New Bohemian.

no gods, no masters, no idols.

The whimsical world of Graham Linehan's Black Books

Black Books

Bill Bailey, Dylan Moran, and Tamsin Greig star in Black Books.

The best television sitcoms are the ones which teleport their viewers to another world, best served as background noise while making dinner, cleaning house, or making art. Black Books is my favorite television sitcom of all time, not because of its captivating plotlines, but because it does not demand your undivided attention through its short eighteen episode run. It’s a sort of televised comfort food for weirdos.

The series follows the foibles of Bernard Black, the misanthropic owner of the Black Books bookstore in Bloomsbury, London, his assistant Manny Bianco, and their friend Fran Katzenjammer. The Bohemian genius of the show is its plot: Linehan and Moran chose to write a sitcom about a secondhand bookstore precisely because it’s a business that’s doomed to fail. As a result, the show is a colorful pastiche of the characters’ misadventures, with the bookstore serving more often as a loafing locale than as a viable business.

The show’s literary and cultural references make it a veritable idler’s paradise. In “Hello Sun”, Fran is convinced by her friend to try yoga and develops a superiority complex over her new perceived vitality. Manny finds himself locked inside the shop with a bottle of absinthe in “The Big Lock-Out”. And in “Cooking the Books”, Bernard argues with a stubborn customer about a Dickens anthology:

Customer: Those books. How much?

Bernard: Hmmm?

Customer: Those books. The leather-bound ones.

Bernard: Yes, Dickens, the Collected Works of Charles Dickens.

Customer: Are they real leather?

Bernard: They’re real Dickens.

Customer: I have to know if they’re real leather because they have to go with the sofa.

Customer: Everything else in my house is real. I’ll give you two hundred for them.

Bernard: Two hundred what?

Customer: Two hundred pounds.

Bernard: Are they leather-bound pounds?

Customer: No.

Bernard: Sorry. I need leather bound pounds to go with my wallet. Next.

Black Books is available for streaming on Channel 4, but be sure to check to see if your local library has it on DVD first.