Black Books: Series 3 Review

Black Books returns for a third series and this time they're doing it for the money. That's actually slightly harsh, but it's clear at many points during these six episodes that somewhere along the line that the ideas ran out somewhere around the writing of series two, but still, it has to be said, that a bad episode of Black Books is still far better than the best episodes of many other sit coms and this third series can still deliver the good when necessary. If you've never seen it before, it centers around a book shop owned by one Bernard Black (Dylan Moran) and his assistant Manny Bianco (Bill Bailey) who spend their time arguing, bickering and drinking under the watchful eye of Fran (Tamsin Grieg).

Of course, one of the reasons for the success of the series is a result of the chemistry shared between the cast. Moran and Bailey, as the misanthropic Black and the hapless, eager to please, Manny are superb and light up the screen with their performances. Their opposing personalities are balanced by the wonderful Fran, the thinking man's pin-up girl - intelligent, neurotic, a would-be floozy and quite wonderful. The series is at its absolute best when concentrating on the surreal world they share. It's less successful when relying on sight gags and when the characters come into contact with others. 'A Little Flutter', the episode where Bernard spends most of his time in a betting shop is a good example this sort of episode. Compare to 'The Party', in which the said party is attended by the three, but never seen by the viewer; its much funnier when events are described in Bernard or Manny's own language.

The writing on this series is fairly weak at times. There are occasions when episodes seem to repeat themselves, such as the occasions when Manny and Fran are competing with each other for something (either for a job or for the affections of a travel writer) and when you consider that there are only six episodes, you have a serious problem. Again, flimsy gags are given far too much prominence, such as the occasion where Bernard attempts to kill the cat that has inherited his shop which runs for far longer than it should. Episode structure aside, the script is loaded with the kind of surreal humour that the series does so well. 'There's no message', shouts Bernard, referring to the answer phone on the desk, 'the light's flashing because the machine needs more salt.' is the sort of line we're talking about, and if you find this sort of thing funny, each episode has enough to at least evoke a belly laugh or two.

This series, whilst not being as good as the other two, is still worth a look for the occasional flashes of true inspiration and sometimes, excellent surrealism. There are some excellent cameos from the likes of Keith Allen, Annette Crosby and, of course, Simon Pegg and, on the whole, the scripts sparkle. Excellent performances from the principal cast members and a nice, if rather mean, selection of extras make up a fairly strong package. Please, no fourth series, though.

Picture Quality

Excellent throughout. Looks better than broadcast TV with not a hint of damage, artifacts or anything else that might distract.

Sound

Again, excellent. Stereo only, but clear and strong. An option to turn off the laugh track would have been nice, but it's not really that obtrusive.

Extras

Out-Takes

Thirteen minutes long and, as you'd expect with a cast so used to stand-up and improvisation, very funny. Lines are fluffed, props rebel and it's liberally littered with one liners and profanity. Fully subtitled and anamorphic.

Deleted Scenes

Not quite as funny as the out takes, but still a very worthwhile extra that runs for 21 minutes and is fully subtitled. Often, the reason for their exclusion from the series is clear, they're not that funny, but there are occasions that will provke laughter.

Bernard's Letter

Mystifying short film in which Bernard responds to a publisher’s rejection letter in a style that aspiring authors everywhere will appreciate. Black and white, and shot on video, it's an odd little extra that, without any context makes little sense.

Photo Gallery

Slightly more interesting than the usual. Well, at least they're full screen and don't require any pressing of buttons on behalf of the viewer.

Trailers

A minute and a half of rather pointless C4 trailers.

Conclusion

This is a nice disc for a series that's possibly run its course. There are some excellent moments, but they are all too often too far apart. The series misses the contributions from Father Ted man Graham Linehan, whose presence permeated series one with his off-the-wall lunacy. Still, there are moments of inspiration, and it's certainly no waste of time. There's quite a mean selection of extras, as well. What you get is pleasant enough but the lack of commentary is a shame.

Film
7 out of 10
Video
9 out of 10
Audio
8 out of 10
Extras
5 out of 10
Overall

7

out of 10

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