Black Books is a merrily cynical television comedy by Dylan Moran and Graham Linehan.
It was broadcast on Channel 4 between 2000 and 2004, starring Moran as Bernard Black, a foul-tempered Irish misanthrope who ostensibly runs a cluttered little London bookstore but rarely sells anything. (Because when people buy books, he sells books, and then he'd have to order books, and sell them again, and all that's just miserable.) Instead, he spends his time chain smoking, drinking cheap wine and verbally abusing everyone who crosses his path, especially his relentlessly excitable, somewhat naive assistant Manny Bianco (Bill Bailey). Bernard's friend and (rueful) one-time lover Fran Katzenjammer (Tamsin Greig) has limited success in making him occasionally stop being a total prat, but as she herself is a neurotic pessimistic drunk she can only do so much.
Relied on A Simple Plan for pretty much all of its plots. The characters would decide to go to a party, or do their taxes, or write a children's book, or something, and would more or less use this as a springboard for a lot of bizarre and/or appalling behaviour, until they eventually failed, or at best broke even.
Came fifty-eighth in Britain's Best Sitcom.
Not to be confused with Black Book.
This show provides examples of
- Airport Fantasy: Bernard sells Tempocalypse, a thriller about a single woman looking for love who has 12 hours to stop nuclear armageddon. His sales pitch promotes its trashy appeal to both sexes.
- The Alcoholic: Bernard and Fran. Fran's last name even means "hangover."
- Alien Lunch: Bernard has lost so much of his sense of taste due to his cigarette habit that he mistakes a coaster for "some kind of delicious biscuit." He's also capable of consuming slug pellets and oven cleaner without complaining, and thinks that wall moulding and oven knobs would make good ingredients for a fancy meal.
- Alliterative Name: Bernard Black.
- Aluminium Christmas Trees: The Little Book of Calm is a real book, and the tips Manny quotes from it are all in there too. (In the DVD Commentary, it's noted that it isn't as little as Manny's copy, which was made as a prop.)
- Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Manny's parents, who call each other Moo-Ma and Moo-Pa. Moo-Pa invariably starts singing "The Chattanooga Choo-Choo" whenever he's bored, or embarrassed, or just loses focus on what's going on around him, which is pretty much all the time.
- Ambulance Chaser: Bernard agrees to be Fran's lawyer in order to threaten her next door neighbour with legal action, but with typical lawyer scruples and morals, he ends up falling in love with the neighbour instead and casually deriding Fran as "a mad bitch".
- Answer Cut: "What was the situation? Had I been drinking?"
- Aroused by Their Voice: Howell Granger the shipping forecaster's sexy voice is a plot point. He's played by Peter Serafinowicz.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: When Fran tries to sabotage Bernard's new relationship note , she claims he's actually such a modest genius that he has rooms full of his most recent paintings, can speak nine languages, blow glass and do hard sums.
- Backhanded Apology: In "Manny Come Home":Fran: Bernard, I think you have something to say to Manny.
Bernard: Manny, I'm sorry. (beat) ...I'm sorry I ever let you in here to rob me of my best years, before leaving me a burnt out husk!
- Bathroom Break-Out: In "Manny Come Home", Manny is ordered to cut his hair by his new boss at Goliath Books. Locking himself in the bathroom, he leaves the clippers running so it sounds like he is still in there and climbs out the bathroom window using the continuous hand towel like a Bedsheet Ladder.
- Bedmate Reveal: Bernard and Fran, once, before deciding they were Better as Friends.Bernard: Well, I was there. And she was. And so were our friends, the genitals. All six of us were there.
- Bedsheet Ladder: In "Manny Come Home", Manny is ordered to cut his hair by his new boss at Goliath Books. Locking himself in the bathroom, he leaves the clippers running so it sounds like he is still in there and climbs out the bathroom window using the continuous hand towel like a bedsheet ladder.
- Berserk Button: Completely random, unrelated things can cause Bernard to explode into an incendiary nervous meltdown. Such as pandas.Manny: And erm, he plays the trombone!
Bernard: Keep going, keep going!
Manny: And he only eats liquorice!
