Black Books: Series 2, Episode 6 “A Nice Change”

In which our heroes go on holiday and come back to a finale.

Original air date: 4/5/2002

And here we are at the finale of series 2. Black Books would not return for series 3 until March of 2004. While the gap between series 1 and series 2 was about a year and a half, it would be almost two years for series 3. It doesn’t seem like that there’s anything significant to that apart from British programming shenanigans. Nevertheless, the series ends on a cliffhanger, a marked change from series 1. While there were changes afoot in “He’s Leaving Home”, everything reverted back to status quo by episode’s end. Here, heavy construction taking place outside becomes the main impetus for our characters’ decision to take a trip, and will leave them something to explore in series 3.

That said, the reveal at the end of what’s being built works quite well. The episode works like any other episode where the purpose is to get all, or most, of the characters out of the shop (I’m thinking of The Cleaner in “Grapes of Wrath) but without really telling the audience that it might have larger ramifications this time around. Granted, permanent changes to the status quo aren’t really this show’s thing. Black Books has, at best, an indifference to continuity (which is completely fine as this is just a 20 some-odd minute hilarious sitcom). It’s more like they have plot devices or character dynamics that they sometimes choose to revisit in the future. Yet it works just fine within the context of this episode and what the audience would come to expect of the show.

With 24-hour construction going on for the next two weeks right next door, Manny, Fran, and even a hermit like Bernard are prompted to leave on vacation. The entire episode is less about the trip and more about all the weird little idiosyncrasies and frustrations that come with going on vacation. Bernard can’t find his passport, Manny is so busy micromanaging the schedule and checking items off the checklists that he forgets to book the tickets, and Fran packs far more than she actually needs. Prepping for vacation is so stressful in the first place, let alone last minute with a freak like Bernard. Bernard’s resistance to change even extends to where they can travel.  He nixes every option since it would require him to do something different, and all he really wants is to get away from the construction. They finally settle upon Sainte-Honore in the Canary Islands, an island paradise with jungles to explore for Manny, golden sand beaches for Fran, and, improbably, an English language bookshop and tavern for Bernard.

Some highlights here come from the three bustling to get things ready. Bernard completely ignores the fact that he still has a customer rooting around in the shop for a book on Schubert. There’s Manny and Bernard’s interrogation of Fran when she packs too many shoes. Kind of a hoary gag, but I love that Fran’s so desperate to have a variety of footwear she tosses out her contact lenses just for more shoe space. The running gag that the shop is a haven for strange, disgusting creatures returns when Manny gives Fran a bunch of bananas to sate the thing that lives under Bernard’s bed. Though I think the best is Bernard completely trashing the shop trying to find his passport, only to find it in his desk. It’s off-the-cuff and completely relatable. In fact, excuse me while I go make sure my passport is where I think it is right now.

Surprisingly, the episode chooses not to deal too much with the annoyances of flying. Other sitcoms of the era would absolutely have been pissing and moaning about new security procedures (still would, come to think of it). No, instead ire is directed at layovers; an annoyance that’s perennial for any regular flight passenger.And it gladdens my heart that while Black Books sometimes dates itself, this is something that will remain funny so long as people fly. Since Manny messes up the tickets, Fran has to book more on the cheap and that means an insane number of connecting flights(574). Catching up with the characters at the end of their two weeks literally being spent on airplanes and waiting for airplanes, every one of them is at their wit’s end. I’m frankly astonished there wasn’t a scene of Bernard flipping out on a plane. Budget reasons, perhaps?

In any event, they return sick of each other, Bernard kicks Fran out and fires Manny(again). Except Fran forces Bernard to look at what has been constructed:  a Borders-style megabookstore called Goliath Books not dissimilar to the one seen in “Blood”. It was hinted at the beginning with the Schubert customer (Miltos Yerolemou) expecting to be treated like he would at one of those places (would’ve been a nice callback if he expected the shop to be like it was in “Blood”, just sayin’). There’s a feint towards a return to status quo with Bernard apparently unfiring Manny and deciding to go on holiday. Though who goes on holiday, and who is still working at the shop, will remain to be seen until Series 3.

Streaming? How Do?

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

Stray Observations 

  • The Schubert Customer is left in the store for two weeks and has gone mad from the heavy construction noise and, presumably, the creatures that inhabit Black Books. He is played by Miltos Yerolemou, an actor that would gain more international recognition with his role on Game of Thrones. This one has the honor of being Syrio Forel, First Sword to the Sealord of Braavos, and Bernard should be speaking to him with more respect.
  • Hey, it’s 2002! Manny is unable to remember the name of a travel website and both him and Fran are utterly incapable of navigating said new-fangled plane ticket websites.
  • Other plans to get out included going to the movies: Regression, a movie about Richard Gere traveling back in time, so his past self can grow up to go back in time.
  • The other movie is Blue Tunes. A movie about about a music shop run by the irascible Bernard Blue, his halfwit assistant Danny, and their batty friend Pam.I can’t see why they wouldn’t be interested in seeing that!
  • Sidenote: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Minnie Driver (whom Fran hates) star in it. Who do you suppose is playing who here?
  • Bilingual Bonus Points: For those of you who speak Gaelic, when they finally return to Heathrow, Manny asks the bartender ‘An bhfuil cead agam dul go dtí an leithreass’. Apparently, this means ‘Can I go to the toilet?’ in Irish Gaelic.

Quotable Quotes

Bernard: Forget your beaches and jungles;we’re going somewhere where I can read,sit,and have a quiet drink.

Manny: So your ideal holiday would in fact be here?

Bernard: Correct.So find somewhere exactly like this.


Manny: I think this is Miami.

Bernard: Good, I’m going to live here and sell guns to children.


Fran: How many people can say they’ve been on a hospital riverboat?

Manny:Yes and you can be sure that they get to perform surgery on themselves.

Fran: This is why they thought Manny was a god.

Manny: Yes, it’ll be some time before I sacrifice another monkey.