Black Books: Series 1, Episode 3 “Grapes of Wrath”

Bernard and Manny housesit for a friend and Fran goes on a date. Everything goes well. 

Streaming? How do?

Black Books is available on Amazon Prime, Hulu, Vudu, and the Channel 4 site for those in the UK.

This episode is the first one that deals with our characters acting in the outside world since the pilot. It’s an important step for the series. Bernard, Manny, and Fran are our main characters and since the series never bothers to develop a deep bench of recurring characters (just lots of excellent cameos), it makes sense to have them operate in different situations. The episode is structured fairly simply: Cleaning necessitates a vacation from the book shop. Manny and Bernard are paired off for a farce at an acquaintance’s house, and Fran is on a date.

There are so many fun things packed into this episode before we even get to the meat of it. There’s the opening flashback at the abbey in Bourdeaux heightens the value of the wine that Manny and Bernard drink. The gags in the book shop quickly establish how dirty everything is, like the toast on the ceiling, or the wasps in Bernard’s leftover box of pizza. There’s the Cleaner, just waving his finger in the air and catching a quarter inch of dust on his finger. He makes quite the introduction here at the beginning  only for him to only be seen again at the tail end of the episode. He’s a creepy, quiet little man who loves cleaning…or maybe just enjoys being around filth and then cleaning it up.

Anyway, Bernard and Manny’s story takes them to a well-off acquaintance’s, Freddy’s,  house, and complete access to the wine cellar with the exception of the incredibly expensive miracle wine from the opening flashback. And here we get some pretty straightforward sitcom hijinx. Manny fails to follow the instructions properly and they promptly drink what they weren’t supposed to. giphy

But then things get inspired.

Now, most sitcoms would go this same route and attempt to replace the wine somehow. However, few bother to go through with a full-on Frankenstein pastiche. Manny, thanks to stress-induced leg pain and a toffee-induced cracked tooth, plays Igor to Bernard’s Dr. Frankenstein. Complete insanity rains inside and outside the house as Bernard, not unlike Victor Frankenstein, attempts to match the divine in his task, and fails miserably.

Meanwhile, Fran’s on a date with a recent divorcee. I really appreciate Fran’s storylines because she does actually attempt to better her life. Here, she’s awkward, eager and ready to laugh weirdly and  toss everything about who she is out the window for one night just to be with someone. There’s something very real, very sad, and very funny about that. And as much as I love the craziness that happens with Manny and Bernard, this is what I can identify with.  It’s all for naught, of course. It turns out that he’s deeply in the closet and Fran responds by immediately lighting up, drinking, and eating her feelings.

This is Fran’s first real breakdown in the series; the point where she just completely drops the persona she’s adopting and reverts to who she really is. She does it a few more times and it’s never not great. There’s triumph, tragedy, and a little bit of sweetness in it.

And that’s not even going into Bernard and Manny accidentally killing the Pope.

This might be my favorite in the first series? Just speaking in terms of how many times I was laughing out loud, it certainly ranks up there.  Good gags and well-executed sitcom jokes make it an excellent episode to show to friends and acquaintances if you want to get them interested.

Stray Observations

‘Fran, it’s a very nice dress.’ D’aww that’s a genuine, not sarcastic compliment from Bernard! Why Fran, don’t you have a girlish laugh and turn to share with him?

I feel compelled one of these days to try out the power drill cork screw on a bottle of wine.

Bernard’s Wine

  • Vanilla Ice Cream (in lieu of a hint of Vanilla)
  • Nutmeg
  • A twig of some kind. Manny failed to find some oak, for which his master punished him.
  • I dunno what the base wine was, I have to assume it was cheap. Oenophiles, suggestions?

The Cleaner is played by Kevin Eldon, who has had many TV show roles over the years in British TV. I only know him from Spaced and Hot Fuzz, unfortunately.

‘What are you eating?’

‘It’s some sort of delicious biscuit.’

‘That’s a coaster!’

‘I’m a giant ear… waiting for your songs of niceness.’