Do you know, if I’m honest, I’d rather just do the funnies. Can we not get a badger or something to do the serious stuff?
The annual late-series bundle of awkward oddities this time takes a rather alarming turn into the morbid — and then swings back again into ballet-dancing Roundheads… even when this show entirely misfires, it seems, it’s a unique experience.
In this episode:
Song: The English Civil War Song — Mat as Charles I, Lawry as Cromwell, Jim and Ben as their respective sidekicks (Parody of: Cool, from West Side Story)
Historical Masterchef — WWI foot soldier (“Whomever wins this competition, it will change – their – lives.” “What – he – said.”)
Bob Hale — The Anglo-Saxon Report (“So England gets over-run with Angles and Saxons, making it: Anglo-Saxon! Yes! And you thought we just made that term up.”)
Words We Get From the — Normans
Scary Stories — The Mystery of Motecuhzoma (“Right, let’s clear this up once and for all: Ghosts: scary. Vampires: scary. Spanish blokes on horses: Not. Scary.”)
Computer Game: Warrior! — Aztec Warriors vs. Spanish Conquistadores
Danke! Magazine — Barbarian Fashion Special (“Free with every ten dead Romans!”)
Frightful First World War
(Not) Keeping Warm in the Trenches — The more details the show gives re: life at underground level in this war, the more impressed you are that they managed to pull off an entire global conflict in the first place… wait, that didn’t come out right.
Mud and Matilda (movie trailer) — William I approaches courtship with the same splendid disregard for odds that won him Britain… also, probably a lot of the same tactics. Coming soon to a cinema near you: a tale of loving… and shoving.
HHTV Entertainment Today: Live from Bedlam — How bad was it before TV, kiddies? So bad that a fun and fashionable day out often consisted of going to the famous mental hospital to gawk at the inmates… no, that does not sound kind of fun! Geez.
New! Solomon’s Live (not very) Long Water — “It’s the mercury that lends it that unique metallic taste… and we Georgians are pretty sure it’s good for you. The loss of sight, hearing, balance, sensation and occasionally life are just a coincidence.”
Barbarians in Charge — When the Goths take over Rome, they plan to destroy it… except of course for the arenas, the aqueduct, the houses, and the art. And before they can get around to smashing any more small jugs, they really need to to tidy up in the Roman baths…
Battlefield Medicine — Dr. William Harvey takes his search for fresh corpses to anatomize to the source, and demonstrates that yes, to be a pioneer you have to be a little bit crazy. If not actually psychotic.
- Huh. Well.
- So here we are, finally at the definite epicentre of the dull patch — the episode I not only immediately dubbed ‘Least Favourite Ever’ but watched again later that night just to make sure. The one, in fact, on whom the chance to vent actually helped inspired this project…
- …and on rewatch now, I’m not at all certain why the fuss.
- I mean, fine, so they did bundle all the morosely inappropriate stuff — and gosh there’s a lot — into this one ep and try to pass it off with the rat’s help as a fun little theme. Which somehow includes a Scary Story. And easily the stupidest makeup job in the entire show. And then they just bunged the awkward musical stepchild on top of the lot…
- …OK, so it’s still not that great an episode. Pretty typical of late-season HH awkwardness, in fact. However I am forced to conclude once and for all that my past S3-related contempt had a basis less in reality and more in… well, call it burnout, a year’s infinite loop of daily episodes later. At any rate, I was getting pretty hard to impress. “Look, show, if I don’t get some quality icicle-free Baynton time soon, I’m deleting the entire series record, you get me?”
- The qualifier is there because while Baynton is definitely here, he’s just a little busy fulfilling every single one of my worst fears for the WWI sketches. Because, having access to three husky, healthy males (given that Jim had more than served his time as a military-flavoured Slushee), the producers of course decided to star the skinny, big-eyed, waifish one as Random Schmuck Freezing to Death for a Really, Really Stupid Cause. Larry’s too moved even to take advantage of their hug, that’s how authentically pathetic Mat is coming off here.
