Join 3,563 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Meet the Blackadder's American cousin, 1775.
December 20, 2011 3:33 PM   Subscribe

Black Adder American style (part 2). Perhaps not as good as we might have hoped.
posted by FatRabbit (70 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
There was also Thanks, a comdey set during the Puritan period.
posted by The Whelk at 3:40 PM on December 20, 2011


Tell me that's not fucking Papyrus.
posted by phaedon at 3:41 PM on December 20, 2011


It's not a situation comedy if the lead actors aren't remotely funny.
Tambor is the only decent comic actor of the bunch.
posted by rocket88 at 3:43 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Who would've hoped? There is no way an American Black Adder would be any good. And I say this having only seen clips of Black Adder on youtube. The type of comedy on that show is not something American television shows tend to be good at.
posted by nooneyouknow at 3:43 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


In America, we really don't have enough history for a Black Adder-style comedy series. Let's wait 400 years and just watch the BBC versions in the meantime. Really, the accents aren't that difficult to get used to!
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:44 PM on December 20, 2011


Ryan O'Neal in something that's not very good? Oh man. Oh god. Oh man.
posted by cortex at 3:45 PM on December 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


Also The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer, which was about a grandiloquent British nobleman (Chi McBride) and his idiotic sidekick playing butler to a hapless Abraham Lincoln.
posted by Iridic at 3:46 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would not actually kill a kitten to have a really good historical comedy in the US, but I would be really, really tempted.
posted by The Whelk at 3:49 PM on December 20, 2011


This post did remind me of The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer:
"A black English nobleman named Desmond Pfeiffer (the "P" is not silent) is kidnapped by his enemies and sent to America on a slave ship. He eventually becomes President Abraham Lincoln's valet. In the show, he serves as the intelligent and erudite backbone of a Civil War-era White House populated by louts and drunkards." This is the kind of historical comedy America likes to do.
posted by nooneyouknow at 3:49 PM on December 20, 2011


I think there's plenty of room for an American Blackadder, since the core of the show is "Manipulative, scheming bastard manipulates and schemes his way through history."

Series One: The bastard son of a Tory and a Boston milkmaid plays both sides of the Revolutionary War against each other. Eventually shot as a traitor and awarded a commendation by Washington.

Series Two: The bastard's bastard finagles his way onto Lewis and Clark's expedition. Makes some small land claims, but is done in by Sacajawea, who gets sick of his clumsy advances.

Series Three: The grandbastard is a supplier to both sides during the Civil War.

Series Four: The great-grandbastard in the Guilded Age. Killed in a meat-packing plant accident: closing shot of series is him turned into sausages.

Series Five: Commie Hunter Blackadder in the 50s.

Series Six: Watergate Blackaddder.

Series Seven: Occupy Blackadder.
posted by RakDaddy at 3:50 PM on December 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


Black Adder is a reflection of English society, and like most British comedy it is fundamentally about class. Class doesn't exist in the USA, at least not in the same way. It just doesn't translate well.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:54 PM on December 20, 2011


I thought the point of Blackadder was not that it was a period comedy, but that Blackadder was a wicked (and wickedly funny), cunning, and craven gentleman of distinction surrounded by idiots both above him and below him in the social ladder. And not just that it was a comedy taking place more distant in the past than yesterday.

Calling this piece of shit an American Blackadder is like calling Married with Children the American Are You Being Served? just because Al Bundy works in a shoe shop.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:57 PM on December 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


I don't think we lack the history for a Black Adder-style comedy series, just the wit.
posted by uosuaq at 3:59 PM on December 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


You've got great comedians in the US. You just have different things to joke about. Actually, the one really good comedic transfer from Britain to the USA was The Office - and that's because it was (a) about a workplace, in which class takes a back seat employment; and (b) it was a parody of modern management (which is fairly similar in the UK and US) executed by a very talented comedian.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:06 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Tell me that's not fucking Papyrus.

I know, right? It baffles me that they killed that much time on such a not-very-good intro sequence, it just drags and they're trying to sell a pilot? I realize I'm spoiled by twenty pretty significant years of improvement in basic budget-quality credit sequence polish, but I feel like that would have looked like shit to me even if I'd been watching it in 1992.

