But That’s Not Funny: Dark Ends to TV Comedies


As a writer, I’m lucky. Not only do I get to write about my interests here at Unreality, but I actually get paid to write during the daytime hours. I even have health benefits. Lucky as I am, even I can get in a slump. I’m currently behind deadline at my place of employ, so the past week and a half has been a little rough, and involved a lot of writing. A lot. I hate to complain about something I am constantly asking editors to let me do for them, but that much writing can be draining.

Thank the gods old and new for Hulu and lunch breaks. Lately I’ve been catching up on That Mitchell and Webb Look, a sketch show starring two of my favorite comedians. By the by, check out Peep Show if you haven’t already.

I finished up the last series of the show this week, and in one of their interstitial conversations they discuss Blackadder‘s famous last scene. The following clip is actually the full episode, but I’ve cued it up to the right spot (for my fellow office drones, some of these clips contain colorful language):


Much of my childhood was spent trying to figure out what the hell was going on in the few episodes of Blackadder I caught on PBS, but I decided to watch the whole thing in college and it did not disappoint. Each series of the show is set in a different historical period (one of them made up), and focuses on a descendent of the Blackadder family. The last series takes place during WWI, giving ample opportunity to mine the horrors of war for laughs. It brilliantly underlines the need for humor in times of strife. The now famous last scene was the first time I can remember running into a bit of “tragic relief” while watching a sitcom, and it definitely stuck with me.

Here are some people involved with the production explaining how it came about:

Even though it seems to have been birthed in a moment of panic after everyone realized the original ending was shite (ha!), the Blackadder ending is undoubtedly moving, and as Robert Webb explains above, reveals surprising depth. It’s good to find the light in things, even war, but there’s no getting away from the evils of the world. It’s impressive when a show that has consistently cracked people up hits you square in the feels.

Of course, the British aren’t the only ones who can pull off a deep ending to a comedic show, and MASH‘s last episode, “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen,” is one of the most famous examples on this side of the pond. Granted, MASH was more of a dramedy, but between Alan Alda’s Hawkeye, Jamie Farr’s Klinger, and Gary Burghoff’s Radar, it served up its fair share of laughs over its eleven seasons.

Here’s a decent analysis of the final episode, hosted by everyone’s favorite fake Brit, Dick Van Dyke (thankfully sans “Cockney” accent):


I love these types of endings. I’m also a fan of sneaking in darker moments throughout a comedy show’s run (Wilfred is a good current example of this), but ending the whole story by “getting real” is just so satisfying. Belly laughing through a series only to get gut-punched at the end delivers such a delicious bit of balance. There is no day without night, no pleasure without pain, and obviously, no comedy without tragedy. So lay the sadness on me, funny people. Show me the meaning of “bittersweet.”

And how about the final sketch of the final series of That Mitchell and Webb Look? How did my favorite dudes handle the end of their show?

Go straight to hell.

Go straight to hell, you magnificent bastards.

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  1. It is really shocking how much the last episode Blackadder hurts coming from a comedy series that killed most of its major characters at the end of each series.

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