We continue the First Comedy Week with “The Foretelling,” the pilot of the comedy series “The Black Adder.” I think I’m going to be reviewing the entire series of “The Black Adder,” at some point. For one I have fond memories of Season 2 and 3 where I was watching it in college with my friend and roommate, the series isn’t too long so it is very doable without it absorbing so much time the way American Sitcoms do and it is a good way to explore humor too since The Black Adder of Season 1 is a very different kind of comedian than the The Black Adder of future seasons. I’ll get into that more in the assessment though.
The episode was written by Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis (who created the series), directed by Martin Shardlow and produced by John Lloyd.
The premise is an alternate history that takes place during the end of the Middle Ages and is told as a secret history where King Richard III (Peter Cook) won the Battle of Bosworth only to be accidentally killed by Prince Edmund (Rowan Atkinson) as he was leaving the battle. Putting Richard IV (Brian Blessed) in charge. The episode unfolds with the events of the battle and the aftermath as the Black Adder realizes what he has released and discovers his destiny.
The Pros: The Introduction – The narrator’s introduction is pretty funny on how it is telling a secret history (as written by Henry Tudor) about Richard III’s victory at the battle and what really happened. It works because even though Henry Tudor is presented as slimy the others are presented as idiots too with Richard III being a good guy but Richard IV being an intense warman.
The Three – The Black Adder with his brother Lord Percy Percy (Tim McInnery) and Baldrick (Tony Robinson) still is a positive, especially since Baldrick is the smart one and he’s a no-name peasant in this. Lord Percy Percy is just a buffoon, but he has moments where he is smarter than the Black Adder, even if he is usually the bigger dolt. Their dynamic is great in this, even with it being a pilot. The three witches also foretell the Black Adder becoming successful and foretell doom leading him to fully embrace the corrupt side of himself and forget about recapturing Henry Tudor.
Okay: The Comedy – The comedy is alright. The moment when Edmund kills Richard III is hilarious as he thinks he’s all that but realizes what he’s now responsible for. Rowan Atkinson’s faces in this are hit and miss though. In later series the Black Adder’s dry wit is what makes it so interesting (as well as his intriguing schemes) this episode didn’t have any of those as he was playing the duntz. In that way it was very “Pink Panther” style of humor where the idiot only succeeds because those around him are bigger idiots. The episode does do a good job of mocking and satirizing the whole idea of royalty though, especially as the corrupt Henry Tudor is shown to be the winner in the end since he’s writing the story of the events that unfolded.
The Cons: Narrative Structure – The structure is all over the place. We see big reveals occur like the man they rescued being Henry Tudor who later escapes leaving the battle open and threat still apparent to the Kingdom. There are also the three withes who appear at the end and Richard III’s ghost but their appearance feels somewhat random and isn’t used to full narrative or comedic affect.
This was very much the pilot as the humor was all over the place. Sometimes it was great, other times it fell flat. Part of the reason for this I think is the First Black Adder is the idiot with ambition, which only has so much range for humor. His character doesn’t come off as arrogant enough for it to fully work, and those around him sometimes eclipse him with their personality (Hello Brian Blessed). If you like Rowan Atkinson you’ll still probably enjoy it. I did, even if I wouldn’t consider the pilot great. It was fun and a great way to continue the First Comedy Week. Later on in the blog I’ll do a review of the entire Season 1 as well as the series as a whole.
Final Score: 7 / 10. Interesting idea, not fully executed.