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Category Archives: Series Three

S03E13: Savage Songs

Gotta request coming in right here! It says “Please shut up and play the next song!”
… oh.

The series is over and the music’s had a massive awesomeness upgrade, so Rattus likewise busts out the turntables and the ‘tude — sort of — for a truly Horrible (also, once again chronological) farewell bash…

In this episode:

The Ages of Stone (from S03E11)

“Then Neanderthals were wiped out by the Ice Age horrific —
After which the Neolithic Age was terrific!”

Where I’d rank it: 8th

One of the most under-rated tunes in the show’s history — except by the show itself, which keeps bunging it onto these best-ofs and into the Prom and whatnot in the obvious hope that someone will appreciate it as the minor artistic triumph that it is…. or at least as remarkable for something other than “is he or isn’t he wearing anything under that tunic?!”

Yes, it could well be argued that in that case they shouldn’t’ve made that the single most compelling visual marker in the entire production. Given however that both jazz/swing and Flintstones reruns were ubiquitous throughout my childhood — and thus I can uniquely understand how difficult the former was to get right and appreciate that the latter was avoided — I’m feeling generous. Go forth and be appreciated, show. You may just want to lose the dancing cave paintings before you nominate it for a Grammy, though.

Ra Ra Cleopatra (from S03E05)

“For I am Cleopatra, Egypt’s royalty —
The ruling Pharaoh, don’t you dare-o mess with me
My poker face smiles only when I see
A man who takes my fancy like — Ooh! Marc Anthony!”

Where I’d rank it: 4th

Here’s a fun fact I totally forgot to include in my E05 notes: Cleopatra VII Philopator, not actually all that physically attractive. Other contemporary media confirms the Queen of the Nile as a short, rather stocky figure with a plain face and a nose that was legendary, all right, but not for the reasons popularly supposed. (Oh, and as the last of the Ptolemaic Pharaohs, she didn’t speak Egyptian, either, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.)

Yep, not to put too fine a point on it, but the satirical parallels between Lady Gaga and the Lady of the Two Kingdoms just took a major level in hilarious accuracy. The CBBC lesson for today is that pure charismatic showmanship can take you a long, long way, kiddies. Especially when it’s allied to unusually slick visuals and nigh-impossibly catchy pop-rock — and since this is HH, you don’t have to hate yourself for being manipulated by any of it in the morning.

Celtic Boast Battle (from S03E12)

“Yeah you got a brain but you just got one
I got five on my belt from the battles I’ve won
In a rage, on a rampage
I’ve killed more men than old age…”

Where I’d rank it: 7th

Damn, but the pure songwriting was brilliant in S3. At any rate, here’s No.7 on my list, the throwaway flourish tacked onto the last episode, and… well, last year’s equivalent was Do the Pachacuti. You take my point. Richie Webb and Dave Cohen — whose musical genius I have celebrated for forty-odd reviews now without once, to my shame, mentioning your name — please accept this ranking, and indeed large chunks of this blog, as tribute.

Visually, on the other hand… not much has changed re: either musical production or my affection for the culprits here. Such is the failsafe nature of the HH cast’s chemistry at this point that the pitch meeting for this one likely went simply ‘OK, so we’re thinking Mat with sweet facial hair, and Jim painted blue, and hands up who wants to see the result?’ Thus a classic of HH adorableness was born… also of course Larry, by now that’s classic too.

William Wallace: Scottish Rebel (from S03E03)

“Celebrated Stirling Bridge, another Scottish win
By decorating my sword with the English general’s skin!”

Where I’d rank it: 6th

So as discussed at the time and confirmed via many listens since, Ben somehow rips off the authentic equivalent of any hard-rock vocal I’ve ever heard… while still visually coming across the equivalent of any Canadian beer commercial I’ve ever seen. Really, it’s uncanny. He’s howling his undying defiance at the heavens (probably the ones he just sent all those Englishmen to, right after somebody explained the theological mix-up) and I’m all, “Yeah, that Leafs/Bruins finale, I hear you, brother.”

Mind you, I do not wish to dash our Benjamin’s fond action-hero dreams outright. First of all, did I mention there was beer? Secondly, and more important, a moment to consider the alternatives. See, I was last deep into hard rock circa around 1985. As hard as I was on the video, and the ranking here does reflect that, I will concede that ratty plaid flannel is an acceptable alternative to being reminded that I used to be impressed by ripped zebra-print tank tops.

