So last week it was announced that a sixth series of Horrible Histories was, after all–at least, in the mind of CBBC execs apparently desperate for a proven ratings winner–a very plausible thing.
This provoked a four-part sequence of reactions here at HH Review Central, closely mirrored across the fandom at large: i) Hurray! Gleeful giddiness at tidings of great joy! ii) …wait, doesn’t that make the big finale song just a teeny bit awkward? iii) Oh crap, didn’t they say that they were stopping explicitly because they’d run right out of material, which anyone with observational skills above lettuce can verify just by watching a few episodes of S5? iv) This is gonna suck, isn’t it? I mean, even if they bring the entire original creative team back intact and motivated, the track record of TV revivals alone indicates there’s a really good chance of this sucking, right?
The fandom-at-large was at least spared the complication of having been earnestly blogging about Horrible Histories: The Final Series for quite some while now, writing entire earnest mini-essays around how very poignant yet firmly necessary it was. Here at HH Review Central, I wasn’t. At all. In fact, I had several more earnest addendums to that thesis in the pipeline even as I processed the news, and possibly some while before I’d be given any idea what to do with them. This is what ‘having the rug pulled out from under’ looks like in the Information Age, kiddies.
Amid this mass of conflicting and disconcerting feels, one certainty rose immediately to the top: If it’s not the aforementioned original creative team, it’s not the Horrible Histories I signed on to blog about, and thus I would not be blogging about it. Period. My loyalty does not lie with the franchise, but with the TV show, and more specifically at this point, with the comedy troupe arising from its starring cast. (Whom, incidentally, I really wish would adopt a snappier formal name already. You just can’t go around casually calling grown adults ‘the idiots’ in public, let alone in earnest).
I was just polishing and admiring this bit of decisiveness when Mat, in a manner clearly indicating a round of urgent troupe-wide texting followed by “look, you have the most followers, you do it,” formally tweeted that any proposed new series would involve an entirely different team, and possibly format. In other words, no, the idiots would not be assembling in reverse.
This was not a huge surprise by any means. As Mat further pointed out in a BBC interview, they had meanwhile reached a point where they could fully satisfy their desire to work together while still pursuing their promising separate careers. In the process they had shrewdly moved on up from being ‘the cast’ to, effectively, the showrunners–not only of Yonderland but of burgeoning movie careers. Among other things. Being Mat, he tactfully did not add “Seriously? You want me to give up any part of being J.Corden’s current favourite collaborator, a multiple-prestigious-award-nominee, just to get back into the caveman costume one more time?” but you can be very sure it was his agents/managers’ main theme. Also that variations on same were very popular in the other five camps.
All of which provoked profound relief in this one–if for no other reason than it saved me from having to decide what to blog if only part of the team showed up, a la the final series of the Flying Circus. But mostly, it was about the ‘Thank God, they’re not going to mar this gloriously unique achievement with suckage’ thing. As I’ve repeatedly mentioned in those mini-essays, the existing show had reached a crossroads not only in terms of material but tone; it ended not only when it was still popular but right before it would’ve begun to stumble visibly. Given that a move to primetime still wasn’t on the cards, in any proposed S6 they’d have had to begin actually fumbling to find a compromise between increasingly subtle, adult material and child-friendly clowning, which would’ve been unavoidably painful… or reboot all the way back to S1 and simply resume being loud and unsubtle about various types of ick, which would’ve been frankly ghastly. Not in a good way.
Except, as the books/magazines/stage shows have proven, inasmuch as the popularity of Horrible Histories the franchise and the TV show are still in some ways two very distinct things. It should still be possible to recapture the magic of the former without labouring too far in the shadow of the latter. Skip the attempt at sophistication altogether, return to the books/magazines for material, bring in a fresh lot of game performers (maybe the current stage show troupe?) add some jolly songs and cover the whole thing with slime at judicious intervals, and hey presto, the HH that’s been proven to put bottoms in seats if nothing else. Hopefully, that’s all the CBBC execs are looking for. If they do decide to get ambitious… well, yeah, I’ll just be over here watching, from a safe distance, while blogging about Yonderland.