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S02E08

17 Mar

But I need some new things! My boots… zey have so many holes in zem I… I don’t feel like I am vearing any!
Well, ah… you are not vearing any.
Huh? Oh… well, zat vould explain it.

More solidly reliable laughs — and of course winces — abound, as the revolution finally settles into ongoing reality…

In this episode:

Song: Learn Your Hieroglyphics — Mat as the Teacher

Recurring sketches:

HHTV Sport — Tudor Football

Dodgy War Inventions — No.28: Russian WWII Anti-Tank Bomb (“Woof!”)

Shouty (Wo)man — New! Georgian Fan (“The latest in mobile communications technology! Everyone should have one!… Except you, ‘cos you’re a bloke.” “Right, terribly sorry.”)

Fashion Fix — Georgian Peasant Becomes a Nobleman (“Well, at least I can’t look any more ridiculous!” ” “…I stand corrected.”)

Stupid Deaths — Sir Arthur Aston, Stuart army officer (Beaten to death with his own wooden leg… “Oooh, hey — I bet you were hopping mad!”)

Scary Stories — The Terror of Tedworth (“What is this, Scooby-Doo?”)

News of the Empire — Caesar Assassination Special (“A cracking good read!… Although it is all in Latin.”)

One-offs:

Vicious Vikings

Made-Up Marauders — An ancient raiding party discovers there’s more than one way of using face paint to terrify…

Attack on Lindisfarne — Vikings -vs- monks, round oh-gosh-an-awful-lot: in which a moment of clarity is achieved… for a moment. (“No, wait! I’ve just remembered… killing is really fun, and taking stuff from monks is very easy!”)

Terrible Tudors

Polite Mugging — Setting a monetary limit on which has predictably unpredictable consequences.

Woeful Second World War

Winter at Stalingrad — “Well… I sink you are in luck. I got zese boots in zis morning — good quality too, zey are Russian!” “How do you know zey are Russian?” “Zere was a Russian in zem.”

Gorgeous Georgians

The Eternal (Fan) Dance — The ‘latest in mobile communications technology’: apparently, propelling sitcom romance hijinks since 1785.

Rotten Romans

Crimewatch BC: Caesar’s Assassination — “No, really we want to kill them and burn down their houses, but I don’t want to say that in public, just in case they run away…” “See ya!” “…me and my big mouth.”

Field Notes:

  • So, here we are in the phase of reviewer’s nostalgia I like to call Holy Crap, That Song is Totally Schoolhouse Rock… followed closely by Wait, They Have Schoolhouse Rock in the UK?!
  • Sadly, no. However you lot were learning basic educational concepts in my childhood, it clearly didn’t involve adorable animated characters cavorting to fun, catchy, clever contemporary tunes. But damned if this isn’t exactly how Bob Dorough et al. would’ve approached hieroglyphics had they been on the curriculum… and, y’know, Mat’s entire onscreen persona is more-or-less being a cartoon character… so it all never fails to totally bemuse me every time.
  • Once I do eventually get around to appreciating it on its own merits, I’m captivated all over again. The song is impressively tight lyrically, and the kids are professionally adorable without once sliding into obnoxiously precious — I cannot emphasise this enough, as a rare luxury for an adult watching a kid’s show. And, yes, despite some rather obvious disconnect between the robust vocal and the visual, Mat performs the authentic living daylights out of an entire jazz/rockabilly number dressed only in a towel and some fake eyebrows, and I’m honestly not sure if the first or last part of that sentence is more impressive.
  • But seeing as it’s fast becoming a potential elephant in the reviewing room: Frankly, I’ve never seen the appeal of HH au naturel, regardless of who’s currently going topless. They’re all, well, people I’ve spent months writing a blog about, but if they’re going to act as spurs to the *ahem* imagination, I generally need a bit of extra costuming to get well started. Will say, though, that Mat’s physique is neither grotesque or alarming; he simply has no surplus body fat whatsoever, which I do actually find more aesthetically interesting than your standard six-pack. Really.
  • Also, it totally enables him to be an absolutely hilarious parody of your typical fashion guru, which, given the self-parody already inherent in the genre, is no mean trick let me tell you. Gok Wan isn’t really a thing over here, but my leftover neuroses (from a brief-but-tumultuous stop in a fashion buying office) say thank you anyway, show, for taking such a satisfyingly satirical whack at the industry. And I do mean satisfying, on all the levels. One other lovely aspect of Mat’s physicality: his entirely un-self-conscious ease within its ambiguity.
  • Oh, and he can write funny, too. So can Ben. Their collaboration on the Lindisfarne sketch is an intriguing experiment; being simoultaneously more sophisticated humour than your standard HH outing and less adept at merging the facts into same. Interesting too that it’s clearly coming from the performer POV — everyone gets their chance to shine — but isn’t adapted to anyone’s specific schticks as established thus far, not even their own. This frankly is not at all how I would’ve imagined them writing themselves, but hey, it works, and that remarkably unselfishly. In sum: your effort shows real promise, boys, I’ll keep it on file and look forward to seeing more.
  • Ben is less successful as a full-on cosplay-at-the-Comicon-style Badass Viking Warrior, just because, well, Ben. It’s going to be a few more episodes at least before the image of him threatening to ‘spread’ the enemy clears my brain. S’okay, though, it’s not like it was a wildly innovative sketch to begin with or anything. Except that Lawry appears still to be stuck in psycho berserker mode…
  • …ie. the sort of mode you really don’t want to be telling someone who’s in it that they’re also highly convincing as a circus clown. Which really, I hasten to add, doesn’t have to interfere with the other at all. Makeup and balloons and little squirty buttonhole and just possibly a machete… or, oh yeah, the bloody Caesar-assassinating knife from the Beware the Ides of March business… oh boy. Can’t sleep, Viking clown will maraud me.
  • But enough of all this chipper playfulness. It’s been nearly a season-and-a-half since anyone — in this case meaning ‘Jim’ — froze to death in the unforgiving wastes, so time to visit everyone’s favourite award-winning wuss in Stalingrad. Seriously, if he’s really freezing, why the hell is he making such a fuss? Especially over a fur coat? What, they don’t have thrift shops in Germany? I’m willing to excuse a lot when Ben and Jim are together onscreen (the little ‘vacation’ thing has all the hallmarks of another Willbond improv bit, and if so, all the points), but in this case the funny’s so obviously out of sync with the reality it undermines both aspects of the sketch.
  • Still, even taken at face value, you’ve gotta give the producers massive credit for sticking to their commitment to more character-based comedy this series, even when going for the noir jugular. That Horrible doesn’t just mean gross is as important a lesson as any for the kiddies to learn — that, and of course the sheer fabulousness of a German accent, thank you Benjamin. The languages degree was not in vain!… although if you find your parents getting a little cranky over it at Christmas dinner, this might be why.
  • Not even kidding, though: we are witnessing an HH linguistic milestone on the order of Mat’s Gallic stylings, here, and it will be just as rewarding, if not even more so. Because boy howdy, does this man love his his Teutonic vowels, and all the gloriously unctuous implications inherent therein. You can practically see it glowing off him through the snow and everything. (It’s not the first time he’s broken it out, of course, but the full effect got a little obscured previously on account of NAZIS! and so on.)
  • Oh, and speaking of uncompromising bleakness… Animated or no, I notice they didn’t make-believe the dog survived that Russian bomb project. I do not wish to go all PETA-particular on the reality, but geez, show, it might once in awhile be worth remembering that you’re aimed at a segment of the population who probably haven’t yet dealt with the death of a hamster, let alone adorably oblivious Old Yeller here. Come to that, their parents likely aren’t gonna be too happy with you adding to the therapy bills either.
  • Meanwhile, Jim totally redeems himself in the Tudor Football bit — later remade of course for Sport Relief, but I must confess to much preferring the original, just because Jim’s determined-athlete face continues to be just that hysterically realistic. If I hadn’t already known he was a football fanatic in real life, I’d so be able to tell, especially as played off Larry’s perfectly-judged media importance.
  • Overall — just as a suggestion, you understand — great stuff to whip out on YouTube next time your ‘Merican pals get especially boring re: how sissy European football is compared to the NFL. I know I was very nearly impressed enough to stop snickering every time a European player starts feigning ULTIMATE VIOLATION at a feather touch… kidding! I swear!
  • Not exactly devastated, I must admit, that the Shouty Woman concept wasn’t repeated. Martha does her level best — and so, bless him and his solemn silliness once again, does Larry — but this bit works mostly as proof that the concept owes its success as much or more to what Jim brings to it, as the idea itself. Mind, it also works nicely as an audition tape should Martha ever decide she wants to star in a Georgette Heyer adaptation. That is some pro fan-fluttering, right there.
  • You can tell it’s a talent, because Katy doesn’t pull it off quite as naturally in the followup bit. (All concerned do however fully pull the sketch itself off, in a manner that indicates a firm grounding in ancient ‘Britcoms,’ as still being rerun over here on PBS). Where she really excels, costuming-wise, is in wearing that gorgeous steel-blue Tudor ensemble; I have no idea how authentic it is, but regardless it’s my favourite female outfit of the entire series. Of course, I have a soft spot for the Tudor costuming generally. Those flat velvet tam-y things the men wear: DO WANT.
  • Stupid Death sidekick watch: we’ve gotten as far as the X-Factor idea, but not the actual skeletons. We’ve also gotten to the point at which the corpses are freely allowed to talk back, argue, and just generally comment along the lines of actual audition hopefuls. Which means we’re basically just having lots of totally random Simon and friends interacting every few episodes or so. I approve.
  • Lots of love also for the Crimewatch BC sketch; obvious enough, but with some real cleverness tucked in around the edges of the execution. “Kirsty the Younger” — nice touch that, as is the ‘forensic’ bust. Also, yep, absolutely gonna be checking under my bed for rampaging Lawrys tonight…

