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Black Books is a merrily cynical television comedy by Dylan Moran and Graham Linehan.
It was broadcast on Channel 4 between 2000 and 2004, starring Moran as Bernard Black, a foul-tempered Irish misanthrope who ostensibly runs a cluttered little London bookstore but rarely sells anything. (Because when people buy books, they also sell books, and then he'd have to order books, and sell them again, and all that's just miserable.) Instead, he spends his time chain smoking, drinking cheap wine and verbally abusing everyone who crosses his path, especially his relentlessly excitable, somewhat naive assistant Manny Bianco (Bill Bailey). Bernard's friend and (rueful) one-time lover Fran Katzenjammer (Tamsin Greig) has limited success in making him occasionally stop being a total prat, but as she herself is a neurotic pessimistic drunk she can only do so much.
Relied on A Simple Plan for pretty much all of its plots. The characters would decide to go to a party, or do their taxes, or write a children's book, or something, and would more or less use this as a springboard for a lot of bizarre and/or appalling behaviour, until they eventually failed, or at best broke even.
Came fifty-eighth in Britain's Best Sitcom.
- Airport Novel: Bernard sells Tempocalypse, a thriller about a single woman looking for love who has 12 hours to stop nuclear armageddon. His sales pitch lampshades its trashy appeal to both sexes.
- The Alcoholic: Bernard and Fran. Fran's last name even means "hangover."
- Alien Lunch: Bernard has lost so much of his sense of taste due to his cigarette habit that he mistakes a coaster for "some kind of delicious biscuit."
- Alliterative Name: Bernard Black.
- Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Manny's.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: When Fran tries to sabotage Bernard's new relationship, she claims he's actually such a modest genius that he has rooms full of his most recent paintings, can speak nine languages, blow glass and do hard sums.
- Audio Erotica: Howell Granger the shipping forecaster's sexy voice is a plot point.
- Bigger on the Inside: When stuck having dinner with Manny and his parents, Bernard drops his fork on purpose to escape; when he climbs under the table, it is then revealed that there is a bar concealed underneath, complete with bartender.
- Bilingual Bonus: In the series finale of season 2, Bernard, Manny and Fran all end up in an airport with no idea what country they're in, so all three ask a barman a random question in a different language in an attempt to ascertain where they are. Bernard asks (in a vaguely Middle Eastern-sounding accent, no less) "An bhfuil cead agam dul go dtí an leithreas?" - an Irish phrase meaning "May I go to the bathroom?", which is probably about the only phrase in the language that every native Irish person could reliably speak.
- Broken Treasure: The wine meant for the Pope.
- Bumbling Sidekick: All three of the main characters play the role at at least one point—they're often all as bad as each other.
- Burger Fool: Bernard takes a job at a burger joint for a few hours just to get out of the rain.
Bernard: Welcome to... the thing. Whatever this is.
- Card Sharp: Fran turns out to have mad poker skillz that she uses to win back the £20,000 that Bernard lost in a series 3 episode.
- The Cast Showoff: Bill Bailey's piano skills are a cornerstone of his stand-up act. Manny discovers to his shock that he can play any piece of music on hearing it once.
- Ceiling Banger: Bernard has a go at being one. Unfortunately, he breaks a hole in the ceiling.
- Chekhov's Armoury: In contrast to previous episodes in the series having an abundance of throwaway visual gags and one-liners, every single item, discussion or person introduced in the first five minutes of "The Big Lockout" has some significance later on in the episode.
- Coincidental Accidental Disguise:
- Over the course of a whole episode Manny eventually ends up looking like a Hammer Horror Igor.
- The first episode had him in a white (hospital) robe, with long flowing hair (well, it's Bill Bailey) and an expression of serenity from swallowing The Little Book of Calm, giving him such an aura of calm that he can sooth dogs and car alarms with a wave of his hand. Both a punch-drunk Bernard, and a pair of nervous Christians, mistake him for Jesus.
- A third episode ends with all three wearing dark glasses due to hangovers, and Manny walking with a stick. A woman then comes in asking for donations for the blind.
