A badger, a badger! My kingdom for a badger! I need to use it to go and see the Duke of Somerset’s grave, who died ages ago, when I was three, so there’s no way I could’ve possibly stabbed him to death!
This is the way the series ends… not by any means with a bang, but not quite with a whimper, either.
In this episode:
Song: Burke & Hare (Mat as Dr. Robert Knox, Simon as William Burke & Jim as William Hare)
This is Your Reign — Cleopatra VII, last Pharoah of Ancient Egypt
Bob Hale — The Viking Report
Stupid Deaths — Sigurd the Mighty (infected when the teeth of the severed head of his sworn enemy brushed against his leg on the ride home… ie. bitten to death by a severed head!)
HHTV Sport — Georgian Lice Races
Roman Kitchen Nightmares — Chef Gordinicus Ramsaius roams Celtic kitchens armed with a cast-iron saucepan, which he actually gets to whack chefs over the head with. Immediately, the real Chef Ramsey starts work on a time machine.
Communal Toilets — It should be no surprise by now that the Romans defined ‘shameless’ a little more broadly than, say, every other civilization in recorded history.
Welcome to the Crimea, Miss Nightingale — Where the floors may have been beyond filthy, but the floor show was apparently fabulous.
Hatshepsut: First Female Pharaoh (movie trailer) – “You were murdered. Probably by your stepson. He was a little annoyed about the whole throne-stealing incident.”
Globe-al Grief (animated) — The travails of the storied but perpetually shaky theatre take on a life of their own… presumably thanks to whomever once called the animators ‘Gilliam-esque’ in college.
The Truth About Richard III: Prologue – The ghost of the massively maligned monarch makes his first, and considerably more badger-intensive, attempt to set the record straight.
The Earl of Sandwich — Hint: he did not invent the toad-in-a-hole.
- Well, here we are… thirteen episodes, eight weeks and a whole lot of crazy later. In a way, a closer look at Series One was the impetus for this project in the first place, and having completed same feels like… well, like having had fun, mostly. I know I’ve done a lot of ragging, but honestly, I was prepared to do a whole lot more.
- Turns out there’s a lot that’s characteristically HH to love about this series, all stemming from the fact that everyone clearly bought into it as Actual Legitimate Comedy from day one. Thus the veteran comedians in the cast all delivered more than fairly, and the big gambles (ie., Mat and Larry), paid off likewise. The writers latch onto the possibilities quickly enough that their experiments are almost uniformly fun to watch; out of all the many recurring characters and concepts introduced, 99% will return, and those mostly untouched.
- Basically, the HH crew knew what they wanted all along — it was just a matter of checking to make sure they could have it within the dual constraints of historical accuracy and children’s telly. The “figuring out what worked and what didn’t” they cite in later interviews will mostly boil down to sanding off the too-roughly childish and/or earnest edges… oh, and receiving a massive budget increase, can’t forget that. At any rate, I look hugely forward to Series Two both as a reward, and with genuine interest to see what comes next.
- In no small part because hey! We’ve finally arrived back around at the musical beginning! Although “Burke & Hare” isn’t often mentioned in discussions of memorable HH music; as a song its significance is overshadowed by the 4 Georges, and as a performance by… well, pretty much everything musical Mat will go on to do, for obvious reasons. But it’s easily up there with his best — perhaps even more so than Dick Turpin, given that here he’s working totally against his natural strengths. Really, give it a listen sans visual if necessary — I can about guarantee you’ll be as pleasantly startled as I was.
- Just a great song all round…sort of delightfully creepy, in the same, erm, vein as the Plague Song. If ‘Born 2 Rule’ pointed the way conceptually for HH musical glory, these two demonstrated the format: self-contained, lavishly produced, and performed as per the conventions of the adult music video, not the local cable preschool channel. Meaning, not to put too fine a point on it, Mat — ably supported by Jim and Martha — taking the lead. All three will get a whole new, endlessly rewarding outlet next series, and it will not have onscreen lyrics. Save when they can be followed by little bouncy skulls. Which says it all, really.
- While we’re on the subject of Mat’s soon-to-be-explored depths… let me just stipulate here that he is to all appearances a very sweet, grounded young man whose co-stars unanimously insist he’s a dream to work with… and I imply otherwise only because it’ll become significant later… but damned if he doesn’t also wear ‘bitchy, self-absorbed diva’ like a second skin. It pops out as a throwaway in the Roman toilet sketch, and after weeks of watching the earnest warrior-next-door, it’s frankly hilarious.
- He also gets to show off his falling skills — and yes, I took drama in senior year, that there is a genuine skill. It’ll in fact become something of a running gag… and if it was between that and the mime, may I just add now, thank you producers. Albeit in this particular sketch it’s undercut by his bouncing up clean and bright three times from what’s explicitly supposed to be a filthy bodily-waste-encrusted floor (see historical notes below). Yep, second-series budget increases, gotta love ’em already.
