Black Books: Series 1, Episode 4 “The Black-Out”

In which Manny gets his man, Fran tries to not to look at hers, and Bernard brings Belly Savalas to a dinner party. 


In the episode, Fran and Bernard engage in a discussion on a societal quirk (in this case, ‘The Blank’) that either spins out of, or into, a character’s plot for the episode. It invites Fran’s own insecurities to sabotage her new relationship, while it sparks in Bernard a desire to figure out what he had done to hurt a couple that he had been friends with (They Blanked him!).

Bernard’s story is interesting in that there’s a degree of self-reflection, which I think is rare for him. Indeed, I think there’s an element of self-reflection for everyone who’s ever had a black out. You have to find out what you did. Gerald and Sarah are good friends to him, so it hurts when they Blank him. Gerald helped him find a job, helped him find his store, they even still invite him to dinner parties. For such a minor character, Gerald’s responsible for much of Bernard’s present (largely comfortable) lifestyle. It’s all very funny, but also deeply bleak as Bernard’s actions traumatize his friends’ young son. But ultimately, Bernard’s narcissism and obvious alcoholism leaves him unmoved to the damage he causes even as it also causes him to break his arm.

Poor Fran, all she wants is to have a good active social life and know someone and be known. Concerned that her boyfriend is cheating on her, Fran tries to ‘Blank’ him in one of the funniest, most heartbreakingly pathetic pieces I’ve ever seen. After getting hit by a car, Peter goes with her in the ambulance, where she still refuses to look at him. She sprains her neck and it’s all for naught. Peter was consoling his sister and Fran’s insecurities cause her both physical pain and the end of a relationship.

Meanwhile, Manny gets his own subplot owing to a birthday gift of a new coffee machine and a boxset of  The Sweeney. Due to a series of events stemming from this, he soon finds himself an undercover cop brought into interrogate a hardened criminal. My favorite bit involved Manny’s chase after the purse snatcher and they both wait for the walk signal at the intersection. Manny’s good cop routine involves him saying very nice things , which totally confuses the criminal, Nogsy.

I found something distinctly Seinfeldian in this episode’s proceedings. Now, this isn’t a criticism of either show and Black Books is very much itself here and, of course,very funny, but the structure of the episode is tantalizingly familiar.  Jerry might never Black Out at a dinner party, but he and Elaine almost certainly would’ve talked about how powerful it is to ignore someone you know on the street. Elaine, or George, might try to do exactly what Fran did to her boyfriend. And while Kramer isn’t Manny by any stretch he did once successfully hold a job at an office by simply being in the right place and the right time. Am I reading too much into this? Possibly.

But, overall, there’s a lot happening here.  Bernard only dimly realizes his actions have consequences for those he cares about. It doesn’t inspire him to be better though. He comes out of it feeling like he had been wronged all along (for the Blanking!). There’s something there to be explored, I think. But that’d be an entirely different show and Black Books would be worse off for it. I’m perfectly fine with watching Bernard think himself a ‘Happy-Go-Lucky Scamp’, Fran striving and stumbling and Manny just being Manny.

Streaming? How Do?

Black Books is available for streaming via Amazon Prime, Hulu, Vudu, and the Channel 4 website for UK viewers.

Stray Observations

  • Colin McFarlane plays the cop at the precinct. You may know him from EastEnders, The Torchwood: Children of Earth miniseries, or Dirk Gently  or any number of shows, but to me, he’ll always be The Police Commissioner That The Joker Poisoned with Smoke or Something in The Dark Knight.
  • Gerald’s wife, Sarah, works on a show called “Pet Surprise”. An Extreme Home Makeover style reality show that involves taking the dog on a walk while renovations are done on the kennel. And the dog comes back and it’s all like ‘Oh my god!’I am not unconvinced that there is a show airing somewhere, right now, with this exact premise.
  • Bernard: I came to your party, I brought a bottle of wine
    Gerald: You brought a police woman
    Bernard: Police woman, bottle of wine, the point is I made an effort.
  • Manny’s Good Cop Routine: “You have… beautiful eyes.”
  • I will never get tired of two injured characters going out of their way to hurt each other.
  • I can’t remember what Bernard’s other parlor trick was apart from Belly Savalas. Though to be honest, since it involved Bernard’s rear, I think I’d prefer not to.