Bernard: Manny, this is solid gold, solid gold!!
Manny: And his best friend is a panda!
Bernard: NOOOOOOOOOOO NOOO NO!!! AWFUL!! BILGE! CHILD POISON!
Bernard: Can we go now?
- Also, during the episode "Party":
Manny: All set! Lets paaaaaa—
Bernard: DON'T YOU DARE USE THE WORD "PARTY" AS A VERB IN THIS SHOP!
- Big "SHUT UP!": In "Elephants and Hens", after Fran's broke the news that the two other bridesmaids had a threesome with the groom-to-be behind the bride's back, the bride's broken-hearted response prompts one of said bridesmaids to ill-advisedly try and reclaim some of the moral high ground:Becky: You could have just kept your mouth shut...
Tanya: [Self-righteously] Exactly, Fran! Least said, soonest—
Becky: Shut up Tanya.
- Bigger on the Inside: When stuck having dinner with Manny and his parents, Bernard drops his fork on purpose to escape; when he climbs under the table, it is then revealed that there is a bar concealed underneath, complete with bartender.
- Bilingual Bonus:
- In the series finale of season 2, Bernard, Manny and Fran all end up in an airport with no idea what country they're in, so all three ask a barman a random question in a different language in an attempt to ascertain where they are. Bernard asks (in a vaguely Middle Eastern-sounding accent, no less) "An bhfuil cead agam dul go dtí an leithreas?" - an Irish phrase meaning "May I go to the bathroom?", which is probably about the only phrase in the language that every native Irish person could reliably speak.
- In the same episode, we learn that Fran's surname is "Katzenjammer", German slang for hangover.
- Also, the identity of the strange products in Fran's shop in the Pilot can be figured out if you read the katakana on the boxes. The Japanese fetish magazine Manny finds himself on the front of at the end of season 1 accurately reads 'Big and Beardy'.
- Also in the pilot, the last name of Bernard's accountant, "Voleur", is French for "Thief".
- Body Horror: When Bernard gets sick after Manny leaves, he uses awful measures to cure himself (such as drinking oven cleaner), only to end up worse. Come the episode ending, he's slurring his words, dreadfully ill, growing edible hair mushrooms, and standing horizontally on the walls:Bernard: (slurring) Manny! Manny... I don't feel that... well. I feel... like I'm being beaten up u— underwater. I can feel bits of my brain... falling away like a wet cake.
- Bottle Episode: "Party" is close enough.
- Brick Joke: The guy looking for a book about Franz Schubert in season 2 finale.
- Broken Treasure: The wine meant for the Pope. Foreshadowed when the first thing that happens when they enter the house is Manny knocking over a Priceless Ming Vase.
- Bumbling Sidekick — All three of the main characters play the role at at least one point— they're often all as bad as each other.
- Burger Fool: Bernard takes a job at a burger joint for a few hours just to get out of the rain. He looks so soul-crushingly depressed in the uniform that you'd think he'd lost self-awareness.Bernard: Welcome to... the thing. Whatever this is.
- Card Sharp: Fran turns out to have mad poker skillz that she uses to win back the £20,000 that Bernard lost in a series 3 episode.
- The Cast Show Off: Bill Bailey's piano skills are a cornerstone of his stand-up act. Manny discovers to his shock that he can play any piece of music on hearing it once. The pieces of music that Manny hears on the radio and copies exactly are recordings of Bill Bailey playing as well.
- Ceiling Banger: Bernard has a go at being one. The shop being in the state it is, this showers a sleeping Fran in plaster.
- Chekhov's Armory: In contrast to previous episodes in the series having an abundance of throwaway visual gags and one-liners, every single item, discussion or person introduced in the first five minutes of "The Big Lockout" has some significance later on in the episode.
- Coincidental Accidental Disguise:
- Over the course of a whole episode Manny eventually ends up looking like a Hammer Horror Igor.
- The first episode had him in a white (hospital) robe, with long flowing hair (well, it's Bill Bailey) and an expression of serenity from swallowing The Little Book of Calm, giving him such an aura of calm that he can soothe dogs and car alarms with a wave of his hand. Both a punch-drunk Bernard and a pair of nervous Christians mistake him for Jesus.