- Really, now I’m thinking about it, this episode is pretty much all about previewing Mat 2.0. He likewise slips effortlessly into Will Shakespeare, springing him from cliche to life in much the same manner as Ben did for Henry VIII. Jim doesn’t get the chance to do the same with poor old Richard III, who — besides the odd badger fixation — is much more proactively angry (and Northern) than his later incarnation. Being informed of your hideous reputation immediately upon revival will do that to you, I suppose.
- Oh, and: BEST. STUPID DEATH. EVER. That is all.
- Elsewhere, we get a look at what was evidently the pilot for the Bob Hale Reports, and it’s interesting — not because it’s particularly good, but because it’s actually set up very like a weather forecast, complete with ‘and stay indoors…’ -type recommendations at the end. Combined with Bobsy’s (highly) uncharacteristic subdued deference to his big map, I’m guessing a sort of meteorological theme was the original concept, prior to Larry’s advanced instincts for weird kicking in and creating the legend. So yeah, dodged a bullet there… *thinks back to other HH weather-forecast spoofs*… a very BIG bullet. .50 calibre, at least.
- Also making her welcome debut this ep: Martha’s sassy, sultry legend-just-ask-her Cleopatra, complete with perpetual backup chorus Caesar and Mark Antony already in tow (and sharing a cute little fist bump that indicates entire OK-ness with the implications raised the last time Ben & Mat played military cohorts). Cleo’s makeup would be refined a bit from here, but the costume and attitude is entirely familiar, and entertaining.
- Then there’s the nameless HHTV Sport announcer played by Giles Terera, a remarkably talented and versatile musical-theatre veteran whom the show will largely, and inexplicably, leave behind that desk for the next three series, and him just blatantly oozing personality the entire while.
- Sadly, though, it’s goodbye and good luck to Javone, hopefully for greener (or at least less racially complicated) pastures. Also farewell, albeit slightly less lamented, to Meera Syal; and, at least until Series Four, Sarah Hadland. The starring troupe is set, and — as long as we’re shamelessly cribbing from movie trailers — the real adventure is just beginning…
- Given the complexities involved in the Cleopatra sketch, it’s actually pretty darn impressive that they got away with only one inaccuracy… unfortunately, it’s the only one that’s easy to follow: she was never actually married to Julius Caesar. She thought she was, mind, but Roman law didn’t recognise marriages unless your fiancee was a fellow citizen, besides which there was the little matter of Caesar’s existing wife. Thus Cleo’s dreams of becoming Empress of (not to mention mother of the heir to) the known universe stalled out, leading to years of messy internecine warfare, all ending in Mark Antony and the asp… thus making the original distinction re: marital status kind of a huge deal. And much to their ongoing credit, the show will later correct the error in both sketch and song.
- I do hate to spoil such a great musical finale, but chances are pretty good William Burke’s corpse didn’t actually end up with Dr. Knox. At least, I couldn’t find any evidence of same, and you’d think that’d be a majorly Internet-friendly fact. Although he insisted (and Burke actually swore) that he was guilty of nothing more than a weirdly convenient lack of curiosity, Knox was understandably in deep disgrace with the public. So, to an extent, was the entire medical profession, ensuring that nobody therein would’ve been much in the mood for grimly hilarious irony. Although being Scots, they apparently couldn’t resist one last flourish: according to Wikipedia (citing a 2009 book on the murders) …During the dissection, which lasted for two hours, Professor Alexander Monro dipped his quill pen into Burke’s blood and wrote “This is written with the blood of Wm Burke, who was hanged at Edinburgh. This blood was taken from his head.”
- Speaking of medical missteps… I’ve done a lot of reading on Florence Nightingale’s adventures in the Crimea, and the relatively quiet, clean and uncrowded hospital ward shown here doesn’t quite measure up to the scale of the problem facing the Lamp Lady on arrival. Think Gone With the Wind‘s hospital scenes after the Battle of Atlanta (fought only a few years later) for a much more accurate idea. Granted, MGM’s blood-guts-and-groans budget was just slightly bigger, but it’s a bit of a disappointment anyway; next-season’s revisionist take notwithstanding, our Flo was one amazing pioneer, and deserved a much more impressive chance to demonstrate it.
- The whole badger business in the Richard III sketch took me a few minutes (and the commentary of other, equally bemused netizens) to work out. Apparently he’s saying that there weren’t any wild horses roaming the countryside back then, such as might helpfully wander into the path of a distressed king in the middle of a battlefield. It’s still kinda odd, because, y’know, battlefield. Wouldn’t there already have been horses running around?
- The sandwich sketch is about as slight and goofy as they come, but what humour it has depends totally on how posh the Earl is… meaning the cook somehow hovering just outside the door is a major, major gaffe. In reality, it would’ve been ‘Footman! Go find someone to tell the cook…”
- And finally: no, kids, Lord Turkey of Twizzler… just no. Past time altogether to move on to the next series, I think.