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Black Books Best!,
This review is from: The Complete Black Books (DVD)Easily the best, the funniest TV sitcom I've seen in the last 10 years, Black Books on the surface appears to be a bookshop version of Fawlty Towers (Bad-tempered owner feels his establishment would be just fine if not for the customers) but Bernard Black is much more than a young Basil Fawlty. Habitually drunk as well as bad-tempered, slovenly in appearance, home, and mind, he's his own worst enemy: played by series creator and head writer Dylan Moran (who could've been the love-child of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, having Cook's gait and sarcasm and Moore's sensitive face) in perfect pitch. We applaud Bernard's nerve and iconoclasm and his cutting wit, but we see very clearly his anguish as well.
The supporting players are exceptionally strong; amiable Bill Bailey plays the much-maligned bookshop assistant Manny with an interesting blend of klutziness and sudden blinding ingenuity, while Tamsin Grieg plays neighbouring shop owner Fran Katzenjammer with a quirky reality I've never seen before or since in a female sitcom character, which is all the more remarkable considering the show is written solely by men. Sometimes flakey but never annoying, Fran is perhaps the most sensible of the three, but never, ever in that awful "Now boys, play nice" condescending-mother sort of way that plagues American sitcom women (and doesn't really exist in any woman I've ever met). Fran has her troubles but she's far more resilient than Bernard and Manny without ever being cloying about it, which may be what makes her so likable and real.
For all Black Books' accessibility, it should be noted that it does have its occasional segues into the utterly bizarre (Manny swallows a book in the first episode, with consequences both hilarious and very, very weird); something which might put off viewers who prefer more "normalcy" in their sitcoms. It shouldn't. While Black Books admittedly lives in its own world (as does Bernard himself), it should be a familiar enough world to most of us and well worth visiting.
Besides which, it's just very, very funny. Highly recommended.