- A third episode ends with all three wearing dark glasses due to hangovers, and Manny walking with a stick. A woman then comes in asking for donations for the blind.
- Comforting Comforter: Fran falls asleep on Bernard's couch, so he drapes his coat over her as a blanket. Of course, he also ends up accidentally covering her in ceiling dust and he throws her phone at a wall, but it's the thought that counts.
- Conspicuous Consumption: Crossing over with Lethal Chef, Bernard tries to make a concoction he calls "Luxury Pie", a recipe which includes handfuls of saffron and caviar, making the pie worth more than its weight in gold (it turns out inedible, unfortunately).
- Crazy Cat Lady: Fran's school friends confide in her that they all secretly expected her to become one.
- Crazy-Prepared: The porn-shop owner, who apparently stocks specialist fetish titles like Senior Administrative Nurses as a matter of course.
- Creator Cameo: Co-writer and co-director Graham Linehan is the man who suddenly appears to buy a book at 10:30 right after Bernard declares such a thing ridiculous. Linehan appears again, beardless, in episode 5, ordering fast food from Bernard.
- Curse Cut Short:
*beep* Oh yeah, I forgot to mention... Manny, please don't bring that drunken Irish bast— *message deleted*
- When Bernard is going through the multiple messages inviting Manny to a party;
- Also when Manny locks Bernard outside the soundproof door. When Manny holds up signs like "Oh no!", all that is heard of Bernard's angry rant is "WRITE SOMETHING USEFUL YOU STUPID FU—" before it cuts back behind the soundproofing.
- In the last episode, a pissed off Bernard calls up his ex, after having just found out that she's still alive. As the conversation escalates, Bernard suddenly yells, "No, YOU F-" then cuts himself off as she hangs up, leaving the audience with no doubts as to what she said.
- Cut a Slice, Take the Rest: Bernard pulls a common variation. He takes a spoonful of coffee from a full jar, then pours boiling water into the jar and drinks from that.
- Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: Bernard likes to make these, usually at Manny.
- A Date with Rosie Palms: Fran's night with the shipping forecaster.
- Deadly Euphemism: Bernard hiring an exterminator;Bernard: I want you to take care of business with this cat, can I make that any clearer?
Exterminator: You could, actually.
Bernard: He dies tonight, is that any better?
- Deadpan Snarker: Bernard and Fran.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?:
Fran: So he's gone?
- Manny's defection to Goliath Books is treated as if it was some sort of romantic abandonment.
Bernard: Oh, no, he still sleeps here. Burrowed in like the little tick he is. But he leaves every day; every day is another betrayal.
- Also, the plot of the first season finale has Manny leaving the bookshop and the whole thing is treated as if he was a teenage girl who's run away from home (picked up by a skeezy dude who takes creepy pictures of him, almost sold into, in line with the rest of the show's weirdness, the kind of prostitution where men pay to feel his beard).
- Manny and Bernard's intervention over how many shoes Fran intends on taking on holiday is played as if they were in a Spy Thriller trying to deprogram a Manchurian Agent.
- Manny and Bernard trying to replace a priceless bottle of wine with freely available home-and-garden taste substitutes is treated akin to Dr. Frankenstein and Igor creating the Monster.
- Door Focus: Happens when Fran says to Bernard that she never wants to see him again and storms out. Seconds later she comes back, her hand covering her eyes, saying "Forgot my purse".
- Downer Ending: Depending on how much you sympathize with Bernard, it probably qualifies.
- Dramatic Pause: "I am... The Cleaner" (Can't you just hear the capital letters?)
- Eagleland: The American tourists who give Bernard's shop a visit hail from the second variety. They're used as inspiration for Fran and Manny's later impersonation of a pair of American tourists.Tourist: Hey mister, you got anything on armouries, weaponry, that kind of thing?Bernard: Military history is on your right.Tourist: I don't want your little history grotto. I want modern warfare! Infrared! Fallout! Killzones!Bernard: Military history is on your right. If you need any help, please fire a couple of rounds into the ceiling.