I don't think we lack the history for a Black Adder-style comedy series, just the wit.

Really, I think the problem is the difficulty of committing in an American network comedy to an unlikeable lead. There's plenty of funny comedy writing out there, but American sitcom comedy, even the really solid stuff, tends to go with sympathetic leads or, if you need to have someone be an asshole, a kind of Musical Asshole Chairs thing where you throw jerk duties to one main character for just long enough to give them a redemptive out at the end, and next episode they're sympathetic and someone else has to be the asshole. You don't get the Basil Fawlty thing going on so much.
posted by cortex at 4:08 PM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ryan O'Neal in something that's not very good? Oh man. Oh god. Oh man.

No, the lethal script-killer Ryan O'Neal couldn't quite destroy the inspired craziness of Tough Guys Don't Dance. At least not like in Barry Lyndon.
posted by ovvl at 4:09 PM on December 20, 2011


EXCUSE me but we all know the American Blackadder is The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer and that should be obvious to everybody GOOD NIGHT.
posted by mightygodking at 4:18 PM on December 20, 2011


Has anyone mentioned The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer yet, because I feel that that could be a good variant of the "Blackadder" formula, for an American audience.
posted by cerulgalactus at 4:29 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The first series of Blackadder was hard work to like in many respects and yet it grew to be so very good. There was faith and a belief in the people behind it that it would work. It was not driven by ratings or advertisers so unless a US version would be allowed that same freedom - and maybe the BBC wouldn't do so these days - then maybe it is doomed.
posted by episodic at 4:33 PM on December 20, 2011


That pilot is awful. I wanted to punch Ryan O'Neal through the screen.
posted by arcticseal at 4:35 PM on December 20, 2011


Actually, the one really good comedic transfer from Britain to the USA was The Office - and that's because it was (a) about a workplace, in which class takes a back seat employment; and (b) it was a parody of modern management (which is fairly similar in the UK and US) executed by a very talented comedian.

The Office also works because the American producers eventually understood what made the UK version work, and that a word-for-word remake wasn't the answer. The US pilot is a word-for-word remake, and it's really dire. Only after the show was allowed to let its characters become their own characters, and use their own dialogue, did it turn into something entertaining without feeling like a UK retread.
posted by Spatch at 4:39 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Has anyone mentioned The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer yet, because I feel that that could be a good variant of the "Blackadder" formula, for an American audience.
posted by cerulgalactus at 11:29 PM on December 20 [+] [!] No other comments.

No, no-one has, not a soul.

Oh, wait, let me read the comments that went before.... just there... oh, yes - the comment immediately preceding... just 11 minutes before... and at 10:49... and just the once before that at 10:46. So um, yeah HAVING READ THE COMMENTS, i find that this similarity has indeed been noticed, typed and posted resulting in a prior mention.

Ooops.

My mistake.
posted by dash_slot- at 4:42 PM on December 20, 2011


Actually, the one really good comedic transfer from Britain to the USA was The Office

A lot of British TV comedies have been successfully adapted to the US market: Three's Company, Sanford and Son, All in the Family etc. A lot of the time Americans are just unaware that there was a British original. I don't think there's any inherent reason that an American Blackadder couldn't work--it's just that it wouldn't have any more probability of being any good than any other new TV series. And most of everything that gets made in any medium is crap. After all, what makes Blackadder great isn't that it's the most unbelievably ingenious idea for a series ever--it's the particular genius of that cast, those writers etc.
posted by yoink at 4:49 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, it was a secret diary ...
posted by scruss at 4:51 PM on December 20, 2011


dash_slot, there is the eensiest chance that cerulgalactus was making a humorous remark.
posted by yoink at 4:51 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I also took one look at this post and thought "Desmond Pfeiffer"... the closest thing America has had to a successful Historical Sitcom was the Wild-West-based "F Troop".
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:53 PM on December 20, 2011


Class doesn't exist in the USA, at least not in the same way

Oh bullshit it doesn't exist. It exists, we're just apparently incapable of talking about it honestly.
posted by ook at 4:57 PM on December 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


the closest thing America has had to a successful Historical Sitcom was the Wild-West-based "F Troop"

And Hogan's Heroes, and Petticoat Junction, and M*A*S*H...
posted by hippybear at 5:00 PM on December 20, 2011


Class doesn't exist in the USA, at least not in the same way

Oh bullshit it doesn't exist. It exists, we're just apparently incapable of talking about it honestly.


