He’s the least friendly, most uncouth, completely-useless-at-business store owner ever: Bernard Black, proprietor of Black Books. What he really wants you to do, as a matter of fact, is bugger off and stop bothering him by shopping at his store. Then he’d have more time to berate his good-natured but obviously co-dependent bookshop assistant and roommate Manny, we well as more time for lunchtime drinkies with his friend Fran, who runs (also poorly) the gift shop next door.
Creator Dylan Moran noted that his aim with the series was largely to “cram as much elaborate stupidity into a half-hour that could make it be coherent and that you would believe,” and he, his co-writer, and co-stars largely nailed that desire. Various episodes feature Bernard’s ever more desperate attempts to get out of filing his taxes, Manny’s and Fran’s almost always unsuccessful ploys to get Bernard to run a successful shop or persuade any woman to go on a date with him, and Manny’s obsessions with The Little Book of Calm and appearing in magazines like Big and Beardy, among many other surreal storylines.
Years aired: 2000-2004
Episodes and seasons: Three series, each containing six 25-minute episodes, for a total run time of roughly nine hours.
Primary stars: Dylan Moran as Bernard Black; Tamsin Greig as Fran Katzenjammer; Bill Bailey as Manny Bianco.
Creator and Primary Writers: Created by Irish comic Dylan Moran, with comic and writer Graham Linehan brought in to sand down Moran’s rough edges just a bit. Moran is credited as the writer on all 18 episodes, with assistance from Kevin Cecil and Andy Riley (eight episodes each) and Graham Linehan (on six episodes).
Why It’s Bingeworthy: As with any series in which Graham Linehan is involved, you’re going to have to watch this show with a friend, because it’s endlessly quotable and you’ll want someone to be able to recite it back and forth with you. (“Are these books genuine leather?” “They’re genuine Dickens.”)
It’s quick, it’s hilarious, it pokes fun at wine snobs and skinheads alike, and it features one of the best three-way friendships in all of television. It also features no shortage of physical and sight gags, as when Bernard, while on the telephone, tries to put off a customer who is asking him a question by writing “on phone” on a post-it note and sticking it to his own forehead. If all of that is not enough to tempt you, it’s also fun to watch the series for cameo appearances by such Brit acting luminaries as Martin Freeman, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, and creator Graham Linehan himself.
Trivia: The exterior scenes of the bookshop were filmed outside a real bookshop in Bloomsbury, London, called Collinge & Clark.
A 1998 pilot episode of the show shown at the Channel 4 sitcom festival featured a plot in which both Bernard and Manny planned to commit suicide.
First aired on: Channel 4
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