Tony Robinson has a cunning plan, folks, and it’s got nothing to do with scratching his name into a bullet. The comedian and presenter revealed last weekend that a new Blackadder could soon become a reality. Robinson claims to have spoken to most of the old cast, with the general feeling being that a new iteration of the historical sitcom has a real chance of happening.
This isn’t a confirmation, of course, and we should all take this with a pinch of salt. Robinson, who played dogsbody Baldrick in the series, has for a long time been the main cheerleader for a revival, and other cast members have expressed trepidation about returning to the show. Even so, there’s no reason to believe Robinson is lying, and if most of the cast are on board Blackadder might be worming his way through a new period of history one more time.
The question on a lot of people’s lips, though, will be whether the show should return at all. Bringing back a sitcom like this after so long is a risk, especially with ageing actors and a very different cultural landscape. What are the pros and cons of bringing back the devious Edmund Blackadder?
It’s a new Blackadder, and that means more underhanded Blackadder schemes and more of Baldrick’s cunning plans. It’s been a loooong time since the last series (1989) but the chemistry of Rowan Atkinson, Tony Robinson and the rest must be everlasting. By the time of Blackadder Goes Forth they’d nailed a formula that was almost guaranteed to get you laughing.
To see them take one last swing at one last time period is a pretty exciting idea. I would kiss Baldrick’s cherry lips at the very idea.
A new time period would be awesome as hell too. The swinging sixties? Thatcher’s eighties? Or maybe they could buck the trend and go back to the Victorian era? Part of what made Blackadder so funny was seeing how the characters (or versions of them) reacted in different ways to historical events and people. How would Blackadder react to Charles Dickens? What would the clueless George do as a Christian missionary in the 19th century?
With Edmund Blackadder as a self interested beacon of sense in the madness of the past, it would also be a chance to critique another part of British history. The greatness of the fourth series, Blackadder Goes Forth, was not only down to the characters and jokes, but to its analysis of the human tragedy of World War One.
Meanwhile, a precedent has already been set. Blackadder would be in fine company if he returned to the small screen in the next few years. Several British sitcoms from decades past have made returns in recent years with reasonable success. Sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf, with its now noticeably older cast, has managed to pull off a solid revival, and David Jason has bought back classic sitcom Open All Hours for a couple of surprisingly funny specials. Let’s not forget about Absolutely Fabulous either. It can be done folks.
What if the writing’s not good? Back in the eighties the writers and cast worked like perfectionists to make sure every joke was funny and the whole thing had a rhythm that only made it more hilarious. At the time Ben Elton, one of the show’s main writers, was on a hot streak with his stand up comedy and sitcoms like Blackadder and The Young Ones. His more recent projects have given us cause for concern, enough for us to worry he’s lost the magic (Andrew Lloyd Weber? Really?).
Would a new series (or movie) be made with the same level of care as the originals? After 25 years will the writing be as sharp or the performances be as crisp? Meaning no offence to the actors, but will there hearts still be in it?
It’s not the eighties anymore, either. In the gloomy, Thatcherite eighties Blackadder struck a chord with a slightly subversive sense of humour. It was part of a wave of alternative comedy, and comedians, rebelling against the ‘safe’ (and in retrospect often offensive) comedy of the seventies.
A new Blackadder would step into an entirely different cultural space. While there is a mainstream comedy scene, the internet and other information tools mean there is now space for a hundred different comedy niches. Even if it was worth creating a new wave of alternative comedy against what is now considered mainstream, is Blackadder really the show to lead it? The cast are firmly in their fifties and sixties. Wasn’t the original alternative comedy movement powered by the energy and uncertainty of fresh faced younger writers and performers?
Finally, when it all comes down to it, wasn’t four series enough? The more series you do of a show the more you’re at risk of running out of ideas. Especially with something as carefully crafted as Blackadder isn’t there a danger of slowly diluting its excellence? In America it happens all the time. Shows like The Simpsons, That 70s Show and Scrubs all overstayed their welcome. Even British shows, like New Tricks or Last of the Summer Wine, have found the creative well running dry after a while. Blackadder isn’t nearly as over-saturated as this, but as it stands it’s an all time classic. Do we really want to risk that?
A new Blackadder is far from a sure thing, but at the very least it would stand out from and above a lot of what dominates British television at present. While I’m apprehensive, I’d take the work of a group of creatively gifted writers and performers over the cacophony of cheap reality television that has come to fill so much of the small screen landscape since Blackadder’s last outing.