Black Books: Series 1, Episode 5 “The Big Lock-Out”

In which Bernard stays out all night long, Manny learns essential survival skills, and Fran has a pleasant evening listening to the radio.

Original Air Date: 10/27/2000

One of the key aspects in Bernard’s characterization is his intolerance for the timewasters in his shop. Part of this has to do with his own misanthropy, but also because he can barely tolerate the outside world in general. So it’s ironic when Bernard’s locked out on a rainy night thanks to a high tech security system, and he has no choice but to kill time. He tries to see a movie (the only showing is canceled), he next finds himself in a porn shop. Bernard, himself ceaselessly intolerant of timewasters, is subjected to the same treatment. Who knew that there’d be such specific tastes in the area of administrative porn? I do really love that he tried to turn the porn shop proprietor into a friend though. Something sad and sweet about that. When all else fails and he’s out of money, Bernard takes a job as a night shift burger flipper. A job that lasts until the rain stops, but one that Bernard applies precisely the same sort of work ethic he has at his shop to. It’s odd that Bernard only gets back to baseline when he’s indifferently working a job.

Manny, while outwardly probably one of the saner members of the trio, is also the one that tends to go crazy under stressful circumstances. He’s also the one who has a tendency to screw things up. Here, we get a bit of both as he gets distracted by a ‘little man’ in the security installer’s (Nick Frost!) hair and can’t remember the code to the door, setting in motion the events of the episode. There’s something of a parallel to Bernard here in that both have to learn to survive in their respective situations. Bernard begs, pleads, and eventually works in order to survive the night, and Manny, armed with an SAS guide and some absinthe, has to learn to live off the fat of the book shop (i.e. the bees on the windowsill).

Fran’s storyline has the least to it, but the writers were obviously having a good time with it. I suspect that they needed to have Fran be distracted with something so that Bernard couldn’t rely on her as an outside contact. An old flame, Howell Granger, (Peter Serafinowicz!) disrupts Fran and Bernard’s busy night of absinthe consumption, as his voice has a powerful effect on her.  Fran decides to listen to the shipping broadcast that he presents  which prevents her from helping Bernard when he’s locked out(as she purposefully left the phone off the hook). Tamsin Greig continues to be the ace in the hole for the series, evoking lust, giddiness, frustration, and ecstasy with style and humor. What kills me here, at the end of Fran’s frantic phone call  to Howell, is her steadied, measured, completely composed manner in response to him. Fran got what she wanted and now she’s done with him. Slay queen.

This episode is perfect, eminently quotable with too many great gags to count. It’s probably one of my favorite episodes of the series. If there is one thing that clinched it for me it’s the hard cut to Bernard working at Mamba Burger pictured above.  Bernard’s out of his comfort zone, Manny’s put in a stressful situation, and Fran, after some setbacks in the previous episodes, gets a small victory. Everyone gets a moment to shine even if there’s little interaction between our main three. Excellent guest stars and wonderful gags, I’d be sorely tempted to just write down every single quote and gag in this episode, but I probably shouldn’t. Great episode to watch to introduce people to the show, I think.

Just watch it and if you’ve already seen it, watch it again.

Streaming? How do?

Black Books is available on Hulu, Vudu, and Amazon Prime. It is available for UK viewers off the Channel 4 website.

Stray Observations

  • In Hey! That’s Neat! News, the special guest stars (Nick Frost and Peter Serafinowicz) are, unless I missed someone, the first that tangentially link Black Books with the Edgar Wright-helmed Spaced and Shaun of The Dead.
  • This episode sadly also makes me want to ding Shaun of The Dead just a little bit.  My first introductions to Peter Serafinowicz and Dylan Moran were through their characters in that movie. So, I really had no idea just how funny they were until much later on. The Peter Serafinowicz Show is goddamn hysterical as is his work in The Tick.
  • Airing in October of 2000, this episode is a little over a year removed from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, but its presence is obliquely felt. I mean, why have Peter Serafinowicz in a subplot revolving around his mellifluous voice if for no other reason than his turn as the voice of Darth Maul?
  • The employees at the movie theater and the Mamba Burger are played by the same actor. Related, or just in cahoots?
  • The entirety of Manny and Bernard’s exchange after the lockout occurs always kills me.
  • The episode’s more or less a Shaggy Dog story. A security system’s installed because they were robbed. Bernard’s locked out and has to go do a bunch of stuff just to survive the night, only to come back to the shop having been robbed….of the security system.

Quotable Quotes

  • Graham: Fraaaaaan?


  • Manny: That was the last film you went to see? ‘Planet of the Apes’?Bernard: Yeah. Amazing effects, you know. You really believed that monkeys could have meetings.
  • Bernard: Excuse me, there seems to be some mistake. I bought some popcorn and a drink and now I have no money left.Youth: That’s how much it costs.Bernard: What is it, magic popcorn? Does it produce some kind of dizzying high?

I’ll stop quoting now, waaaaay too many good ones. I’ll leave that to you guys.