Any bookworm or literary type who likes an adult beverage every now and then and sometimes becomes annoyed with having to deal with other humans (or “time wasters”) when you’d rather be reading or writing will be absolutely delighted by Black Books—that is, if you haven’t yet discovered the show’s brilliance, and I hope you have. Irish comic Dylan Moran stars as Bernard Black with Bill Bailey as Manny and Tamsin Greig as Fran in this quirky British comedy about a bookshop and its morose, frustrated owner who wants nothing more than for customers (and staff) to leave him alone so he may drink wine and read books. It’s filmed with a live audience, as are many of Graham Linehan’s comedies (he also wrote Father Ted and The IT Crowd) but you get used to the laughter amongst all the sight gags, the pratfall humor, and literary quips. It’s one of my favorite comedies of all times, and these, at the moment, are my favorite three episodes.
PS: I believe the show is available to view for free on Hulu.com.
PPS: It also has a cool Tom Waits-like intro song as an added bonus.
#3: Manny’s First Day (Series 1, Episode 2)
The introductory episode is cute, but here we begin to see the true dynamic between shop owner Bernard and his new hire, the eager-to-please rookie bookseller Manny. The scene of Manny waking a painfully hungover Bernard and the flashback to the night before when Bernard offered Manny the job in a pub is a riot, and is one of the show’s best. Bernard proceeds to run Manny through the ringer of trying to sell books to a variety of impossible-to-deal-with clientele, but in the end, Manny finds the truest way to win over his new boss: wine.
#2: Elephants and Hens (Series 3, Episode 2)
This episode makes the list if only for the scene where Manny and Bernard drunkenly write a rather brilliant children’s book, but the whole set-up is great. Fran bets Bernard and Manny that they cannot write a good children’s book overnight and Bernard bets that Fran’s “hen night” with the girls will be a disaster, much to Fran’s scoffing. They part ways, and the chaos begins. Fran and her girlfriends run the gamut of games and food and wine until her night dissolves into accusatory disaster, and Bernard and Manny walk themselves through the process of how to write a book, and then do so, initially with wonderful success, and finally with a terrifying blitz of alcoholic self-sabotage. A case of both parties getting more than they bargained for.
#1: The Blackout (Series 1, Episode 4)
You’ll notice a pattern throughout the show—plenty of drinking, blacking out, and forgetting just what happened the night before, with hilarious results. This is my favorite show because it perfectly sums up the quirks of each character while they pursue their own adventures throughout the episode. Bernard cannot recall why his friends have shunned him after attending a dinner party, and the night slowly comes back to him throughout the episode, much to his horror. Fran discovers her boyfriend consoling another woman in a café and explains how she went about getting her revenge, only to have it all backfire. And Manny somehow ends up being mistaken for a police officer and finds himself in an interrogation room playing good cop/bad cop with his new “partner” downtown. Each story twists around the others creating a wonderful mess that epitomizes why Black Books is one of the best character comedies on either side of the Atlantic.