- Edgy Backwards Chair-Sitting: Manny does this rather too aggressively, and immediately regrets it.
- Electrified Bathtub: Subverted for comedy. Manny uses an alarming number of electric devices while in the tub, including a toaster and a hairdryer. He even drops the latter into the water, but nothing happens, and he casually acknowledges his luck.
- Embarrassing First Name: Fran was christened "Enid", which she keeps a secret from everyone until Bernard reveals it to Manny.
- Epunymous Title: It's Bernard Black's bookshop, and it puns the idea of a "black book."
- Even the Guys Want Him: "Jason can have MY special biscuit."
- Every Man Has His Price: Roland the exterminator, who's just saving up for vet school, is disgusted when Bernard tries to hire him to kill a cat. Until he offers him a thousand pounds. He's still Driven to Suicide by guilt, though.
- Expensive Glass of Crap: After drinking the rare bottle of wine meant for the pope, Bernard and Manny attempt to "recreate" it using cheap wine and ingredients from around the house so no one will notice. It ends up subverted, as it kills the pope.
- Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: The episode The Big Lock-Out has an example of this.
- Extreme Omnivore: Bernard eats just about anything due to his sense of taste being destroyed by years of chain-smoking. Once, when extremely aggravated, he even ate most of a porcelain tea cup!
- "Fawlty Towers" Plot
- Fingertip Drug Analysis: Bernard employs a particularly inventive variant of this when a customer tries to return a book; discovering sand between the pages, he sprinkles some on Manny's tongue, who is able to identify not only the country and region, but the specific beach the sand came from, foiling the customer's attempt to return his holiday read.
- Formally Named Pet: Mr. Benson, Bernard's new landlord, turns out to be the former landlady's cat.
- Freudian Excuse: In the final episode, during a rant from Manny about his unpleasant personality in which he is asked if he has ever truly loved anything, Bernard reveals that he was once engaged to be married, but that she died, which is implied to be the reason for his dishevelled and misanthropic existence. Fran, however, subverts the trope by revealing that she did not in fact die, but faked her death to get away from Bernard, implying that he has always been this horrible and merely uses that as an excuse.
- "Friends" Rent Control: Bernard hardly ever sells a book, and although the shop is dingy and in disrepair, and also in London, where a shoebox in the middle of the road will take up most of your wages, he somehow manages to keep it. Perhaps justified by the fact that his landlord is at first an apparently senile Crazy Cat Lady, and later her cat.
- Funny Background Event: Not so much "event" as "prop," but Bernard has a chalk board visible in each episode where he has written his "rules" of the bookshop. They change occasionally and always display his misanthropic personality. At one point, it just says "NO!!!"
- The Gambling Addict: Bernard becomes addicted to horse racing after Manny places a Grand National bet for him. He goes on to lose £20,000 - underwritten by the shop - in a poker game. Fortunately Fran and Manny, posing as American tourists, win it back.
- Gale-Force Sound: Manny is on the receiving end of an irate customer's rant, delivered with such force that it blows his hair back.
- Gargle Blaster:
- "Life Cry". Fran shows it to her friends and they fall silent, awed by what is apparently the most potent drink in the Black Books universe. As Fran remarks: "You know you're in for a good night when there's a picture of a polar bear bleeding on the label".
- "Bludge", the drink Fran returns from Rowena's party with. "You don't even have to drink it, just rub it on your hips and it goes straight to your liver."
- Genre Savvy: In one episode, Bernard Black instantly recognises that Fran is in a Relative Error plot.
- Gilligan Cut: Double Subverted. Manny, during his role as a model for Japanese beard fetish magazines, fervently insists that he will not accompany a Japanese businessman to the casino. Cut to... Black Books, where it appears that he's made good on this promise, until a £50 chip falls out of his pocket.
- A Glass in the Hand: Bernard looks as though he's about to do this with a teacup as he rapidly loses patience with Manny's parents' annoying habits; instead he takes a bite out of the cup, chews and swallows it.
- Good Cop/Bad Cop: Parodied wonderfully when Manny gets sucked into playing the good cop while interrogating a police suspect. His overly flattering comments, such as "You have lovely eyes," unsettle the perp enough to confess.