- Crazy Prepared: The porn-shop owner, who apparently stocks titles like Senior Administrative Nurses as a matter of course.
- Curse Cut Short: When Bernard is going through the multiple messages inviting Manny to a party;
* beeep* Oh yeah, I forgot to mention... Manny, please don't bring that drunken Irish bast- * message deleted*
- Plus several times when Bernard starts ranting at Manny through a soundproof door.
- Cut a Slice, Take the Rest: Bernard pulls a common variation. He takes a spoonful of coffee from a full jar, then pours boiling water into the jar and drinks from that.
- Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: Bernard likes to make these, usually at Manny.
- A Date with Rosie Palms: Fran's night with the shipping forecaster.
- Deadpan Snarker: Bernard and Fran.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Manny's defection to Goliath Books is treated as if it was some sort of romantic abandonment.
- Also, the plot of the first season finale has Manny leaving the bookshop and the whole thing is treated as if he was a teenage girl who's run away from home (picked up by a skeezy dude who takes creepy pictures of him, almost sold into prostitution...)
- Manny and Bernard's intervention over how many shoes Fran intends on taking on holiday is played as if they were in a Spy Thriller trying to deprogram a Manchurian Agent.
- Downer Ending: Depending on how much you sympathize with Bernard, it probably qualifies.
- Dramatic Pause: "I am... The Cleaner" (Can't you just hear the capital letters?)
- DVD Commentary: A particularly brilliant one on the DVD, almost as quotable as the show itself:
We will settle this... the Gypsy way!
- Eagle Land: The American tourists who give Bernard's shop a visit hail from the second variety. They're used as inspiration for Fran and Bernard's later impersonation of a pair of American tourists.
Tourist: Hey mister, you got anything on armouries, weaponry, that kind of thing?
- Electrified Bathtub: Subverted for comedy. Manny uses an alarming number of electric devices while in the tub, including a toaster and a hairdryer. He even drops the latter into the water, but nothing happens, and he casually acknowledges his luck.
- Epunymous Title
- Even the Guys Want Him: Jason.
- "Jason can have my special biscuit."
- Expensive Glass of Crap: After drinking the rare bottle of wine meant for the pope, Bernard and Manny attempt to "recreate" it using cheap wine and ingredients from around the house so no one will notice. It ends up subverted, as it kills the pope.
- Explain, Explain, Oh Crap: The episode "The Big Lock-Out" has an example of this.
- Fawlty Towers Plot
- Freudian Trio: Bernard-Id, Manny-Ego, Fran-Superego
- Gambling Addict: Bernard becomes addicted to horse racing after Manny places a Grand National bet for him. He goes on to lose £20,000 - underwritten by the shop - in a poker game. Fortunately Fran and Manny, posing as American tourists, win it back.
- Gilligan Cut: Double Subverted. Manny, during his role as a model for Japanese gay fetish magazines, fervently insists that he will not accompany a Japanese businessman to the casino. Cut to... Black Books, where it appears that he's made good on this promise, until a £50 chip falls out of his pocket.
- Good Cop, Bad Cop: Parodied wonderfully when Manny gets sucked into playing the good cop while interrogating a police suspect. His overly flattering comments, such as, "You have lovely eyes," unsettle the perp enough to confess.
- Grammar Nazi: "Don't you dare use the word "party" as a verb in this shop!"
- Happy Place: Bernard's is apparently a bar. Under a table.
- Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Fran.
- Her Codename Was Mary Sue: Fran reads part of a self-insert short story by Bernard about a character named "Brendan Blake."
- Hide Your Pregnancy: Tamsin Greig in series 1, with the help of several long scarves.
- Holy Backlight: Manny just after internalizing The Little Book of Calm.
- I Shall Taunt You: Bernard to a bunch of skinheads. His first few attempts are too erudite and fail to insult the gang (that, or they're just too shocked that he was taunting them to react).
