Black Books is a short British TV series, available on Netflix and other less reputable streaming services, that was made in 2000 through to 2004. It means that this series is twenty years old and oh goodness me I am old now.
The series Black Books follows the … let’s be very generous and say ‘life’ of Bernard Black, a second hand bookstore owner in London who hates his job and hates his customers and hates having to do his taxes and hates restocking. It is, on a very deep level, an entire sitcom oriented around the story of a misanthropic shopfront owner, which may read as very true to life if you’ve ever encountered this kind of shopowner. Now, he’d be content to just boil away in his horribleness on his own, occasionally prodded into activity by his ‘friend’ next door, Fran, but then one day, circumstances bring Manny Bianco, a bohemian accountant into his life shortly before an incident of violent assault by some skinheads.
It’s a show that does a lot of weird stuff without spending a lot of money on doing weird stuff. You’re more likely to get weird people saying weird things than special effects, but it does a good job of showing off those weird things.
Black Books is one of those small-cast, small-season British comedy shows that leaves the more sitcom-oriented viewers wondering where the rest of the show went – you can watch all eighteen episodes and think ‘oh that was a short season,’ only to find that was the whole show.
It’s really good, it’s funny, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and you’ll see, if you watch it, a small who’s who of British comedy people from twenty years ago, people who have since moved on to do solo shows or more prominent roles on their own. Particularly there’s the excellent Bill Bailey’s Guide To The Orchestra, which should be available for free on Youtube at the moment. Dylan Moran’s done solo shows and Tamsyn Grieg went on to lead Green Wing. Great stuff all.
We’re done, right?
Content Warning: Transphobes
See, here’s the problem. Black Books is, in part, written by a man named Graham Linehan. Linehan, if you’re not already familiar with him from him popping up in your personal twitter mentions to shout at you about being a Fake Woman, is probably one of England’s most famous shitty people right now, for his tireless and ongoing quest to proactively harm trans women. This is a quest he has poured his life into, spending hours and days at a time finding complete strangers to abuse because he has opinions about their genitals, a behaviour that, apparently, his wife thought was kinda fucked up? In other news, apparently Linehan is single right now, so there’s that.
I wrote about Linehan in the past, when I talked about the character of April, from the IT Crowd, another Linehan work. In that, we talked about a time that The IT Crowd introduced a one-episode trans woman character, and how the story treated her and how cruel it was to her.
It’s a little easier to ignore Linehan’s transphobia in Black Books: there just isn’t much of anything in that vein in the series. There’s a vague reference to it – Bernard implies that maybe he’s thought about being a woman and how he might prefer that – but otherwise, it’s a series that doesn’t give the transphobia a chance to show up. And I’ve remarked – when it comes to transphobia in stories, you kind of have to go out of your way for it.
Still, that’s not the real problem, is it? It’s that Black Books is a Linehan work, which means that buying it or promoting it or sharing stories about it, in a small part, contributes to the presence of Linehan in the consciousness. There’s a very reasonable feeling for some folks who liked this series that they’d rather just ignore it, let the series go, and forget about it, because of this one awful dude in charge of it.
This is acceptable and I’m not arguing otherwise.
Myself, I’m a little more aggressive than that. Because I like Black Books, and I definitely don’t want to think every person who worked on it deserves to have their work discarded because of Linehan. Sometimes I use the phrase ‘gold from dragons’ – that when you find something you can enjoy created by a power structure that hates you, your enjoyment is itself a treasure you took from something that would destroy you. Take your work and run away. Part of that phrase, though, is to always remember there is a dragon.
And that’s why we’re here. This is why despite scrapping it, I’ve come back to this conversation. Because I do like Black Books, and I do want to recommend you check it out – in the least expensive way possible, like going and watching it on the Channel 4 website for free – because the conversation should always include the story of the dragon.
Linehan should not be forgotten or erased from his place in these works. It should always be mentioned as a disgusting shame, that someone who could make these funny jokes in these funny shows for funny people to deliver and make funnier, is such an awful human. And he should be remembered, as an awful human. An absolute shitbird. A person who Posted More himself into Twitter Jail.
Steal gold from dragons – and tell people how terrible the dragon you stole from is.
Because Linehan just seems like the most garbage-ass kind of dickhead.