Black Books: Series 1 Episode 2 “Manny’s First Day”

Wherein Manny must prove himself to Bernard to keep his job.

Available on streaming? How do?

Black Books is available on Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Vudu.

Update: Commenter Ben has pointed out that UK viewers can stream it on the Channel 4 website.

“Manny’s First Day” follows on from the events of the pilot. Unfortunately, Bernard does not remember offering Manny any sort of job after a night at the pub. Manny quickly proves himself but Bernard fires him anyway. It is only through the timely intervention of Fran that Manny’s position and new lodgings are secured.

The episode functions as sort of a back half to the first episode, this time more firmly establishing the basic premise and character dynamics for the series. Since the characters only really met towards the end of the previous episode, Manny and Fran meet again in an awkward and hilarious opening scene. Fran doesn’t get much to do this episode but Tamsen Greig does wonderful work here. First, she greets Manny with the friendly, awkward smile of meeting someone you know (but aren’t sure from where), to hope and wonder that Bernard would ever hire someone, and then to giving a rich, hearty laugh when Manny speaks to her of his expectations of a low-stress work environment.

We are then re-introduced to Bernard, passed out on a couch. The first question I asked myself after watching this episode again was: Why does Bernard work here? He clearly hates every aspect of his job apart from the reading and the drinking. He hates the outside world and most people but in order to live, he has to work. Bernard only tolerates his job insofar as it allows him to do things he nominally enjoys: drinking, reading, smoking, and chatting with Fran. He barely has the patience for a job that is, as Manny would describe it, ‘mellow’.

Sidenote: I can almost see the scene in my head of Bernard coming to realize just what sort of horrible drudgery is necessary to just live his life. He would promptly blow his stack, curse the Fates, and finally decide, with the barest amount of thought put into it, to just sell books.*

And part of this is due to Bernard being a creature of habit. He likes certain things, he likes his routine, and the people he knows. Manny’s reminder at half ten of Bernard’s drunken offer puts him completely out of sorts. Any sort of change to his life is strange and stressful. The fact that Manny is also the polar opposite of Bernard; charming, kind and eager to learn his trade, marks him as an interloper.  Bernard senses weakness in Manny’s kindness and uses it to torture him (a pastime he will never really grow tired of).

But Manny proves to be adept at the job, despite having a run-in with every retail clerk’s first and worst nightmare: The Bellowing, Indignant Store Browser. He sells out most of their stock simply by virtue of the fact that he isn’t Bernard.  Also because he isn’t Bernard and can interact in human society, he’s able to order more books to re-stock their inventory.

When Fran joins Bernard and Manny we get our first look into their relationship dynamics together. Manny, for his part, is good company and Fran takes to him instantly. Fran clearly enjoys spending time with Bernard, but is very aware of his faults. The brief mention of an ill-advised New Year’s Eve spent together smartly does away with the Will They/Won’t they trope, something the show, like Bernard, really has no need for.  Still, she looks out for him and sees something positive in hiring Manny. She’s so certain of this fact that she beats the tar out of Bernard when she learns that he fired him.  As the series progresses, we’ll see more of Fran’s protective, somewhat maternal nature come out.

All together, this episode continues laying out the groundwork for the show. We know who they are and what sort of interactions they’re likely to have.The script is well-written with clever dialogue that shines through the dated canned laughter. We get some inspired gags with the actors clearly having a ball with the material. Solid, if a little light on plot.

Stray Observations

  • * We will get a line or two in a couple of episodes that sort of explains just how Bernard managed to procure a book shop given how completely unwilling he is to engage in society. As it stands, I’m frankly shocked he could ever have been bothered with the stress and hassle of moving from Ireland to London.
  • Manny and Bernard’s conversation about homosexuality is interesting. The late 90s early 2000s ‘No Homo’ vibe is grating in 2017. However, Bernard’s assertion that he thought he was gay but then realized it was too much effort lines up so much with how he approaches everything in life, that I think it’s rather ambiguous as to where he is on that spectrum.
  • The ‘I love books!’ customer was played by series co-creator Graham Linehan. He loves books and if he can’t get a book he’s gonna go ’round the bakery instead.
  • ‘Am I dead?’ Bernard upon being awoken by Manny. Possible runner from the previous episode where everyone mistook Manny for Jesus?
  • The fly entering the shop and then leaving it with a pronounced slam of the door  is a perfect gag.
    •  As is Bernard’s gleeful torture of Manny’s cellphone affliction.
    • Or the ‘Closed’ sign on both sides of the sign.

“What did you order?”

“Lager.”

“I got you….Creme De Menthe”

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