Black Books (Channel 4, 2000-2004)
This is another Channel 4 sitcom that was definitely one of their better offerings. This one was co-written by and starred Irish comedian Dylan Moran, and it was another variation of the “wrong person, wrong job” idea that serves comedy shows well, and this one had a surreal edge. The show started out as an unaired pilot in 1998, and it had enough potential to be fully developed into a series that launched in 2000 and livened up Friday nights.
Black Books centred around Bernard Black, who ran a small and rather dirty second-hand bookshop in London, where some rather strange things would happen. Bernard is assisted by Manny (Bill Bailey), who somehow puts up with all of this, and also featuring is Fran (Tamsin Grieg) who in the first series runs a trendy bric-a-bric shop next door.
Bernard had the problem of enjoying books but not much else, and he definitely didn’t like having to interact with customers who wanted to buy any, he can just about put up with Manny and Fran. The only other thing Bernard enjoyed was wine, but he was often left in such a dazed state after having so much that it gave him a rather skewed view on life.
As the episodes progressed, things seemed to get increasingly bizarre, as the idea was ever more stretched to the point that things only coincidentally happened in a bookshop. But despite everything, Bernard became a popular character with viewers. I suppose the show could best be described as a cross between Spaced and Father Ted (this probably isn’t a coincidence as the writers of Father Ted also contributed to some episodes).
There was also an impressive list of guest stars, and just about all of them have gone on to have further success in comedy shows over the past two decades, including Simon (“bid again, Simon!“) Pegg, Olivia Colman, Peter Serafinowicz, and Johnny Vegas. The show ended up doing well enough to win the Best Comedy Bafta award twice, and there have been repeat runs on channels including Dave.
Critics also enjoyed what was on offer, with one saying the show was “a sitcom that actually makes you laugh”. Well, that is the basic idea of them. They’ve clearly thought of everything. There were 18 episodes of Black Books in three series, and they have all been released on DVD (excluding the pilot). Extras include deleted scenes and outtakes, and if you’re lucky you might find an Easter egg too!