to rise above the position of dogsbody and/or human sacrifice. It is never quite explained why the Blackadder family has always kept a Baldrick around other than to have someone to punch in the face whenever things don't quite work out. Every home should have one.
In a time when Kings were marrying off their pre-pubescent children in order to forge alliances between nations and the Black Death was elbow-dropping the shit out of Europe, Prince Edmund accidentally murders his uncle, the King Richard III. He nicknames himself the Black Adder and becomes obsessed with becoming first in line to the throne.
Season one is like the guy that you hang out with simply because he has a cool job that sometimes benefits you, a music journalist, concert promoter, pimp. You appreciate that it's there but try not to visit too often. Season one, by both Curtis and Atkinson's admission is the runt of the litter which didn't translate well from page to screen.
For a start there is the role reversal in the Blackadder and Baldrick characters where the former is the (albeit scheming) weedy, nerd-moron and Baldrick shows some vague semblance of being able to put a plan together. For those not familiar with the career of Tony Robinson you just need to know this: The man looks like a gnome and as the predecessor of the Smurf gnomes have no place being the go to guy on any matter in a royal household unless someone in a crown has recently clapped and yelled "Wipers!"
Still, everyone loves a codpiece and there are a few rays of genius are to be found in Peter Cook's bored Richard III and Brian Blessed's beard, which should also have received a 'special thanks' note at the end of the credits.
Unsurprisingly the BBC decided not to pick it up for another season.
With facial hair deserving of its own section on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, Edmund Blackadder tries to advance his status within the court of a childlike Queen Elizabeth I and dodge her daily attempts to cut his head off.
The eighties was a much simpler time for television where shows were given more than 30 seconds to develop and find an audience. Just occasionally with hard work, grovelling, rewrites, the odd sexual favour and budget cuts it was possible to get a last minute reprieve.
A much needed character shuffle now had Blackadder as the person whose weary sardonic eyes we view the world through and Baldrick as the tit with the "cunning plan" that generally leads to him being slapped about for sport.
Another change was the Rowan Atkinson being replaced as co-writer and replaced by Ben Elton, a man famous for fast talking dick jokes and a hatred of Mrs. Thatcher that burned so fiercely you could use it to power Disneyland at Christmas time. No surprise then that the show suddenly spent a lot of time mocking the toffs born into the top of the British food chain.
This season also introduces other characters who we would crop up throughout the timeline such as Lord Percy, Lord Melchett, Lord Flasheart and Hugh Laurie as George.
Sadly our hero's bloodline is beginning to read like Tony Montana in reverse. Falling even further in status, the reigning Edmund in the Blackadder clan is now Butler to the Prince Regent George, a spoilt, petulant man-boy who inhales money and shits out catastrophe.
For the first time a third character was elevated to show regular, the graceless Prince Regent played by Hugh Laurie. Laurie somehow manages to channel the spirit of every charmless upper-class twat ever, as though he is the result of the entire cast of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Carry On Henry had stuffed themselves into Jeff Goldblum's matter transporter from The Fly.
Captain Edmund Blackadder is stuck in the a trench a few hundred yards away from enemy lines sharing a stinking dugout with private Baldrick and Lieutenant George. Blackadder's focus shifts from advancement to survival as he uses every trick up his sleeve against the motherfuckers who seem intent on pushing his life towards a bollocks on a bayonet grand finale.
In the final (and arguably best) season the writers lament the awful conditions that faced the average solider in the trenches whilst verbally shanking those fucktards responsible for sending young men to soak up machine gun fire on a daily basis. The fucktards in question portrayed beautifully by England's favourite gay uncle Stephen Fry as General Melchett (Note to self: Must look on Amazon for a Mustache net)
This season has been praised for its actual portrayal of what a mind and soul-fuck life it must have been to pretty much live in a hole made out of your own excrement while bullets whizzed past your head on a daily basis. To this day it is used in schools as an education tool, usually by a teacher who believes they are hip to the hop as far as the students are concerned and wish to reinforce this opinion by showing their them something with swearing in it.
While it would be mean to give the ending away, lets just say that in Britain, admitting in passing that you did not at least tear up at the last four minutes of the final episode often leads to the swift cessation of any friendships, relationships, employment and blocks the possibility of ever getting laid in that particular area code ever again.
While there have been a handful of one off specials since the end of Blackadder Goes Forth in 1989. The quality of these has varyied from vaguely funny to inspiring an urge to march out and purchase shares in a Laguna mind-wipe project in the hope that you will one day be able to extract all trace of the guest-star laden luvvy fest from your vault (feel the stink-eye Blackadder Back & Forth. Oh and fuck you Kate Moss). To date there has been no attempt at a fifth season of Blackadder.
Many rumours have circulated as to what era a new Blackadder would be set in and it would seem as though there were discussions about a season set in the sixties where Blackadder would manage a band that had a drummer who was bald and called Rick. Get it? No? Neither will anyone else.