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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007 2:42 pm
TV about Books
Posted by: Keir Graff

Culture maven Carlos Orellana hipped me to a defunct British TV show (Channel 4) called “Black Books.” The horrifyingly unreliable Wikipedia describes it thusly:

Black Books was a British sitcom broadcast on Channel 4 starring Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey and Tamsin Greig, written by Dylan Moran, Graham Linehan, Arthur Mathews, Kevin Cecil and Andy Riley and produced by Nira Park. The show has twice won the BAFTA for Best Situation Comedy (2001 & 2005) and won a Bronze Rose at the Festival Rose d’Or of Montreux in 2001.

The series is set in the eponymous “Black Books”, a small, independent, second hand book shop in the Bloomsbury area of central London owned by foul-mouthed, eccentric, misanthropic Irish drunkard Bernard Black (played by Moran). The show is based around the lives and often surreal antics of Black, his assistant Manny (Bailey), and their friend Fran (Greig).

The series revolves around Bernard’s misanthropic loathing of the outside world in general and the people who live there in particular, represented mainly by his customers. Bernard displays little enthusiasm for or interest in retail (or, indeed, anything outside drinking, smoking and reading) and refuses to interact with the outside world. Many episodes revolve around Manny and Fran’s attempts to force him to do just that, however – as they themselves are remarkably ill-equipped to interact with the world outside the shop – their efforts usually result in chaos, sucking them back into Bernard’s nihilistic view of everything and everyone.

The series is notable for its surreal and off-beat sense of humour, particularly when regarding the state of the shop; it is frequently depicted to be in an unhealthy state of dirtiness, with sea-water molluscs living on the water pipes and, when it is in a particularly bad state, dead badgers blocking the way. The series also uses a great deal of surreal wordplay.

You can watch the first episode (and more) on YouTube. A little uneven, I’d say, but lots of promise. They’ve got the first season on Netflix — in my queue.

Update: Several people have mentioned that they were either a) annoyed by my unfairness to Wikipedia, or b) surprised by my change of heart. Yet another reminder to me that individual blog entries exist in a context-free zone. Most readers a) have not read everything I’ve ever written, and b) are not privy to my facial expressions as I type. I can’t blame anyone for misinterpreting my lame attempt at irony. For the record, I’m a Wikipedia fan and am even on the record defending it. (My colleague Mary Ellen Quinn wrote the counterpoint. Or I did and she wrote the point. Either way.)

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