It doesn't exist in the same way.
posted by hippybear at 5:01 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


No doubt, yoink - I bet they all were... :)
posted by dash_slot- at 5:02 PM on December 20, 2011


Sorry joe, that came off much more confrontational than I intended. The myth that America is somehow absent social classes is widespread, it's not just you, and it's (obviously) one that gets my goat to an irrational degree. It's a borderline derail here, though, and I regret posting that. Sorry.
posted by ook at 5:09 PM on December 20, 2011


It doesn't exist in the same way.

GRAR it does too they are just different classes is all ok shutting up now for reals
posted by ook at 5:11 PM on December 20, 2011


well very few sitcoms in the US ever actually portray life in Different Classes. Everyone on TV is presumed to be Upper Middle Class, look at the love for Roseanne which did portray working class American life, notable because it was so different or the trend in the 70s (partly from borrowed UK shows) to show more varied types of families on TV. It's something to talk about - I mean if you go by modern TV, everyone in the US is a doctor-lawyer-policeman with a terrible secret and also a vampire and lives in the Pretty Past.


(aside from Happy Endings which is wonderful. Max, call me.)
posted by The Whelk at 5:14 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Blackadder (Bladder) couldn't work as a US version simply because we insist our TV shows have more than 6 episodes to a season and that each season flow into the next. Historical settings would wear thin pretty quickly (M*A*S*H* being the exception that proves the rule).

I would love to see Edmund Kennedy, but I would hate to see 6 seasons and a movie of it.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:38 PM on December 20, 2011


I'm the only one who remembers Best of the West, then?

Probably not a bad thing.
posted by xingcat at 5:40 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


OK fine I will go ahead and get into this. You're kinda proving my point, the whelk: the classes exist, and every once in a while that fact peeks through even on TV, as in Roseanne (and Friday Night Lights, and the Wire, and Larry the Cable Guy, and the entire programming schedule of BET or Univision, or the four different targeted comedian channels on Sirius XM, or etc etc etc.) We just suck at acknowledging that fact out loud, partly because it's all tangled up in race issues, but partly because many people here just seem to like to pretend that there's no such thing as social classes here, so the majority of "mainstream" TV programming is targeted at a single class, leaving the rest kind of invisible and unacknowledged.

Which kind of leaves us ripe for a good satirical skewering, which is kind of what got my hopes up for a moment when I saw the phrase "American Black Adder".

And now for really reals I officially abandon this topic forevermore because no good will come of me continuing to rant on it
posted by ook at 5:42 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Calling this piece of shit an American Blackadder is like calling Married with Children the American Are You Being Served? just because Al Bundy works in a shoe shop.

Actually it goes in the other direction in that case. My Family is the British Married With Children.
posted by scalefree at 5:45 PM on December 20, 2011


My Family had a brilliant first few seasons, and then went to shit. Sad, really. I liked that show for a while.
posted by hippybear at 5:48 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


If Canadians have enough history for two seasons of Blackfly, I'm certain Americans have enough history to get a modern, historical sitcom on the air for at least one season.

*please note I'm only making a quantitative judgment about the amount of history we have, not a qualitative judgment about the merits of the the TV show.
posted by sardonyx at 5:54 PM on December 20, 2011


Sardonyx - that was painful. I never thought I would say this, but not even Colin Mochrie could save that.
posted by cerulgalactus at 6:09 PM on December 20, 2011


The only thing I can say in defence of it is that it's a badly cut and edited clip that makes something that's really bad just that much worse.
posted by sardonyx at 6:38 PM on December 20, 2011


cortex. you are now my favorite.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 7:02 PM on December 20, 2011


Black Adder is a reflection of English society, and like most British comedy it is fundamentally about class. Class doesn't exist in the USA, at least not in the same way. It just doesn't translate well.