- Grammar Nazi: "Don't you dare use the word "party" as a verb in this shop!"
- HA HA HA No: Manny's creepy new boss in "Manny Come Home" laughs with him and then yells "I'M REALLY ANGRY NOW!"
- Hangover Sensitivity: A frequent gag, given the amount of red wine the characters are always chugging. However, special mention goes to "The Entertainer", where the characters' dark glasses are part of a Coincidental Accidental Disguise that leads some charity fundraisers to think they're all blind.
- Happy Place: Bernard's is apparently a bar. Under a table.
- Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Fran.
- Her Code Name Was "Mary Sue": Fran reads part of a self-insert short story by Bernard:"Feared by men and admired by women, Brendan Blake turned from the window and petted Larry, his barely hominoid, milk-fed gimp."
- Hide Your Pregnancy: Tamsin Greig in series 1, with the help of several long scarves.
- Holy Backlight: Manny just after internalizing The Little Book of Calm.
- I Ate WHAT?!: Bernard once mistook a beverage coaster for some kind of delicious biscuit. He then subverts this trope and asks for another one when Manny tells him what he just ate.
- Ingesting Knowledge: Manny absorbs The Little Book Of Calm, which temporarily transforms him into a messianic figure.
- Injured Limb Episode: In one episode, Bernard gets his left arm in a cast. It's unknown what happened to the arm but it happened after he got drunk at nighttime.
- Intoxication Ensues: Absinthe and espresso have both been used.
- I Shall Taunt You: Bernard to a bunch of skinheads:"Uhh, okay, let's see... Millwall! That's the one. You know that chant, 'Millwall, Millwall, you're all really dreadful, and all your girlfriends are unfulfilled and alienated!'"
- I Want Grandkids: Manny's parents.
- Jerkass: Bernard & Fran.
- Kavorka Man:
- Despite being a filthy, friendless sociopath, Bernard does end up bagging the gorgeous brunette Kate. It's also hinted he's had casual sex with Fran in the past, and was also engaged to be married to "Emma".
- Also Manny, who has no female contact other than Fran for the entire series except for cute blonde Rowena in the very last episode, whom he magically ends up sleeping with.
- Lady Drunk: Fran Katzenjammer. Fittingly, her last name means "hangover" in German.
- Large Ham: Bernard with his explosive rants and his preference for smashing things up in times of stress. Manny has his moments as well.
- Leaning on the Furniture: Jason, aficionado of the Captain Morgan Pose.
- Lethal Chef: When Bernard opens a kitchen in the book shop, he runs out of ingredients and starts cooking with whatever he can find:Bernard: This paint will make a tasty dish! Yes! Yes! My oven can cook anything! My oven can cook... BITS OF OVEN!
- Let Us Never Speak of This Again: "WE SAID WE WOULDN'T TALK ABOUT CANADA!
- Living in a Furniture Store: Averted. Bernard and Manny's backroom is a crumbling pig sty. The shop itself is only marginally better, and quickly deteriorates whenever Manny isn't there.
- London Gangster: Underworld London criminal Danny Spudge, who comes painstakingly close to ripping Bernard to pieces with his bare hands.
- Looks Like Jesus: Manny in the first episode, due to Coincidental Accidental Disguise
- Mad Scientist: Bernard briefly becomes one while trying to make "super-wine."
- Bernard: Now let's see here... an oaky finish... Oak? OAK! TO THE GARDEN!
- Also hilariously supplemented by Manny as The Igor after breaking his tooth (Giving him a muffled voice), having his nerves spasmed by a massage machine (making him hunch over) and getting cramp in his leg due to stress, giving him a limp.
- Maintain the Lie:
- Manny told his parents he had a girlfriend and had made partner in the bookshop. Then they came to visit...
- Manny hiding in a piano to support Fran's pretence that she can play.
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Bernard tries to invoke this with his summer girlfriend, who he plans to use and then throw away when fall comes around...but she ends up thinking he's mental and dumps him.
- Meaningful Name: Grumpy misanthrope Bernard's surname is "Black", while his cheerful assistant Manny's surname is "Bianco", meaning "white" in Italian. Their dipsomaniac friend and neighbour Fran's surname is "Katzenjammer", German slang for "hangover".
