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DVD Review: Blackadder Remastered – The Ultimate Edition

Alan Thicke once wrote, "you take the good; you take the bad; you take them both and there you have…"  While he was referring to the "Facts of Life," it's a fitting introduction to a discussion of the new Blackadder Remastered – The Ultimate Edition DVD set.

You see, the Ultimate Edition contains everything that revolves around the BBC series, including all four seasons of the show, all the specials, and a bunch of new bonus material.  In other words, all the good and all the bad.

For the uninitiated, Blackadder follows the exploits of the Blackadder lineage throughout various points in British history, beginning in the Middle Ages and forging on through to the 20th Century. The characters remain similar or the same throughout the different time periods, and the corresponding roles are played by the same actors (think Biff, Griff, and Mad Dog Tannen from Back to the Future if you're unsure what I mean).

Now, to be fair, there isn't much that's truly "bad" in Blackadder (apart from Blackadder Back and Forth), there's just a lot that leaves much to be desired when compared to the really fantastic stuff.  And the difference between the two is like night and day.

For example, things start off rather weakly with The Black Adder, the six-episode original series that explores the untold "true" story of what "really" happened after the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.  Edmund Plantagenet (Rowan Atkinson) is introduced as he wakes up late for the Battle and once there only manages to accidentally behead his own king, Richard III.  When his father, Richard IV (Brian Blessed), assumes the throne, Edmund has only his older (and favored) brother separating him from being the next heir to the throne of England. It is then that Edmund takes on the frightening moniker of "The Black Adder" and repeatedly attempts to scheme his way into the throne.

The main "joke" of this series is that the imposingly named "Black Adder" is really just a sniveling, whiny, wimpy, pathetic, "horrid little man" who is constantly trod upon and spends most of his time simply struggling to save his own life.  Edmund is "aided" in all his schemes by Lord Percy Percy (Tim McInnerny) and servant Baldrick (Tony Robinson), all of whom are idiots with Baldrick being only slightly more intelligent that the other two.

Great comedic performances are a hallmark of the Blackadder series, but you wouldn't know it from watching The Black Adder. Atkinson hadn't yet arrived at the "I'm better than the rest of the world" persona that so defines all the other Blackadder characters, and Blessed doesn't just chew the scenery but gobbles whole chunks down with every shout and exaggerated stance.

Miraculously, the following series, Blackadder II, bursts right out of the gate doing things right. The humor, characters and stories just click like a well-built machine.

Set in the Elizabethan era, Blackadder II sees the aristocratic great grandson of The Black Adder, also named Edmund, struggling again and again to save his own skin, all the while trying to gain the favor of mad Queen Elizabeth I (Miranda Richardson). He is joined once again by friends Percy and Baldrick, though now they're both blithering imbeciles while this Edmund is bright, cunning and, at times, downright evil. Blackadder has found his niche, being a devious anti-hero surrounded by idiots instead of just being one himself.

With the next series, Blackadder the Third, the show really hits its stride, placing the next Blackadder in the role of head butler to the Prince Regent (House's Hugh Laurie) during the Regency. For the first time, a Blackadder is not a member of royalty nor high society, and watching this Edmund seethe about it is great fun. It's the perfect role for a Blackadder, being so close to power that he can sometimes pull the Prince's strings like a puppeteer, but so far from it that he can't enjoy a moment of it.

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