British sitcom written By Dylan Moran and Graham Linehan, and starring Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey and Tamsin Greig.

Black Books is a tiny little second-hand bookshop in London, just off Russell Square. It's run by the drunken, misanthropic, obnoxious Irishman, Bernard Black, whose only hobbies in life are abusing customers and knocking back wine with Fran, owner of the Nifty Gifty shop next door and Bernard's best friend. When his accountant is arrested for massive fraud, Bernard is forced to hire an assistant to do his accounts, help around the shop and occasionally sell books to customers when Bernard isn't looking. Manny, the put-upon assistant, moves into the flat behind the shop with Bernard, and the three of them form their own drunken, surreal, insular world.

Black Books was originally written by Dylan Moran for Channel 4, and the first episode was produced as a play during the Riverside Festival in 1998. In the original version, Bernard was a lot darker – still drunken and misanthropic, but also hugely depressed and suicidal. Fran was hugely different – rather than the dizzy cow she is in the series, she was the smart one who was always looking out for Bernard. He announces one day that he's going to kill himself and begins making plans. Fran decides to cheer him up by hiring a singing telegram. Unfortunately, the singing telegram – Manny – is even more depressed than Bernard, and congratulates him on his wise decision. The two get horribly drunk on eggnog, and form a suicide pact. When they wake up with hangovers though, they find that unbeknownst to Bernard, a huge cult has been building up around him, and when they discovered that their leader was preparing to kill himself, they all do too. The news that they've inspired 10,000 suicides overnight makes Bernard and Manny reconsider their decision, so they decide to live instead, and Manny quits his job to become Bernard's assistant.

The script went down very well at the Riverside Festival, but Channel 4 weren't happy with it. It was shunted around for about 2 years, until finally they roped in Graham Linehan (co-creator of Father Ted and Big Train) to re-write. The resulting scripts were a lot lighter and a lot wackier than Dylan's original version, but were also a lot tighter, a lot better paced, and if truth be told, a lot funnier.

When it finally did see the light of day in October 2000, it was tucked away late at night on Channel 4's Friday comedy lineup at 10.30 (when all right-thinking people were in the pub). Consequently, the ratings were quite poor – causing Dylan to say, "we're really glad to have won this award, we just wish somebody had actually watched the show" while picking up the BAFTA for Best New British Comedy.

In a weird twist though, C4 didn't drop it and blame Dylan and Graham. Instead, they repeated the first series, commissioned a second and gave it a huge advertising push. At the time of writing, only the first episode has been aired, and it's not known how it scored in the ratings. But here's hoping it does well, because with the possible exception of The Office, this is by far the best British comedy of the past 5 years.

It's also been shown in the states on Comedy Central, and some video clips are available at their microsite :

Series 1 (written by Dylan Moran and Graham Linehan):
  1. Cooking The Books
  2. Manny's First Day
  3. The Grapes Of Wrath
  4. The Blackout
  5. The Big Lock-out
  6. He's Leaving Home

Series 2 (written by Dylan Moran):
  1. The Entertainer
  2. Fever
  3. The Fixer
  4. Blood
  5. Hello Sun
  6. A Nice Change

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