- Mediation Backfire: Bernard and Manny take time out from an argument to insult Fran, and end up resolving their own differences in the process. Until she leaves, whereupon they start it up again.
- Men Can't Keep House: To the point where Bernard and Manny have to vacate the shop for a few days while the cleaner sorts it out; even sweeping his finger around in the air covered it in dust. In a later episode, after Manny moves out, it only gets worse, as the shop gets hopelessly cluttered with books and garbage and a dead badger, and Bernard has to yell directions through it all from the living area.
- Messy Hair: Bernard's appearance matches that of the shop.
- Metaphorgotten: When Manny works at Goliath Books, his manager makes one:Evan: You see, selling books is a game. It has rules. And you need to learn those rules and get serious about them, because it's not a game.
- Minimalist Cast: Only three people in the cast, and no recurring characters of note.
- Misspelling Out Loud: Manny stumbles over his spelling after Bernard starts a wager with him over who can sell the most books.Manny: Ha! You're toast! T-O-E-A-R-S-T ...toearst.
- Mistaken for Gay: Subverted. At their first meeting, Manny mistakenly believes Bernard to be gay, to which Bernard casually acknowledges that he himself made this mistake "for a bit", but changed his mind after discovering the apparently unreachable high standards of hygiene, "and all that dancing".
- Mistaken for Profound: Fran, having been given an office job she knows absolutely nothing about, bluffs her way through a presentation by filling it with business-speak clichés. Her boss is so impressed she gets promoted.
- Mistaken for Romance: In "The Blackout" Fran sees her boyfriend having dinner with another woman (who turns out to be his sister) and showing affection for her.
- Mood Whiplash: The final episode's plot about deciding to go to the party takes a turn after they return where Bernard & Manny end up in an argument and Manny delivers a The Reason You Suck speech. Despite the rest of the episode still having comedic moments, it's still horrendously dark compared to the first half.
- Nice Mean And Inbetween: Or the oaf, the aggressive alcoholic, and his old friend.
- Nietzsche Wannabe: Bernard.
- Nigh Invulnerable: Played for Laughs with Bernard; after already contracting an Incurable Cough of Death when Manny leaves, he barely survives eating slug pellets and oven cleaner, and claims his brain is falling away like a wet cake (yet somehow gets over it).
- Noodle Implements: When the trio returns from their awful holiday, Bernard mentions he somehow has chilblains, tinnitus, and thrush.
- Noodle Incident: Whatever did happen in Canada? All we know is that Manny had to sacrifice a monkey and that Bernard will never let it be spoken of.
- Non-Residential Residence: In one episode, after falling out with Bernard and being fired from the titular bookshop, Manny accepts a job with rival bookstore Goliath Books and sleeps on the cashier's desk in a sleeping bag.
- No Sympathy: Bernard often has none to spare for Manny:Bernard: So you admit you deliberately stepped in front of the bullet?Manny: (softly) Yes.Bernard: And wantonly sprayed blood from your head wound across the shop?Manny: (softly) Yes.Bernard: Before going to waste time writhing around on an 'emergency operating table'?Manny: (softly) Yes.Bernard: (hands Manny an affidavit and a pen) Sign here. No wages for seven years.
- Not a Game: Evan, the slightly-unhinged manager of Goliath Books:Evan: Selling books is like a game; it has rules, and you have to learn them and get serious about them because it's not a game!
- Not a Morning PersonBernard: [blearily] What time is it?
Manny: Um... half ten.
Bernard: Half ten? Half ten? I've never been up at half ten! What happens?
- Only a Lighter: The first episode has a subplot where Fran is going slowly mad trying to figure out what a bizarre object she's been given as a gift is. At the end of the episode, Manny wanders into her shop and immediately identifies it as a novelty cigarette lighter.
- Only Sane Man: All three take turns at this role, but none of them can ever make it stick - they end up as the sane one solely by process of elimination.
- Overly Long Gag
- Overly Preprepared Gag:
- the three subplots of the piano episode involve all three of them donning sunglasses for different reasons, only for a collector for the blind to show up the the end of the episode.