95% Accu-rat:

  • Right, I have finally been inspired to check into this business with Julius Caesar and his supposedly huge honker once and for all. The consensus of a quick Google Image search appears to be that it was indeed as ‘Roman’ as all get-out — what today is more commonly described as ‘aquiline’ — but not hilariously massive or anything. Let’s face it, when attempting to get yourself nominated as Dictator-for-Life of the known Western Hemisphere, ordinary-looking might have passed, but ‘adenoidal goofball’ would’ve been a major handicap.
  • Although a relevant passage from Shakespeare doth portray a man perhaps a mite slow on the uptake: Caesar: Who is it in the press that calls on me? I hear a tongue shriller than all the music cry “Caesar!” Speak, Caesar is turn’d to hear. Soothsayer: Beware the ides of March. Caesar: What man is that? Brutus: A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March. And while we’re on the subject of Mr. ‘Not lazy with the phrasey’, it turns out ‘Et tu, Brute?’ was shamelessly fudged from the reported ‘Kai su, teknon?‘ [You too, my child?]. That is, if he said anything at all, which is doubtful…
  • At any rate, for the really interested here’s an excellent scholarly summary of the reasons why Caesar had to die, and in the process gives an idea of the ancient version of a preventable tragedy: Later that night, his wife Calpurnia dreamed of his body streaming with blood and tried to prevent him from leaving the house. The priests (haruspices), too, found the omens to be unfavorable. Caesar hesitated [to go to the Senate] but was persuaded by one of the conspirators… Even as evidence of the plot became known, there were attempts to inform Caesar, but either they were too late or ignored.
  • Things I love about the Internet, vol. 3214: you’re never more than a quick Yahoo Answer away from someone who not only has clearly researched the concept of Viking war paint, but tried a potential recipe out on himself. Sounds pretty much the equivalent of what’s shown here — a sort of eyeblack meant to throw the warrior’s gaze into deep, ominous shadow, thus at the very least anticipating the covers of death metal albums by several centuries. Mind you, it turns out the classic ‘whiteface’ clown dates away back to Ancient Greek comedy… I dunno, folks, I just don’t know.
  • At least there are no Bozo derivatives in the full version of the Terror of Tedworth; unless of course you count the folks who fell for it at the time. Basically it appears to have been the seventeenth-century version of the Amityville Horror, glaring red-eyed apparations and all.
  • You know the most humiliating lack of foresight in the Soviet anti-tank dog deployment? (Yes, of course Wiki has an entire indepth entry on the whole project.) Even more so than the story as given here, which specifically involves the wannabe four-footed ordnance picking up on the distinctive smell of the Soviet petrol, among several other obvious signs that this was a Really Bad Idea? They left themselves wide open not only to German sneers that the Russian soldiers were so afraid to fight they sent dogs in their place, but the accompanying propaganda photos of cute mutts the Germans claimed to have rescued from becoming squishy shrapnel.
  • On the other hand, damned if it didn’t work, sort of: There are however documented claims of individual successes of the program, with the number of damaged tanks usually being within a dozen. For example, at the front of the 160th Infantry Division near Hlukhiv, six dogs had damaged five German tanks; near the airport of Stalingrad, anti-tank dogs destroyed 13 tanks. At the Battle of Kursk, 16 dogs disabled 12 German tanks which had broken through the Soviet lines of defense near Tamarovka, Bykovo… Apparently it really was a dog’s life, out there.
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3 Comments