Uhh, ok let's see.. Millwall! That's the one. You know that chant, "Millwall, Millwall, you're all really dreadful, and all your girlfriends are unfulfilled and alienate-"THWACK
- I Want Grandkids: Manny's parents.
- Ingesting Knowledge: Manny absorbs The Little Book Of Calm, which transforms him into a messianic figure.
- Intoxication Ensues: Absinthe and espresso have both been used.
- Jerkass: Bernard & Fran
- Jerkass Woobie: Bernard, as is revealed in the final episode of the series.
- Lady Drunk: Fran, all the way—see Meaningful Name, below.
- Large Ham: Bernard, Manny has his moments as well.
- Leaning on the Furniture: Jason, aficionado of the Captain Morgan Pose.
- Living in a Furniture Store: Averted. Bernard and Manny's backroom is a crumbling pig sty. The shop itself is only marginally better, and quickly deteriorates whenever Manny isn't there.
Manny: I got the queen!
- Looks Like Jesus: Manny in the first episode, due to Coincidental Accidental Disguise
- Mad Scientist: Bernard briefly becomes one while trying to make "super-wine."
Bernard: Now let's see here... an oaky finish... Oak? OAK! TO THE GARDEN!
- Also hilariously supplemented by Manny as The Igor after breaking his tooth (Giving him a muffled voice), having his nerves spasmed by a massage machine (making him hunch over) and getting cramp in his leg due to stress, giving him a limp.
- Maintain the Lie:
- Manny told his parents he had a girlfriend and had made partner in the bookshop. Then they came to visit...
- Many hiding in a piano to support Fran's pretence that she can play.
- Meaningful Name: Grumpy misanthrope Bernard's surname is "Black", while his cheerful assistant Manny's surname is "Bianco", meaning "white" in Italian. Their dipsomaniac friend and neighbour Fran's surname is "Katzenjammer", German slang for "hangover".
- Mediation Backfire: Bernard and Manny take time out from an argument to insult Fran, and end up resolving their own differences in the process. Until she leaves, whereupon they start it up again.
- Messy Hair: Bernard's appearance matches that of the shop.
- Mistaken for Gay: Subverted. At their first meeting, Manny mistakenly believes Bernard to be gay, to which Bernard casually acknowledges that he himself made this mistake "for a bit", but changed his mind after discovering the apparently unreachable high standards of hygiene, "and all that dancing".
- Nietzsche Wannabe: Bernard.
- Nigh Invulnerability: Played for Laughs with Bernard; after already contracting an Incurable Cough of Death when Manny leaves, he later survives eating slug pellets and oven cleaner, and claims his brain is falling away like a wet cake (yet somehow gets over it).
- Non Sequitur Scene: The moment where Bernard and Fran duck under their restaurant table to find a miniature bar, complete with bartender, quite literally under everyone's feet is surreal even by this show's standards. They barely even acknowledge it, preferring to have an argument about how boring their dinner conversation with Manny's parents is.
- Noodle Implements
- Noodle Incident: Whatever did happen in Canada?
- Well, we know that Manny had to sacrifice a monkey...
- Not a Game: see the trope's page quote.
- Object Ceiling Cling: Manny sees a piece of toast on the ceiling whilst he is calling a cleaner. Later in the same episode, Bernard launches a piece of toast with jam onto the ceiling.
- Only Sane Man: Manny and Bernard take turns at this role
- Overly Long Gag
- Overly Pre-Prepared Gag - the three subplots of the piano episode involve all three of them donning sunglasses for different reasons, only for a collector for the blind to show up the the end of the episode.
- Doubly ironic considering how all three of them must possess a newfound hatred for the blind after being forced to feign to play piano (or climb inside and play with spoons) for the benefit of three blind piano teachers.
- Pet Heir: Bernard's landlady left the building to the cat. Which Bernard then proceeds to attempt to kill to avoid paying rent to it.
- Prodigal Family: Manny. Also played with in Fran's case; she doesn't initially know her long-lost family, but once she meets them it becomes difficult to extricate herself from the familial embrace.
- Proportional Article Importance: Bernard misses the enormous headline "POPE KILLED BY INFERIOR WINE" because he's looking at the date.