- Manny's various injuries throughout an episode suddenly make sense when Bernard becomes a Mad Scientist, and Manny has transformed into his Igor.
- Object Ceiling Cling: The show was the inspiration for the creation of the trope. Manny sees a piece of toast stuck to the ceiling whilst he is calling a cleaner. Later in the same episode, Bernard casually skims a slice of toast with jam at the ceiling. The setup finally pays off when Manny's shock (at accidentally killing the Pope) at the end of the episode is emphasised by jammy toast falling on his head.
- Out-of-Character Moment: In the last episode, after revealing his Freudian Excuse, Bernard not only refuses a drink, but walks off to make the others a cuppa, one of the rare times he lifts a finger to help anyone. Later, he helps Manny get together with a girl and drapes his coat over Fran.
- Pest Episode: One episode has a sub-plot about the bookshop being infested with a strange species of pest which are never named, never appear on-screen and which Bernard and Manny keep killing in increasingly inventive ways. The episode ends with Manny trapping on of the pests in a jug and steaming it to death with a coffee machine, then declaring proudly "I've done it! I got the queen!"
- Pet Heir: Bernard's deceased landlady left the building to the cat, Mr. Benson. Bernard conspires to murder Mr. Benson to avoid paying rent.
- Power Trio: Bernard (Id), Manny (Ego), Fran (Superego).
- Priceless Ming Vase: Freddie has tw- one."No, no, I'm sorry. It was clearly a very silly place to put it. We have another one, although I would ask you to be careful of that, because it is the only one left in the world... now."
- Prodigal Family: Manny. Also played with in Fran's case; she doesn't initially know her long-lost family, but once she meets them it becomes difficult to extricate herself from the familial embrace.
- Proportional Article Importance: Bernard misses the enormous headline "POPE KILLED BY INFERIOR WINE" because he's looking at the date (it's his birthday).
- Reaching Between the Lines: Manny attempts to show the cleaning company he's talking to on the phone just how dirty the bookshop is by pointing the receiver at the room.
- Reduced to Ratburgers:
- A variation — when Manny leaves Bernard in "Manny Come Home", he's reduced to eating whatever he can to survive. This includes things like eating a strip of old cheese Fran stepped in and the mushrooms that grow in his hair.
- Also in "The Big Lock Out" where Manny, locked in the shop with no food, is forced to consume bumblebees spit-roasted over old cigarette butts.
- Relative Error: Committed by Fran. She thinks her boyfriend's cheating on her; he's actually taking his sister out to lunch because she lost her job. Lampshaded by Bernard, who manages to guess she's made this mistake.
- Refuge in Audacity: The scene in the final episode with Fran convincing Bernard that his supposedly dead former fiancée isn't actually dead. It starts with Fran showing Bernard her full name in her phone. It then escalates to Fran showing him Emma's dental records, a birth certificate and a picture of Emma wearing an "I Love Life" t-shirt and holding a copy of that day's newspaper.
- Right Behind Me
- Scotireland: An American tourist in Bernard's shop refers to him as a "Scotchman." This earns him a suitably dirty look from Bernard.
- Second Person Attack: The end result of Bernard taunting a trio of skinheads is getting three simultaneous fists to the face.
- Self-Parody: In "A Nice Change," when Bernard reads an ad for cinema showings:Bernard: What's this, Blue Tunes? [...] Grouchy Leonard Blue runs a second hand record shop with his half-wit, mustachioed assistant Danny...
Bernard: When this zany pair team up with bitchy, neurotic neighbour Pam, things are sure to be a riot of laughs. Where do they get this crap? Even a child could—
Manny: They must think we're idiots.
Fran: [looks at picture] Look at them. Wankers.
- "Shaggy Dog" Story: Bernard's explanation for breaking his arm, a convoluted tale of Pulling the Thread to unravel how he'd drunkenly ruined his oldest friendship, which culminates in him... falling down some steps.
- Shaped Like Itself:Bernard: The shop is the way it is because it is the way it is. If it wasn't the way it is it wouldn't be the way it is.
