For those who don't already know, Black Books centres around eccentric bookshop owner Bernard Black (played by Moran himself); a dishevelled and foul-tempered man who enjoys the odd glass of wine (or ten) and has an irrational contempt for his customers. Indeed, no books would ever get sold were it not for his perennially overworked and under-appreciated colleague Manny (Bill Bailey), who single-handedly keeps the shop in profit, and then there's Fran (Tamsin Greig), the rather hormonal owner of the neighbouring shop and Bernard's only friend, it seems.
This first episode, entitled The Entertainer, begins with Manny trying to remind Bernard not to sell a book called 'Blue Sands', the last copy of which has been reserved by a Mr Williams. However, that doesn't stop Bernard giving the book away free to a female customer he immediately falls in love with, leaving Manny to deal with a very irate Mr Williams there to collect his book. Fran, meantime, has taken up piano-playing for a hobby but is unable to string two chords together, despite the efforts of her tutor Jozef; a blind Russian who uses his cane to vent his anger on her after every bum note.
Bernard and Manny (now with a black eye) have since slinked off to the pub for lunch; Manny is pressing for the weekend off, but Bernard has other things on his mind when he spots the girl he fell for at the shop (called Kate) and asks her out in his own, roundabout way. To his surprise, she accepts, and Manny gets his weekend break after all.
A rather demoralised Fran calls it a day at the piano, but when Manny is left alone with it, he discovers that he can play it better than Richard Clayderman himself. Good news for Fran, then, as she can fool her blind tutor into thinking it's her playing beautifully when it's really Manny on the keys; however, a slip of the tongue means he has to learn a difficult Bach number for Jozef's visit the next day. So much for the weekend off...
The time has come for Bernard's date with Kate, but a misplaced boast leads her to believe that he can play the piano too; time for Manny to come to the rescue again (after being threatened with having to re-price every book in the store), only this time he has to actually get inside the piano to strike the strings with a bunch of spoons, which is enough to make him vow never to play the piano for Bernard or Fran ever again.
The following day, and Jozef has returned for Fran's performance, along with his father and grandfather to share in such a special occasaion. Fran's in a bit of a fix though with Manny refusing to play for her, and who else should turn up but Kate, expecting Bernard to play as well; Manny, however, can't refuse the carrot of a week's paid leave, and he's soon back inside the piano with his spoons.
Bernard and Fran then proceed to turn in a (wine-fuelled) duet which is good enough for Jozef to proclaim it the second-best performance he's ever heard; that is, until their piece de resistance is thwarted by Manny leaving the piano to go to the pub instead (with a copy of 'Blue Sands'; unfortunately Mr Williams is there too...). In the end, Fran is left distraught and without a piano, Bernard is left dumped and hungover, and Manny is left with two black eyes and a sprained ankle.
Certainly the main change for the second series has been Graham Linehan no longer having a role in writing duties, which may lead cynics to suggest that the quality of the script will decline as a result. That's not something that comes across in this episode though, as it's certainly of excellent quality, and the two sub-plots are well-defined, if a little more mainstream than anything we saw in the first series. Nevertheless, when you combine that script with the strength of the characters and the acting skills of those playing them, you get one of the better sitcoms running on British television at present.
Black Books airs on Friday 1st March at 9.30pm on Channel 4.