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S02E02

17 Feb

*phew-ee!* Who’re you?
Heraclitus… ancient Greek philosopher?!
Oh, what, “I stink, therefore I am?”

In which the show carries on romping happily through all their new possibilities… and in the process offhandedly spits out a fully-faceted diamond.

In this episode:

Song: Charles II: King of Bling — Mat as the King who brought back partying! With Jim, Ben, Larry and Lawry as courtiers and Martha as current mistress Hortense Mancini. (Parody of: Eminem, Real Slim Shady)

Recurring sketches:

Historical Hospital — One-Eyed Ned: Pirate carpenter extraordinaire (the real doctor having died at sea…)

Stupid Deaths — Heraclitus of Ephesus (Overheated while trying to cure his dropsy… by burying himself neck-deep in a dungpile)

HHTV Sport — Georgian Boxing Revolution (“Nobody’s ever tried to get out of the way before~!”)

One-offs:

Putrid Pirates

Captain Hood and the Puking Cow Heist — Not really a fabulous children’s adventure book title, is it?

Woeful Second World War

WWII Art Show — Jasper Maskelyne psyches out the Nazis with the sheer kickassedness of his name… OK, also some balsawood planes, rubber blow-up tanks and cardboard gun emplacements. But mostly the name thing.

Rationing Goes Postal — Keeping the kiddies warm leads to one too many brown paper packages tied up with string… “At least I marked him ‘Fragile!”

Groovy Greeks

Evil-Spirit-Preventing-Door-Frame-Tar — “It does exactly what it says on the jar!”

The Oracle of Delphi — So apparently the ancient Greeks also invented the psychic hotline scam. And prior to the invention of late-night Lifetime movies, they had to keep their customers mesmerised somehow…

Slimy Stuarts

Cromwell Bans Everything — Seriously. If Charles Dickens had been around in the seventeenth century, A Christmas Carol would’ve been about this guy.

Awful Egyptians

Cleopatra@Egypt.com (imagine spot) — If Mark Antony were the type to hang out on dating sites… which, y’know, not out of the realm of plausibility. “You are literally the worst girlfriend I’ve ever had!”

Gorgeous Georgians

Boarding School Daze — “Oh, discipline is very important to this school — we really wish we had some!”

Field Notes:

  • Well, he always did like to be fashionably late. Introducing Charles II, last of the iconic HH characters to not only take the stage but walk away with it, whistling. It’s an interesting contrast with Ben’s equally brilliant Henry VIII; while he connects via uncanny faithfulness to the reality, Charlie’s synthesized from the real man’s legend.
  • There’s a lot of legend to work with: thanks to his spectacularly unstable upbringing (including a stint at the French court, wherein he clearly learned to appreciate the finer distractions in life) the Merry Monarch has been idealised as basically the dashing romance-novel version of British royalty — but was in reality quite a lot smarter than he ever let on. In other words, Mat’s performance skillset distilled, then not incidentally all dolled up in silver satin and magnificently rolling eyes.
  • And wow, what a stage he’s been given to show all this off. The ‘match the historical legend to the musical pretensions’ formula reaches apotheosis on only its third try. Most HH song videos have tens of thousands of YouTube views at most; this one has over 1.8 million. Granted that approximately .8 million are solely Mat’s tween fanbase refreshing madly, this is all still entirely deserved.
  • It all fits together so perfectly that you can’t even find the seams to analyze it. Just a gloriously apt parody, which means a genuinely witty song, which in turn mandates an exquisite production (turns out the keepers of Hampton Court palace have a sense of humour, who knew?). All bound up in an astonishingly faithful performance on all the comic, historical and musical levels. (My most cherished HH critique, from a random American tweeter: “Y’know, Mat Baynton is actually a quality rapper.”) Not excluding the supporting cast, either; check out Ben’s mad juggling skillz!
  • All that said, though… Mat, seriously, man, the Northern accent thing — or whatever that was — we need to talk. Or rather you need to not talk. I mean, you can do this not-so-swashbuckling pirate thing all day long (and twice on Talk Like a Pirate Day) as far as I’m concerned — the delightfully random puking-cows bit is a must-see for me despite a violent aversion to the sight/smell of vomit — just pick another accent to do it in, kthx.
  • Come to that, yes, we get it already, you can mimic Saturday night at your local teenage hangout really really well. Not to say that the idiot-chav thing isn’t an impressive spoof (because how would I know otherwise?), more that it’s dangerously close to being considered funny just for existing, which… no. That’s the problem with a too-accurate impression of stupid; without context, after awhile it just starts sounding, well, stupid.
  • Elsewhere, Larry is rewarded for all his magnificent carpe diem-ing last ep by… being stuck back in the Historical Hospital, and this time not even at the mercy of a theoretical doctor. He does look rather fetching in the football getup, if it’s any consolation. (As does Jim, borrowing Mat’s coat from the Rulebook sketch).
  • There’s another bit of good news for HHospital reality: with Sarah H. gone the sketch brings Dominique Moore onboard as the new young nurse, whose chores as the current major source of cast diversity will still leave plenty of time to react as a normal 21st century human (ie “The hell?!”) to the ongoing past-time medical mess. She will largely fail of course, but as a running gag it’s a definite addition for the better.
  • In other new casting news, Lawry continues to, y’know, not be Simon. Mind you, as himself he manages to score a very plausible recurring character in only his second episode, so good on him. Like I said, sometimes that goofy-neurotic thing works. Here it perfectly captures the ‘glum, proud’ and just generally proto-Republican-presidential-candidate moral pettiness Cromwell’s become famous for (even if it did sometimes have a point; see below). We may have a ‘crusty reviewer has her heart slowly melted story’ here after all…
  • …or possibly not. His first obviously-a-fill-in role also happens in this ep, as the stuffy General in the ‘WWII Art Show’ sketch — another one of those clever little mini-sitcom eps, wherein the funny adds up via giving each character their own particular logic. Lawry’s involves being a straight version of MPython’s ‘Colonel’ character — or at least that’s how he plays it — and as a debut, it’s… a bit weird, inasmuch as I can’t nohow imagine Lawry either as leading troops or as Graham Chapman.
  • On the other hand, when I go to suggest that he and Ben should’ve switched parts, I find myself strangely reluctant to be deprived of Willbond going full nerd. This is a character concept that could’ve gone places, honestly. Preferably in a different hideous sweater-vest each time — seriously, I know it’s the point, but that sucker is mesmerizing.
  • So is Martha’s look as Parcel Kid’s mom. I know the popular between-wars suburban stereotype involves tea sets and cardigans in roughly that order, but did people really base the latter directly off the former? Because this one looks a lot like a cross between ‘French Perle’ and that one ‘cheerful florale’ Sears bedding set I wanted as a kid.
  • Along the same lines, Aeschylus has clearly discovered eyebrow pencil between seasons… not to mention rouge, and what looks like bizarrely mismatched foundation, if not actual bronzer. If all this was meant as some sort of subtle homage to his profession, it’s not working, especially not the ‘subtle’ part.
  • Still, despite some clunky comedy mechanics, you do have to appreciate that sketch just for Martha being willing to sacrifice her vocal chords like that. I mean, I seriously have to appreciate it, because I’m now terrified of what she’ll do to me otherwise. Not that I have any reason to think being cast in the Wizard of Oz a lifelong dream of hers or anything, but lemme tell you, Margaret Hamilton would be so proud.
  • So I think would Jasper Maskelyne, played by Jim here as a sort of extra-fabulous Shouty Man with all the irresistible giggle-inducing that implies. It’s clear that the writing staff has been inspired by his demo-duo chemistry with Ben, a development also reflected — along with an equally fun twist on the Mike Peabody template — in their HHTV Sport play-by-play team. Aka a hilariously unexpected opportunity for international bonding. If we can’t agree on how football should be played, we certainly can on the commentators’ pastel sport shirts.
  • Speaking of small tweaks, besides whatever spare cares he still had left to give, Death has also abruptly lost the skeleton sidekicks. The new format evidently took some on-the-spot adjustment (since the SD sketches are traditionally filmed all at once). Just as a suggestion, the creative process that culminated in ‘Gee, what could we possibly do for other judges… Hey, gimme that wig~!” would be ideal DVD-bonus material.
  • There’s also a new and wonderful format for the imagine spots. Honestly, the rate generally at which this outfit continues to churn out clever, durable, workable-for-all-demographics satirical concepts would astonish most grown-up comedy series producers. The online parodies will become some of the best-beloved sketches in all of HH, and while this one is missing some of the finer funny details, it’s already clear that the format will exponentially keep on giving. The hell with ‘awww lookit the children’s show winning the grown-up award’; they earned it. End of story.

