Black Books: Series 2, Episode 3 “The Fixer”

              In which Fran fakes it ’till she makes it, while  Manny and Bernard attempt to teach a dangerous mind.

Original airdate: 3/15/2002


I kind of love how hard it is tell exactly who really gets the ball rolling in this episode. In order to get a plot going in an episode, one character introduces something or someone or does something that inevitably hurtles the plot forward into a manic frenzy. Here, I kind of wonder whose fault all of this is to begin with? Is it Bernard’s for giving Manny so much shit that he decides to stay in and take Gus’ call? Is it Manny’s for taking the call and doing a favor for his friend, the gangster? Or should we blame Fran’s lack of wherewithal in her job search?

I suppose it doesn’t really matter as long the episode’s fun. Make no mistake, I enjoyed this episode, maybe not as much as others, but it certainly has strong jokes. One of the better set-ups for plots in the show is to pair off Manny and Bernard and give Fran her own storyline. This time around, we have Bernard and Manny offering an in-store book reading by gangster turned “author” Danny Spudge (Ricky Grover). With his large frame and deadly serious cockney accent, Manny and Bernard are already sweating bullets. It’s only made worse when it becomes clear that Danny’s not only a violent pyschopath,  completely illiterate, but also demands results.

It’s interesting that Manny and Bernard’s impossible task  dovetails quite nicely with Fran’s plot. Aside from the fact that Gus got Fran a job working under a Mr. Nugent (Rob Brydon!), there are some parallels here worth noting. Fran’s not given any understanding as to what she’s supposed to be doing, and a boss above her who demands results. Manny and Bernard have no clue about how to teach, Fran has no idea how to do her job, but they have to do it anyway.

I really love how genuinely weird Fran’s experience at this office is. It really reminds me of temping. She can’t make smalltalk with her co-workers (Fatty, Spotty, and Weird Guy Who Plays With His Balls All The Time), and she is given no direction whatsoever because, obviously, in business,  a good employee doesn’t need to be told what to do.  What really puts a cap on it, is when at the end she gets a going away card from her co-workers, whom she has never spoken to, signed with the nicknames Fran came up with. I’ve been a temp once or twice in my life and the experience of having a fond farewell from people you only vaguely know is astonishingly familiar.

Fran does what we’ve all been told to do “Fake it till you make it.” It’s just in the most literal sense possible.  Using non-sense buzzwords and charts, Fran finds herself promoted even though she still has no idea what she’s doing. All that Fran’s learned is that being bossy gets people to think you know what you’re doing. It’s ironic then, that Fran’s solution inadvertently spoils Manny and Bernard’s plans to have Gus call off Danny. Her bossiness (and a pat on the head to Gus) gives Gus the wrong idea and has her fired.

It all wraps up rather neatly though, as Fran’s bossiness dominates Danny and saves Manny and Bernard from almost certainly ending up brown bread. The usual shenanigans and wonderful quips are bountiful in this episode, so I enjoyed Bernard and Manny panicking but I find myself more attached to Fran’s B-plot. I think I would’ve liked to have seen more of her at this deeply weird and alienating office. It’s almost Kafkaesque.

Stray Observations

  • There’s really no explanation as to why Fran needs a new job. I wouldn’t be surprised if her shop went out of business though. She spends all of her time with Manny and Bernard and selling cheap tchotchkes next to a freak’s bookshop probably wasn’t that successful to begin with.
  • I was very surprised indeed to learn that Ricky Grover is the voice of Yangus for the English release of DragonQuest VIII, maybe one of my favorite RPGs of the last twenty years. His voicework in that role is incredible.
  • Rob Brydon pops up as Fran’s boss. I know Rob Brydon from The Trip movies with Steve Coogan which basically involves them eating well, drinking well, and doing impressions.
  • Mick Walter as Gus, has had a long career, stretching all the way back to the first (and worst) series of Blackadder. But the role that gets called out here is the work he did on the Chronicles of Narnia tv adaptations when he asks for one of his flunkies to pick up some Turkish Delight.
  • Bernard’s stress-fueled breakdown when he can’t follow the conversation Manny and Fran are having about who hired Fran is absolutely superb.
  • Love Manny’s gangster style fedora and bespoke suit. Manny, when he wants to be, is easily the classiest of the three.
  • Thing I had to research because I’m a dang yank: Cockney Rhyming slang. Brown bread = dead

Quotable Quotes

  • “I’m a quitter. I come from a long line of quitters. It’s amazing I’m here at all.”
  • “Ask yourselves this. Is this A. effective and B. productive?”

    *draws dot in middle of circle*

  • “It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” All Jane Austen novels should narrated in cockney.

Sorry that this is late for those of you who regularly read this. It’s New Years and I had some unexpected guests blow into town, so I didn’t have time to post until today.

That does it for 2017!