- A Simple Plan
- Sit Comic: Both Dylan Moran and Bill Bailey; Tamsin Greig is the only star without a stand-up past.
- Stealth Hi/Bye: The Cleaner.
- Spit Take: A drunken Manny pops out from under the table with pigtails, causing Bernard to spray 20-year-old vintage Vin du Rosier (worth £7000) all over the table like a broken hose. Probably the most expensive spit-take in history (£1295, according to the on-screen price ticker).
- Suddenly SHOUTING!: Bernard is very prone to this.Bernard: Let's just, you know, get some ideas bouncing around. Sort of go crazy, you know, no rules...
Manny: Yeah, yeah, sort of anything goes-
Bernard: [hysterically] NO, NOT ANYTHING GOES, I SAID NO RULES!
- Theme Tune Cameo: At the start of the season three episode "Elephants and Hens".
- They Called Me Mad!: Parodied by Bernard while attempting to make a "super wine" from scratch, "with a fraction of nature's resources and a FOOL for an assistant."
- This Product Will Change Your Life: Bernard has attempted to fob books off on customers with this line so they'll go away.
- Transparent Closet: One of Fran's dates, although it appears he seems to have kept his sexuality hidden from himself.
- Trashcan Bonfire: Bernard and Manny burn the children's book they write in one of these.
- Trash of the Titans: A Running Gag, but played up particularly in "The Grapes of Wrath". "North corner, cobwebs containing a number of deceased arachnids... with beans". Later he sweeps his finger through thin air and it comes away black with dust.
- Truth-Telling Session: When Bernard finds out Fran's been hiding the fact that his "dead" girlfriend isn't, it triggers one of these.
- Twice Shy: Manny and Rowena.
- Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist
- Verbal Backspace:Bernard: You know I don't approve of you seeing other girls— PEOPLE!
- Viewers Are Geniuses: Bernard reveals that his middle name, Ludwig, is probably a reference to Ludwig van Beethoven, his hair and expression reference the famous portrait of Beethoven himself. You'd have to be familiar with the portrait to get the joke.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Bernard and Manny.
- Well-Intentioned Replacement: Bernard and Manny's attempt to recreate the £5,000 vintage wine they accidentally drank.
- We Want Our Jerk Back:
- Manny starts to miss Bernard when he goes to work for creepy boss Evan at Goliath Books.
- Fran disapproves of Bernard's behaviour when he tries to be a bit less miserable: "Look! I can do fun!"
- Wham Line: In the last episode, Bernard: I had a girlfriend actually, she died. It even cuts of a drunken Manny ranting about his coldness.
- What Did I Do Last Night?: Bernard frequently gets alcohol-induced memory gaps for comic effect (see the quote below) but this plot was the particular focus of the episode where he tries to work out why his oldest friend blanked him in the street.Bernard: I dont remember that.
Fran: Do you remember that night last week when you slept in a revolving door?
Fran: Okay, do you remember when you ran out of tobacco so you smoked your own pubic hair?
Bernard: Not especially, no.
Fran: It was in between those two things.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Fran's shop is shown early in the first season and occasionally mentioned a few times thereafter. Suddenly in the second season, she mentions her shop closed with no explanation. It also leaves her without a visible source of income (except for her short-lived office job) for the rest of the series, but this never seems to bother her.
- Who Would Want to Watch Us?: When considering going to the cinema, Bernard reads out a review of a film whose premise is practically identical to the show's - to groans from all.
- With a Friend and a Stranger
- Wimp Fight: Bernard and Fran settle their differences with a fight, which involves them turning their heads away and slapping each other childishly until Fran twists Bernard's arm behind his back and pulls his hair.
- Women Are Wiser: Fran thinks she's this, but she really really isn't.
- You Do NOT Want to Know: Manny refuses to say what happens to him if the temperature reaches 88 degrees, referring to his condition only as "Dave's Syndrome." It turns out it involves a war dance on top of a car, naked save for a strategically-placed hot water bottle and "Eat Me" written on his chest.
- You Would Make a Great Model: Happens to Manny in "He's Leaving Home", but his audience as a model is niche to say the least.
- Zany Scheme