The Nanny.
The Jeffersons.
The Beverly Hillbillies.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:23 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


If Canadians have enough history for two seasons of Blackfly

Blackfly's longevity had nothing to do with amount of history and everything to do with amount of mandatory Canadian content on network television.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:25 PM on December 20, 2011


Sure CanCon regs played a big role in getting and keeping the show on the air, but let's face it, even they can only do so much. I mean Mosquito Lake and Not My Department couldn't make it past one season even with their CanCon push. Fly By Night also didn't get more than one season even starring David James Elliot and Shannon Tweed.
posted by sardonyx at 7:38 PM on December 20, 2011


Black Adder is a reflection of English society, and like most British comedy it is fundamentally about class. Class doesn't exist in the USA, at least not in the same way. It just doesn't translate well.

I agree with this with a tiny twist. We can't do a class-based comedy here in the US, because the entire country denies that we have a class structure.
posted by winna at 7:40 PM on December 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think the real reason historical comedies don't go over too well in North Americas is simply that, to date, they've mostly been crap--even by 1980s family sitcom standards. Crap writing, crap acting, crap production values. 1775 makes Saved By The Bell look like Shakespeare.

On a less critical note: The set of 1775 looks awfully familiar. Could it be a minimally modified Who's the Boss or Step By Step?
posted by Sys Rq at 7:40 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


...And speaking of Who's the Boss?--yet another US class-clash sitcom--and transatlantic adaptations: That series was successfully adapted for UK television. (Though to use the word 'adapted' is overstating it; the UK version was exactly the same show, only with English actors instead of American ones. Makes you wonder why they bothered at all, really, let alone kept it up for five years.)

Behold: The Upper Hand.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:16 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


There was also Thanks, a comdey set during the Puritan period.

Oh man, ever since hearing Sarah Vowell talk about that show I've wanted to see it. Sadly, never been able to find it in via my usual channels.
posted by kmz at 8:26 PM on December 20, 2011


Blackadder is about class in Britain, and with its march-of-time season progression reinforces the British proclivity to rest on tradition even in the face of progress. In a society that, until recently, was not characterized by an immigrant experience and huge upward (or downward) social mobility, this makes sense. One's father and grandfather and so-on-ad-infinitum-back-to-the-dark-ages-or-whatever is a powerful theme.

I think immigration is the comparable and contrasting feature about the American conception of our own history. I think the American Blackadder could take a cue from Godfather Part II and, by working backward to a familiar character's immigrant heritage, explore the nature of history, race, class, and power in America by flashing back to the most dramatic moments in the history of American families, migrations. By using existing characters from familiar properties, one could leverage existing audience sympathy and familiarity.

What's the story of Vic Mackey's immigrant Grandfather? Was he also crooked cop with bad morals but good motivations, stealing apples from the carts in Little Italy and making beef with Tammany Hall at the same time?

What about the ancestors of Bill Paxton's character from Big Love? How the hell did they end up the leaders of a backwoods polygamist enclave? When did they come West? Why? Did they join a wagon train of Mormons in order to skip town and renege on some bad debt? Get sidetracked on their way to the Yukon in search of gold, settle down, and say "What the hell? Let's be Mormons."?

Every American story begins, at some point, with a dramatic move across a continent or an ocean, a new beginning in a new environment. Telling those stories, and making it funny, would make for an amazing bit of television. Just like Blackadder.

Or maybe, because I haven't seen this Pfeiffer thing, I don't know how well this has already been done.
posted by LiteOpera at 8:35 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well I got through about 2 minutes of 1775 and, um, er... Adam West wasn't dreadful.

Then I clicked a series of related links and eventually wound up watching some Fawlty Towers and had a big laugh. So thanks for that.
posted by mazola at 8:55 PM on December 20, 2011


Baldrick, I believe the phrase rhymes with 'Clucking Bell'...
posted by DreamerFi at 12:44 AM on December 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


"British Go Home".

Righty ho. And we'll take our comedy programmes with us too, shall we?
posted by Decani at 7:44 AM on December 21, 2011


Any that existed in-universe and contemporary to the title sequence of 1775, yes.
posted by cortex at 7:59 AM on December 21, 2011


WOW, was that AWFUL! I mean, baaaaad. The jokes were barely jokes, which made the laugh track seem almost random.
"I can barely get customers in here, and you want a horse?"
"Yes." < LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH >


(M*A*S*H* being the exception that proves the rule).

robocop, the phrase is "proofs the rule", and it means that an exception will test the rule - that is, "prove its undoing". It's often misspelled and changed in meaning (as in your usage), so maybe it has two meanings at this point. But FYI: don't use that spelling/meaning in any formal writing.


