Today, a digression from my regular political rants. Today, not a word about Alison Redford being only a SO-SO (Same Old, Same Old) premier so far, or how Daryl Katz has bamboozled the City of Chumpions.

Cast of Black Books.

Nope. Today, a recommendation. I believe I have discovered the best new TV show of the 2011-12 TV season. And it’s from the 2000 TV season.

It’s called Black Books, and it can be found on a peculiar channel called Vision, which you have probably never heard of, much less watched. Vision bills itself as a multi-cultural, multi-faith channel that also includes lots of British comedies, reruns of Murder, She Wrote and The Waltons, and failed Canadian sitcoms.

No matter. Thanks to a very brief mention in John Doyle’s perceptive TV column in the Globe and Mail, I’ve latched onto this show. It’s certainly not for everyone — it’s British, created by Irishmen — but it is light years better than anything new that American TV has offered up in this especially dismal new TV season.

Black Books was co-created by Graham Linehan, one of the brains behind the demented cult hit, Father Ted. If you watched Father Ted and loved it (which I did), you will feel right at home with Black Books.

Black Books stars Dylan Moran (writer and co-creator) as Bernard Black, the hard-drinking, ever-smoking miscreant owner of a used book store who has no interest in selling books. He is assisted by Manny (Bill Bailey), a long-haired accountant and generally good-natured rube. Fran (Tamsin Greig) owns the business next door and provides a little female neuroticism.

Black is the type of character that British TV specializes in, the social outcast you can still pull for. American TV simply cannot do this, for some reason. Whitney, for example, is a terrible show because the lead actress is profoundly unlikeable. Bernard Black is an even worse person, but you still like him because the writing is so crisp and funny, the actors so inspired, and the situations far removed from reality.

Black Books is demented in a way that only British TV can pull off. In last week’s episode, Black and Manny house sat for a friend who had a very expensive wine collection, a bottle of which was to be given to the pope. Naturally, they drank the wine, then felt compelled to replace it with their own homemade wine, segueing in a hilarious Frankenstein parody. The punchline of the episode could have come from Father Ted: a screaming newspaper headline that read “Pope killed by bad wine”.

No American comedy would attempt anything like making the death of the pope into a joke. The Brits, however, can pull it off, for which we should all be thankful.

Typical of British comedy, Black Books ran for three series of six episodes each, just 18 episodes total. It won the British TV award for best comedy, and was a substantial hit. Vision airs it at the ridiculous hour of 4:30 pm on Mondays.  It’s hard to find Vision (it’s ch. 112 on Shaw digital), but well worth the hunt for Black Books.


One thought on “TV’s best ‘new’ show is 11 years old. And British.

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