95% Accu-rat:

  • Yes, kids, Heraclitus really did bury himself in dung — albeit some sources claim it was more of a ‘slather it on’ thing. rather than a full-on frolic in the manure pile. In his further defense, dropsy (the accumulation of fluid in the tissues, causing if unchecked by treatment — so, until comparatively recently, always — painful full-body bloating) is a genuinely awful thing. Also, usually a symptom of either kidney or congestive heart failure, so by that time the poor guy had not much left to lose anyhow.
  • Yes, that was actually how the Oracle at Delphi worked, and yes, even discounting the probability of discreet post-event tweaking by her ‘translators’, she had a rather creepy reputation for accuracy. This most excellently detailed history suggests that it all might have been the result of really good ‘shrooms: Analysis of the hydrocarbon gases in the spring water near the temple are shown to contain ethylene which is sweet smelling and if rising into an enclosed chamber would have been potent enough to cause a trance state (Roach).
  • Introducing the real Oliver Cromwell: an annoyingly smug killjoy yes, but also one who rather engagingly insisted that history remember him ‘warts and all’. The song is still remarkably accurate; just — understandably — biased.
  • Like most idealists, Ollie did to put it mildly lack the common touch. On the other hand, dealing with the equally dour, stubborn Charles I was reason enough for any man to assume the high ground was his, if not actually God’s blessing. And given the acknowledged level of debauchery then surrounding Christmas and other public pleasures — and that public morality, in this era, was still well within the political wheelhouse — his subsequent career as a one-man banhammer wasn’t entirely unjustified
  • At any rate what finally spurred the Restoration wasn’t so much dance deprivation as the fact that Son and Heir Richard Cromwell, aka ‘Tumbledown Dick’, was so entirely useless. Once freed of Dad’s cult of personality the revolution had a huge gaping hole where the point should be, and the office of Protectorate had entirely imploded within a year of his death. Meanwhile the proposed Charles II was not only more than available, but representative of the comparatively stable monarchy.
  • He was also, as the song suggests, a personally charming, down-to-earth and witty figure, whose popularity-to-actual-accomplishment ratio is regarded by historians with something approaching awe. His major importance to the English, at that point, was as a breath of fresh air after the previous two repressive regimes — although he had enough native shrewdness to largely avoid his father’s mistakes re: Parliament, and to become a positive hero over the Great Fire.
  • Also, nobody can dispute that he had excellent taste in women, presumably honed during his French exile. Of course, he tended to pick them more for beauty than mental stability; the ensuing soap opera kept the country entertained for years. Meet Hortense Mancini, duchesse de Mazarin. and fully renowned (if bisexual) beauty. Also, Barbara (Villiers) Palmer, 1st Duchess of Cleveland; Eleanor ‘Nell’ Gwynn; and Mary ‘Moll’ Davis.
  • The invention of ‘getting out of the way’ must’ve been a catnip-laden concept for the HH writers, and I can’t blame them for milking it for all it was worth (except the announcer’s stupid joke at the end, that’s indefensible — hence probably Larry’s, come to think of it). Really now, though. The ‘sweet science’ had been around since ancient times; I don’t have to patiently explain that boxers would’ve seen and employed the advantages of ducking long since, do I?
  • What Bill Richmond (wonderfully, if not for a children’s show, dubbed ‘The Black Terror’) actually did was develop a distinctive style of ducking in response to the distinctive pile-driving style of Georgian boxing. Despite which, in the match that inspired the one shown here, his opponent’s superior weight and power inevitably wore Richmond down. Because it was the 60th round. Because the Marquess of Queensbury, who really did invent modern boxing, wouldn’t do so for another seventy-five years or so.
  • Note how often the Cleopatra sketch carefully emphasises that she’s ‘dating’ Caesar — in fact, the entire sketch concept seems like it might well have originated as a way to correct their erroneous implication that she actually married him from last series. Which, hey, only adds to the general awesomeness. Except that ‘Smiley hieroglyphic’ should really be ‘hieroglyph’… but then, that’ll be corrected later too.
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Posted by on February 17, 2013 in Series Two

 

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