Posted by on March 17, 2013 in Series Two

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

3 responses to “S02E08

  1. Grace Garner

    March 18, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    LOL, therapy bills! Why would you not tell children about the dog dying? Sure, it’s sad, but why would that be worse than some of the other stuff in this programme? N American kids aren’t really this fragile, are they?!

    Re revealing outfits in HH: I’ve noticed (since having a child) that a lot of kids’ TV these days seems to pointedly show normal bodies without embarrassment, presumably as an attempt to counteract some of the toxic effects of other images they will be exposed to. I suspect that if you had the exact same sketch but with an actor whose body was very buff, people would start questioning whether it was appropriate for children. Also, of course, having a half-naked funny-looking bloke only adds to the comedy, because we’re ever so sophisticated like that.

    I’m chuckling at the idea of NFL fans scoffing at football/soccer, because it sounds so much like Brits laughing at American football because it’s rugby but with players who feel the need to wear armour.

    Interesting note on the anti-tank dogs. I’ve heard about the failures repeatedly but didn’t know that the idea ever actually worked.

     
    • Shoebox

      March 18, 2013 at 7:46 pm

      “N American kids aren’t really this fragile, are they?!”

      Well, possibly not — although the death of a pet is considered Very Special Episode material over here. I was riffing less on reality and more on the general, albeit now I’m thinking more American, maxim that mute & noble doggy suffering = the absolute depths of pathos.

      Did you lot ever get a look at Old Yeller, the Disney movie? Or the Futurama episode ‘Jurassic Bark’? Dead serious attempts to wring tears, both of them. And boy howdy, do they succeed. I have read several passionate online claims, after real-world disaster strikes etc, that the death of a dog is ipso facto more tragic than that of a human.

      “Re revealing outfits in HH: I’ve noticed (since having a child) that a lot of kids’ TV these days seems to pointedly show normal bodies without embarrassment, presumably as an attempt to counteract some of the toxic effects of other images they will be exposed to.”

      Which is a great idea, wish they’d do more of it over here. I think you have an excellent point re: too-heavily sexualised imagery being inappropriate, but am wondering, can Mat really be considered all that ‘funny-looking’? From my POV at least he has a rather nicely-proportioned physique, there just isn’t any fat on it. I’m thinking roly-poly, impossibly cuddly Jim would be a better candidate for that sort of thing.

       
  2. Grace Garner

    March 19, 2013 at 7:46 am

    The Futurama episode is heart-breaking! I guess the reason dogs have such an iconic position in that regard is because they are used to represent qualities of innocence, loyalty and love. They’re always the Watson to our Holmes, as it were.

    Honestly, I can see not showing bodies at all is a reasonably sensible solution if you want to avoid the matter altogether. I think when I was a child, TV tended to follow that rule, so I’ve been surprised by it since becoming a parent, not least because seeing body hair is so counter-cultural these days. I do prefer it this way. I want my children to learn that your body is nothing to be ashamed of, whether you’re fat, thin, pale, tanned, hairy, smooth or whatever!

     

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