The comedy is steeped in sarcasm, as the ambitious Blackadder seeks to thwart his rivals and improve his lot by means fair and foul. In addition to the four TV series the set includes The Cavalier Years (a small stand-alone episode), A Blackadder Christmas Carol (a longer and inverted take on the well-known tale) and Blackadder Back And Forth (a feature length episode in which Blackadder and Baldrick accidentally make a working time machine).
The first series was something of a missed opportunity. It has the excellent Brian Blessed as King Richard IV and Tim McInnerny as the delightfully dim-witted Percy, but Blackadder himself was a bit too meek and snivelling. Having seen a smidgen of the pilot (not available in this or the more recent Blackadder Remastered – The Ultimate Edition) where he was played more arrogantly it’s a shame. The series still has its moments (particularly in the episode where the King clashes with the Church) but is clearly the weak link.
Blackadder II is my favourite. Blackadder becomes the devious bastard he ought to have been from the start, Baldrick becomes stupid (he was strangely clever in the first series) and Miranda Richardson is fantastic as the giggly, girly, psychopathic Queen Elizabeth I.
Blackadder the Third sees our anti-hero relegated to the status of butler for the Prince Regent (Hugh Laurie, unrecognisable to those who’ve seen him only as House). In the first episode Blackadder tussles with Pitt the Younger, and there’s quite a lot of good political and class comedy.
Blackadder Goes Forth is the favourite series of many, (though I prefer II, as I said). It’s set in the trenches of the Great War, with Laurie playing a lieutenant to Atkinson’s captain. Tim McInnerny returns, but instead of a Percy he plays Captain Darling, the desk-bound bureaucratic bootlicker of General Melchitt (Stephen Fry). The ending of the final episode is really quite moving.
It’s a shame the pilot isn’t included, and apparently there’s a joke cut from the Christmas Carol episode [because it’s no longer politically correct]. I loathe revisionism, but, that aside, the boxset is highly enjoyable.
There is a slightly more recent Remastered edition (mentioned above) but I think most of the additional bits are extras such as commentary. At just over £20 it’s good value
It’s a great set, and well worth buying.