Blackadder's Christmas Carol (1988)
By 1988 Blackadder had run for three seasons in the UK and had seen the central character of Edmund Blackadder evolve from a seedy incompetent to a cunning, scheming, evil genius who was always frustrated at the last moment. Cleverly written by Richard Curtis and Ben Elton and superbly portrayed by Rowan Atkinson, Blackadder was very much at the cutting edge of British comedy of the time. It managed to mix physical humour, with verbal sparring, sarcasm, dry self-deprecation and irony. It was popular with a very broad spectrum of viewers.
Therefore, a one-off Christmas special was inevitable. However, unlike many other extended episodes of popular TV shows, Blackadder's Christmas Carol managed to maintain the high standard of previous episodes. The satirical reworking of Dicken's classic tale is the perfect vehicle for Blackadder and his foil Baldrick (Tony Robinson). The central conceit of the plot is having this particular incarnation of Blackadder, starting off as "kindest and loveliest" man in England. However, after a visit from the Spirit of Christmas (Robbie Coltrane) who shows him the misdeeds of his ancestors, it's not long before he concludes that "Bad guys have all the fun".
Blackadder's Christmas Carol packs a lot in to its forty-two minute running time. It manages to satirise the entire Dickensian idiom of writing, attack such sacred cows as British Royalty as well as allude to social issues such as the infant mortality rate and the chronic alcoholism that existed within the working class at the time. Despite the overriding cynical nature of British comedy, there is still a positive message to be gained from the proceedings. Edmund is ultimately cheated by his own misanthropy; however, the moral codicil is still delivered with a delicious sense of irony.
Following this Christmas special, Blackadder continued for a fourth season the following year and subsequently ended while at the peak of its success. Blackadder Goes Forth, set in World War I managed to raise the bar even higher, ending in a final episode that transcends comedy and makes a poignant statement about the nature of war. However, Blackadder's Christmas Carol serves as a suitable point of entry for those unfamiliar with the show. It is seasonally appropriate and a great parody of Dicken’s iconic novel.