- The whole thing is such a tonal misfire — well, OK, as a lost scene from Saving Private Ryan it’s potentially brilliant, but this is HH, so I’m still left wondering how it made it into an episode. There’s no use suggesting they didn’t know, because they went to the one-off extreme of hanging a plastic icicle off Mat’s nose in a clear attempt to lighten the mood. So great, now he’s dying and he has a stupid prop on his nose. Way to rob the guy of his last pitiful shred of dignity, there, guys.
- Speaking of misfires… I’ll admit I’ve watched the whole Civil War song a few times now, but only to convince my brain that I wasn’t making stuff up the first time. “Suuuurrre,” my brain is wont to snort. “Tell me again about the ballet-dancing Roundheads.” So I try to explain that the intense, edgy melodrama of the underprivileged that is West Side Story is now supposed to be a framework for daffy dancing toffs, featuring not only Ben but Lawry boogyeing down Broadway-style, and it just shuts right down on me. I can’t get any work done for hours.
- What they’ve done, evidently — and uncharacteristically — is just wildly miscalculated the campiness of the source material. Which is a shame, because there’s enough real romantic melodrama in the English Civil War to have pulled it off, had they cared at all to match the two note-for-note. I can see where — especially to a British mindset — it might’ve been difficult to believe all that finger-snapping street passion was in earnest, but it was; and authoritatively enough that this fluffy, facile parody, while technically fairly smooth, inevitably still feels merely amateurish.
- “With Greg deloused, it’s time to find out what Ernie will be serving up!”… ah, now, this is more like it. Historical Masterchef, I have missed you. Definitely the high point of this episode. Also something of a personal high for Larry, who gives the closest thing he ever has to an acting-type performance — a character, not just his usual coherent collection of eccentricities. Impressive, even if it was copied note for note off the Plucky Comic Relief Guy (frequently the Cook, come to think of it) in every single war movie ever.
- “Hot sausage!”… and a legend is born. It’s not quite as impressively clever as the Masterchef, but even back when I was revving up to full-on unload on this episode, the ‘Conquering Barbarians’ bit was my major exception. One of those skits you just cannot dislike: a lovely hilariously charming summation of all HH creative strengths discovered to date, brilliantly well constructed and played to the hilt. The laughs are more than honestly earned, and not to keep harping on it, but in this episode, that’s saying something.
- Meanwhile, so yeah, turns out there was still one more Scary Story floating around out there — plus the unused one, which will later rise from the grave, so to speak, in the Halloween Special. By now this particular recurring bit has acquired some overt zombie-esque traits, is what I am trying to clumsily hint here. Even Baddiel is obviously just going through the motions by now…
- …with the (OK, possibly unintentional) exception of the common Aztec syllable ‘tit’. You think you could emphasize it a bit harder, there, David? Even after the three straight repetitions, I don’t think the innocent young minds in the back quite caught it.
- Anyway, get in all the gleeful sniggering while you can, kiddies, because this is where the morbid kicks in for real. Suddenly the hitherto throwaway game sketches are revving up like the moral equivalent of Chuck Norris: they have come here to splat rats and convey the horrifically sad and futile reality of mass genocide, and they are all out of rats… except of course the one who now wants to hand off to a badger.
- But I kid our resident Python-riffing rodent. In fact, I think it’s rather sweet of him — and by extension the show — to thus tacitly acknowledge that they haven’t been in this far over their head since trying to convey the realities of Nazism. There are just certain aspects of history that are impossible to make funny, and there is equally no way for a show that is just about to cut to shamelessly Zoolander-ing barbarians to adequately explain why they are sad.
- This same sheer comedic pointlessness applies to mercury poisoning through medical ignorance, and the Grand Guignol theatre of the mind that was formerly Bedlam. Again, it is extremely obvious that these things are Horrible, but once that’s been said, there’s literally nowhere to for a comedy series to go.
- So they end up consisting mostly of confirming that a) even in huckster mode Larry is not actually funny just standing there; and even more so that b) the shrill authenticity of Alice’s blonde newsbimbo character just really, really makes me want to throw things at the screen, which tends to get in the way of the moral outrage a bit.
