Television Revision: Black Adder – Season 2

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By Andrew Williams
February 6, 2013

Television Revision is a weekly feature in which our tuned in TV critic trawls through the best the box has to offer, giving you a primer on some of history’s finest shows (and warning you away from the specific episodes – or even seasons! – that might have ruined their reputation).

Now, this is a story all about how… Lord Edmund Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) is constantly trying to curry favour with Queen Elizabeth I (Miranda Richardson), knowing full well what happens to anyone who doesn’t. He’s more often hindered than helped by his two sidekicks, Lord Percy (Tim McInnerny) and Baldrick (Tony Robinson).

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Happy days? There are more laughs in the first episode of Black Adder Season Two than there were in the entirety of Season One. It’s a staggering improvement built on three or four key changes, chief amongst those being the addition of Ben Elton to the writing staff and the complete overhaul of the character of Edmund Blackadder.

Atkinson removed himself from the writing team for this season, and it’s a smart, effective choice. The team of Richard Curtis and Ben Elton lends the material added bite; the carefully crafted language proving fine fodder for a talented cast. The primary beneficiary is Atkinson, who changes everything about his performance; Edmund transforms from a gibbering, histrionic idiot to an intelligent, snide, superior schemer. That change in status creates a clash in personalities for fellow idiots Baldrick and Percy, and when you have two actors as talented at nincompoopery as Tony Robinson and Tim McInnerny, you have to give them some room.

Speaking of room, another smart change made between seasons was to downgrade the budget and sets and upgrade the cast. Most of the action takes place in one or two locations, but when you’ve got support in the way of Stephen Fry, Miranda Richardson, Rik Mayall, and Hugh Laurie, you could stage the entire series in the foyer and it wouldn’t make a difference. Their comic timing is worth its weight in gold.

The final frontier: This is when Black Adder started down the road to becoming a comedy classic. Totally recommended.

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Top three episodes: 1) Bells. A clever twist on Twelfth Night ends with a scenery-devouring guest turn from Mayall. 5) Beer. Black Adder does its version of the classic ‘two parties’ sitcom plot, with a hilarious performance from Miriam Margolyes. 6) Chains. Laurie stars as Mad Prince Ludwig, the subject of one of my favourite sitcom running gags.

Worst episode: 3) Potato. The third episode of the series tries to do a little too much and falls slightly short; not a bad episode by any stretch but there are a few flat patches here.

Season MVP: It’s really quite something to watch a lead actor go from single-handedly sinking his own show to becoming the clear MVP in twelve episodes, but that’s exactly what Rowan Atkinson is able to do.

4/5

Check out Andrew Williams’ previous instalments:

Television Revision: The Black Adder – Season 1 (2/5)

Black Adder – Season 2 is available on DVD. It can also be streamed instantly on Quickflix PLAY.

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