Television Revision: Black Adder – Season 3

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By Andrew Williams
February 19, 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… Mr. E. Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) is butler to the idiotic, foppish Prince Regent (Hugh Laurie) during the British Regency. As always, he is desperate to improve his standing in the community, but receives no help whatsoever from his dogsbody, Baldrick (Tony Robinson).

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Happy days? Blackadder the Third is a shining example of a comedy series made with complete confidence. The drastic improvement that occurred between the first two seasons is consolidated to the point that, by episode six, the characters are making self-referential jokes about their own timeslot. While the third season never quite reaches the madcap genius of Fawlty Towers (still the gold standard), there’s something immensely pleasurable about watching a show so sure of its writers, performers, and concept.

Everyone involved is firing on all cylinders: Atkinson has honed his sarcastic delivery to a sneering art form, Robinson has his vacant stare down pat, and Laurie is a perfect full-time addition to the cast, complementing Robinson’s Baldrick with an entirely different brand of lunacy. Writers Ben Elton and Richard Curtis may not be masters of episodic structure (you’re never really surprised by where the plots go), but they can write dialogue like nobody’s business, and the number of classic lines they come up with grows exponentially by the season. All that, and I haven’t even mentioned the brilliant guest turns by recurring members of the Blackadder troupe: Stephen Fry, Tim McInnerny, Miranda Richardson, and Robbie Coltrane are all beautifully deployed.

The final frontier: An alarming amount of British comedy talent at the peak of their powers combine to produce a classic season of television.

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Top three episodes: 1) Dish and Dishonesty. For the mock-BBC election special alone, this episode has to feature as one of the highlights. 2) Ink and Incapability. A master class in farce, it also features my favourite episode title of the season, though, like a contestant in the “Worst personality in Germany” competition, it features some pretty stiff competition. 5) Amy and Amiability. What starts as a fairly standard episode goes to some delightfully wacky places in the last ten minutes (which I’m all for).

Worst episode: 4) Sense and Senility. Despite a few superb moments of comic timing from the key performers, the episode is let down by running gags that long outstay their welcome.

Season MVP: There may not be a television actor working today who can match Hugh Laurie when it comes to playing every inch of the comedy-drama spectrum. His work on House was exquisite – even when the writing had long since deserted him – and he gives a brilliant, committed performance here as the idiotic Prince.

4.5/5 

Check out Andrew Williams’ previous instalments:

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

Television Revision: Black Adder – Season 2 (4/5)

Black Adder – Season 3 is available on DVD. It can also be streamed instantly on Quickflix Play.

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