Television Revision: Black Adder – Season 4

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By Andrew Williams
March 11, 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… the titular character (Rowan Atkinson) is holed up in a bunker on the battlefields of Flanders, where he’s trying desperately to avoid dying on the front line.

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Happy days? Blackadder Goes Forth had every right to be a victory lap for the series after the two great seasons previous firmly established it as a classic comedy. The signs that there’s a little bit of laurel-resting going on are there; the writing relies heavily on previously established tropes rather than aspiring to any kind of reinvention. That can be easily forgiven, of course, when a show is this spectacularly and consistently funny.

Right up until the last five minutes of the series, spectacularly and consistently funny was all the final season of Blackadder was ever going to be, and that would have been fine. But in those last minutes, writers Richard Curtis and Ben Elton craft a totally unexpected gut-punch of a finale that acts as a savage indictment of war and a heartbreaking tribute to the men who fought it. It’s a reminder of the enduring power of comedy that a show populated by fools, blowhards, and knaves can make us realise only after it ends that we cared about these characters all along.

The final frontier: This final go-round ends in fine fashion as Blackadder crashes through the dramatic ceiling of the farce with one of the most enduring images in television history. Brilliant.

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Top three episodes: 6) Goodbyeee. If the above hadn’t convinced you enough of the last episode’s greatness, I should also mention it has a Geoffrey Palmer cameo. If that doesn’t sell people, what will? 2) Corporal Punishment. I may have laughed harder at the courtroom sequence in this episode than any other scene in the entire series; it’s a classic moment in British comedy history. 3) Major Star. For Tony Robinson‘s Charlie Chaplin impression alone, this must be included.

Worst episode: 4) Private Plane. It’s very odd that an episode featuring Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson should be the least of the season, but the duo’s intense energy doesn’t work quite as well in this setting. The writing here is, by far, the worst of the batch.

Season MVP: The entire cast is in sparkling form, yet once again the standout is Hugh Laurie. Where Atkinson and Robinson have settled into a finely crafted routine, Laurie manages to find new shading in his stunningly stupid character (as well as new ways to make us laugh). An honourable mention, however, to the supporting troupe of Stephen Fry and Tim McInnerny, who create one of the more demented surrogate father-son relationships in all of television.

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)

Television Revision: Black Adder – Season 3 (4.5/5)

Black Adder – Season 4 is available on DVD. It can also be streamed instantly on Quickflix Play.

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