The set of 1775 looks awfully familiar. Could it be a minimally modified Who's the Boss or Step By Step?

Sys Rq, it's exactly the house layout of both All in the Family and Married with Children. I never before considered it, but it might just be some sort of default staging for TV houses: guests enter stage right, family members stage left or rear down the stairs (left for a subtle entry; rear for a showy or comedic one), couch in the middle for groupings... Who's the Boss reversed the layout, BTW.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:38 AM on December 21, 2011


... as did Roseanne, and at least one of those fat-guy-marries-snarky-hot-chick-and-has-family comedies.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:39 AM on December 21, 2011


Or maybe, because I haven't seen this Pfeiffer thing, I don't know how well this has already been done.

LiteOpera, it hasn't. I just suffered through 3-4 minutes of it. Trite and boring, albeit a tiny bit better than the thread's subject matter.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:49 AM on December 21, 2011


Hell, this even pisses me off! 1776 the musical is funny! Ben Franklin was funny, IRL. Why can't they do something not awful?
posted by IAmBroom at 10:50 AM on December 21, 2011


Sys Rq, it's exactly the house layout of both All in the Family and Married with Children.

No it isn't! It's the exact reverse of those. Yes on Roseanne and King of Queens, though.

Ooh! Ooh! Reba! It's totally Reba, y'all.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:52 AM on December 21, 2011


Someone needs to do a thorough roundup up sitcom living room layouts, like yesterday.
posted by cortex at 11:10 AM on December 21, 2011


I will bet a whiskey drink that it already exists.
posted by The Whelk at 11:12 AM on December 21, 2011


The Layout of Sitcom Homes
Standardized Sitcom Housing
posted by nooneyouknow at 11:35 AM on December 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


Architectural Drawings of Selected Sitcom Houses
posted by nooneyouknow at 11:38 AM on December 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Beautiful. Though my dream treatment of this takes the categorical approach of the "Layout" link there and does it with point-by-point comparisons of actual shots from the respective shows' episodes—the camera-looking-at-the-couch, stairs-at-the-rear thing that seems so central to the sitcom living room layout made clearer by visual repetition, etc.
posted by cortex at 11:47 AM on December 21, 2011


you forgot the part where you woe me a whiskey drink
posted by The Whelk at 12:40 PM on December 21, 2011


I've got a cunning plan ......

And it doesn't involve watching this.

While the first season of the English Black Adder wasn't great, it improved over its run. The final season - set in the trenches of WW1- is some of the greatest TV comedy I've ever watched.

Simultaneously hilarious, absurd, smart and then heartbreaking. The last scene of the last episode of the last series is one of the most touching moments I've watched in a comedy.
posted by chris88 at 1:00 PM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


you forgot the part where you woe me a whiskey drink

That's like demanding free drinks for mentioning Rule 34. If anybody gets a round, it's nooneyouknow for doing the legwork we were both too lazy to bother with.
posted by cortex at 1:08 PM on December 21, 2011


Black Adder is a reflection of English society, and like most British comedy it is fundamentally about class. Class doesn't exist in the USA, at least not in the same way. It just doesn't translate well.

I grant that it doesn't exist the same way in the US, but The Honeymooners was all about class issues. Laverne and Shirley, too. All In the Family. The Jeffersons. Sanford and Son. Alice. Someone already mentioned The Beverly Hillbillies, as well as Roseanne. Married with Children...

That said, given the reactions to it I'm not even going to watch that link in the post. Rowan Atkinson is Edmund Blackadder. Anyone else who makes the attempt with the same name is only going to be a disappointment.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:14 PM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Does "That Seventies Show" count as a historical sitcom?
posted by Sparx at 1:40 PM on December 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Blackadder was not about class, it was about taking the piss out of authority figures. All the characters, save Blackadder the butler in the third series, and of course Baldrick, were of the same class.

Blackadder was about laughing at the history we have been taught to respect, which isn't the same thing. America is still too much in love with the myth of itself to do this.
posted by Summer at 4:52 PM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


« Older James Gurney answers "What inspired you really to ...  |  Some games, in other words, ha... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments