BLOGS

<i>Fawlty Towers</i> and <i>Blackadder</i>: Two BBC Shows That Ended Too Soon

Spaced. Extras. The Office. The Young Ones. Have you ever wondered why most British TV comedies end after only two seasons, which in brief British season numbers translates to a paltry 12 episodes? Blame Fawlty Towers. The 1975 series, starring John Cleese as an easily outraged hotel manager, is considered one of the funniest shows in British television history, and yet Cleese called it quits after only two series, before he ran out of ideas (which was the reason he gave for leaving Monty Python's Flying Circus). Released in a newly remastered boxed set today -- along with the remastered set of Rowan Atkinson's Blackadder -- it becomes painfully apparent that this is a show we would have gladly watched for another hundred episodes. After all, 12 episodes is only half of a regular American TV season, and we've watched full seasons of some pretty awful shows over the years.

Fawlty Towers is ostensibly an ensemble show, but aside from the wacky mistakes of the bumbling Spanish waiter Manuel, it's really all about Cleese's Basil Fawlty. Cleese uses everything he knows about physical comedy -- including how to maximize his lung capacity for sheer volume -- as the hotel manager who seems to hate his guests even more than he hates his wife and employees, and yet will do everything he can to hide disasters from them. Covering up corpses, outmaneuvering health inspectors, racing to pick up a takeout roast duck and trying not to offend German guests are just a few of the things that cause him to take comically huge strides and call everyone within earshot an imbecile.

Basil Fawlty was actually based on an actual hotel manager Cleese encountered while a member of Monty Python, one who criticized Terry Gilliam's table manners and threw bus schedules at guests. There will doubtless be many anecdotes, about the real Fawlty and the TV version, in Cleese's all-new commentary for this set, as well as in the new interviews with the rest of the cast. There's even a tour of the town of Torquay, the town where the show took place, and where the original hotel stood. They aren't new episodes of the show, but some new Fawlty Towers-related content is better than nothing.

Blackadder may have twice as many episodes in its complete collection as Fawlty Towers (plus a few specials, including a Christmas Carol parody), but it somehow seems just as small -- probably because each of their four series is a completely different show, giving us only six episodes to get to know each world. Rowan Atkinson plays the main character throughout, but each series sees him scheming venomously in a different era, with a different supporting cast and a different job description. In The Black Adder he's a prince in the Middle Ages, but in Blackadder II he's a Lord in Queen Elizabeth's court, while Blackadder the Third sees him as the butler to the Prince of Wales in Regency times, and Blackadder Goes Forth finds him on the front lines of World War I.

While Atkinson is at his most sarcastic and jaded here (the polar opposite of Mr. Bean), it's the supporting players who bring a lot of the humor by setting up his hilariously dry commentary. Hugh Laurie is a recurring face, playing the cheery and idiotic Prince of Wales throughout Series 3 (and a similar dope in Series 4), and Laurie's old partner Stephen Fry plays the Queen's Lord Chamberlain in Series 2 and a general in Series 4. (He also makes a guest appearance as the Duke of Wellington in Series 3.) Tony Robinson plays Blackadder's assistant/lackey Baldrick in all four series, and his naively optimistic utterances earn the lion's share of the laughs. Robinson would also play the role in later specials included in the DVD collection, including Blackadder's Christmas Carol, Blackadder: The Cavalier Years (a 15-minute episode set during the English Civil War) and Blackadder: Back and Forth, in which a present-day Blackadder and Baldrick hop through time in a time machine, including a trip to the time of the dinosaurs.

A fifth Blackadder series was often suggested, but never materialized, which is a shame, as the specials seem to indicate there's still life in the characters. Basically, it's a crime that both of these shows were allowed to end with so few episodes under their belt, but then, it's hard to think of an American series that has provided such a rich experience in such a short amount of airtime.

Comments

SHARE THE SNARK

X

Get the most of your experience.
Share the Snark!

See content relevant to you based on what your friends are reading and watching.

Share your activity with your friends to Facebook's News Feed, Timeline and Ticker.

Stay in Control: Delete any item from your activity that you choose not to share.

MOST RECENT POSTS

BLOG ARCHIVES

Brilliant But Cancelled

March 2014

1 ENTRIES

February 2014

1 ENTRIES

January 2014

2 ENTRIES

December 2013

1 ENTRIES

November 2013

1 ENTRIES

October 2013

4 ENTRIES

September 2013

3 ENTRIES

August 2013

2 ENTRIES

July 2013

3 ENTRIES

June 2013

1 ENTRIES

May 2013

2 ENTRIES

March 2013

2 ENTRIES

January 2013

2 ENTRIES

December 2012

1 ENTRIES

November 2012

2 ENTRIES

August 2012

1 ENTRIES

July 2012

2 ENTRIES

June 2012

2 ENTRIES

May 2012

3 ENTRIES

April 2012

2 ENTRIES

March 2012

1 ENTRIES

February 2012

1 ENTRIES

January 2012

1 ENTRIES

The Latest Activity On TwOP