- Reaching Between the Lines: Manny attempts to show the cleaning company he's talking to on the phone just how dirty the bookshop is by pointing the receiver at the room.
- Refuge in Audacity: Fran convincing Bernard that his supposedly dead former fiancée, isn't. Including dental records, a birth certificate and a picture of the former girlfriend wearing an "I Love Life" t-shirt and holding a copy of that day's newspaper.
- Relative Error: Committed by Fran. She thinks her boyfriend's cheating on her; he's actually taking his sister out to lunch because she lost her job.
- Right Behind Me
- Scotireland: An American tourist in Bernard's shop refers to him as a "Scotchman." Bernard is displeased. Well, more so than usual.
- Second-Person Attack: The end result of Bernard taunting a trio of skinheads is getting three simultaneous fists to the face.
- Self-Parody: In "A Nice Change", when Bernard reads a film ad aloud:
Bernard: What this, Blue Tunes? [...] Raunchy Leonard Blue runs a second hand record shop with his half-wit, mustachioed assistant Danny...
- Shaggy Dog Story: Bernard's explanation for breaking his arm, a convoluted tale of Pulling the Thread to unravel how he'd drunkenly ruined his oldest friendship, which culminates in him... falling down some steps.
- A Simple Plan
- Sit Comic
- Spit-Take: The most expensive spit-take in history; Manny makes Bernard laugh while drinking the £7000 bottle of Vin du Rosier.
- Stealth Hi Bye: The Cleaner.
- There Are No Therapists: Averted. One appears in "Hello Sun"; she's so good she manages to trigger a (temporary) breakthrough from both Manny and Bernard without actually saying anything.
- They Called Me Mad: Parodied by Bernard while attempting to make a "super wine" from scratch, "with a fraction of nature's resources and a FOOL for an assistant..."
- This Product Will Change Your Life: Bernard has attempted to fob books off on customers with this line so they'll go away.
- Trash of the Titans: "North corner, cobwebs containing a number of deceased arachnids... with beans".
- The cleaner sweeps his finger through thin air and it comes away black with dust.
- "Everything's dirty! See? I am right now eating scrambled eggs...with a comb...from a shoe!!"
- Truth-Telling Session: played with.
- Twice Shy
- Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist
- Verbal Backspace:
Bernard: You know I don't approve of you seeing other girls-PEOPLE!"
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Bernard and Manny.
- Weaksauce Weakness: The Pope is somehow killed by inferior wine.
- We Want Our Jerk Back: Manny starts to miss Bernard when he goes to work for Evan at Goliath Books.
- Fran disapproves of Bernard's behaviour when he tries to be a bit less miserable: "Look! I can do fun!"
- What Did I Do Last Night?: Bernard frequently gets alcohol-induced memory gaps for comic effect (see the quote below) but this plot was the particular focus of the episode where he tries to work out why his oldest friend blanked him in the street.
Bernard: I don’t remember that.
- What Do You Mean Its Not Symbolic: Manny appears to briefly turn into Jesus after ingesting The Little Book of Calm.
- Who Would Want to Watch Us?: When considering going to the cinema, Bernard reads out a review of a film whose premise is practically identical to the show's - to groans from all.
- Wimp Fight: Bernard and Fran settle their differences with a fight, which involves them turning their heads away and slapping each other like sissies until Fran twists Bernard's arm behind his back and pulls his hair.
- You Do NOT Want to Know: Manny refuses to say what happens to him if the temperature reaches 88 degrees, referring to his condition only as "Dave's Syndrome." It turns out it involves a war dance on top of a car, naked save for a strategically-placed hot water bottle.
- With "Eat Me" written on his chest. "Poor guy. Dave's Syndrome."
- Of course, everybody believed he was making up this 'Dave's Syndrome' until the end.
- With "Eat Me" written on his chest. "Poor guy. Dave's Syndrome."
- You Would Make a Great Model: Happens to Manny in "He's Leaving Home".
- Zany Scheme