- Fine, then what can we do to get back on the comedy train? I know, how about a good old-fashioned round of Homerotic Barbarian Fashion Tips! Or something. Seriously, while I appreciate a winkingly ironic take on hyper-masculine archetypes as much as the next Net nerd, the sheer enthusiasm here is just a trifle bewildering… and involves frankly disturbing speculations re: possible inspiration gained from certain aspects of the actual German magazine industry, so I’ll just be moving on now.
- Still, despite it all, it is kind of reassuring to see the gang back manning the bastions of gleeful bad taste, not to mention outrageous Teutonic accents. Mat of course can pull this stuff off in his sleep, Ben gets… many points for the valiant attempt to let his hair down (so to speak), and Jim gets all the points — not to mention most of the best lines — for simply rolling with it all. (“I’ll show you how to keep your horse warm — with this designer blanket made from the skin of your enemies! Mm… smells good!”)
- I am not entirely certain where Larry had gotten to during the aforementioned, but there was also a Bob Hale report, so that… uh, has nothing to do with it really. Still, it’s a nice enough consolation prize anyway. Not one of Bobsy’s masterpieces, mind, but you do get to find out the origins of ‘Anglo-Saxon’, which has been on my personal List of Vague Wonderings for years.
- Meantime, the chance to spend quality time with Simon’s William II is always welcome — and awww, Greg the random knight/secretary/squire/attache’s back! So cute! As you can see, this episode by now has left the viewer in such dire need of a teddy bear to hug, however metaphorically, that even though the skit’s point is how adorable it is that this enormous man is physically bullying a tiny woman into a relationship, I am still inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt.
- Yeah… so the whole thing with the Aztecs, the conquistadores and smallpox, excruciatingly awful – with accent on the excruciating. Looking up the contemporary accounts of the plague (involving victims too weak to move encrusting themselves to their straw mats with their own weeping sores) is not recommended if you ever plan to experience joy again.
- However. In the interest of entire sociological equity, it might just be pointed out that the Spanish, while undoubtedly stupid with greed and their own interpretation of God, were not actually responsible for the smallpox thing. As pointed out, the Aztecs simply had no resistance to their germs… which the conquistadores naturally interpreted as a sign from the Deity that He really did like them best, and was furthermore obviously helpfully clearing out the savages so that civilization — ie., fear of Him — could flourish.
- Something similar happened a few decades later, when the first English colonists to the Americas showed up further north. Basically, anytime you catch yourself wondering about the advantages of modern medical science, you might just want to reflect on the mental picture of pompous Pilgrims: tromping enthusiastically through the ruins of a once-great civilization, raiding entire empty villages of their treasures and giving devout thanks to heaven all the while.
- (Oh, and if you’re into political irony, you might also want to note that among their neighbors, the demise of the Aztec Empire was greeted by roughly the same amount of respectful grief as Margaret Thatcher’s. There was after all that little matter of the hundreds of heart-rippings yearly.)
- Yes, it’s incredible, but as hideous misunderstandings of the natural world go, accidental mercury poisoning isn’t even in the top ten. You may want to check out Cracked.com’s co-incidentally recent list of “Six ‘Harmless’ Fads That Caused Widespread Destruction”, including such gems as ‘Radium glows in the dark, it must be a life-giving tonic!’ and ‘Hey, let’s paint this wallpaper with green dye made from arsenic, and sell it to millions of quietly respectable Victorians!’… Y’know, never mind complaining how little time we might have left — let’s all just be ridiculously grateful that we, as a species, made it this far.
- There’s actually sort of good news on the ‘William bullies his tiny bride’ front… unless possibly you’re Terry Deary, and you have *ahem* unwisely shot your mouth off about the same libraries that have for years helped in large part to promote your books into classics, stinging actual scholarly historians into responses like this.
- Worth reading in full, but this is the relevant bit, about Matilda’s height as mentioned in The Stormin’ Normans and parroted by the sketch here: You say that William’s queen, Matilda, was only 127cm tall. This is a modern myth caused by misreporting. The French archaeologists who examined her partial remains actually concluded she was 152cm (about 5’).