Oh, and two-word bonus: Mountie uniform. You’re welcome.

Aztec Priests’ Song (Ain’t Stayin’ Alive) (from S03E09)

“We do this if you haven’t guessed
By getting something off your chest
Your heart would probably be best
Or else your head…”

Where I’d rank it: 5th

Because this is about as close as we’re ever going to get to HH: the fully adult version. Not so much because of the content itself, but that somebody just went “OK, we said they’re gonna sing full-on Studio 54-style disco and by God that’s what’s gonna happen. WITH SPRINKLES.” And that happened. It may-or-may not be a coincidence that Rickard was in the vicinity at the time, but I like to imagine a further conversation that went “We’re giving Larry the lead in this song because…” “I LIKE SPRINKLES.”

Right, I may be subtly hinting that illegal pharmaceuticals were involved in the making of this video. But I would totally be kidding my favourite children’s series, because I have been up close and personal with it now for nearly a year, and in that time I have learned that if they had simply decided to give their comedic inhibitions the day off, this is exactly what it would look like. Except maybe the tooth-licking. I think we’re all better off not thinking too closely about that one.

The Truth About Richard III (from S03E06)

“Thomas More wrote a history, said I murdered Edward’s boys
Shakespeare said their death was an evil ploy
But I say those two are historical vandals!
They’ve ruined my image — I mean, what a scandal!”

Where I’d rank it: 3rd

You think maybe somebody noticed the George IV success story from last series? And that they might have had OCD? At the least, clearly the producers understand to a scarily-fine degree of precision what they’ve got in Howick, and planned each detail accordingly. I sometimes wonder what it must feel like to encounter this video not knowing that. “Why is the little man on the YouTube dressed as Winnie-the-Pooh and holding children’s drawings giving me wildly inappropriate feelings?”

…Anyway, this is very likely the most perfect piece of musical comedy HH has ever produced. You can tell, because as mentioned in the original review, it took finding the actual king under a frickle-fracking parking lot somewhere in Random Part of England That Isn’t London (actual North American terminology) to put scuff marks on it enough to rank it below infinity. Yes, Richard, yes, the universe does in fact have it in for you. If it’s any consolation — and I like to think it would be — it makes for some truly amazing telly.

Dick Turpin, Highwayman (from S03E01)

“You think life is one big antic
My profession is romantic
Hate to be pedantic
But it ain’t…”

Where I’d rank it: 2nd

Just for fun I decided to take another shot at what I chickened out on in the S03E01 review, ie. concentrating on all the other stuff going on in this video besides That Performance:

The setting is gorgeous, a perfect complement to the expertly swirling camerawork. The troupe does a very nice job of the melodramatic, scowly menace; either deliberately or as a result of the realisation — achieved probably just after Mat stepped out of makeup — that they’re stuck in those tight pants and/or corsets and nobody’s ever gonna care, I’m not here to judge. (I do particularly like how Martha’s full-on Boudicca bitchface is accented by that little mandolin dealie.) Postie Ben triumphantly savouring his moment, also good value…

…yeah, OK, and there’s also this incredibly magnetic, playfully erotic, perfectly inspired takeoff of Adam Ant happening somewhere in there. All done on what looks rather like an offhand whim. I can’t help imagining the mixed feelings this must perpetually evoke in Mat: very few of us get to have our prime of youth and vitality thus recorded for millions to fawn over… and even fewer do so wearing Michael Jackson’s hair and eyeliner.

Work, Terrible Work! (from S03E04)

“We try not to get caught in spokes
Or trap our hands in gauges —
To stop machines and get you out
Will cost you a week’s wages!”

Where I’d rank it: 10th

Did I mention I don’t like peppy Broadway numbers? Check that: I don’t mind peppy Broadway numbers when they’re absolutely the only thing on offer. Like, it’s really late at night and I can’t sleep and I desperately need something to snark on (snark cravings, much like leftover-curry ditto, tend to strike often in the wee hours) and, I don’t know, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is the red-eye special on AMC…

…We conclude this episode of Too Much Information Theatre with the footnote that I am obviously an evil flint-hearted joy-despising critic person who — for instance — spends the entire video wondering why this lot of pathetic pint-size belters doesn’t just walk out and form a music-hall act already. (I bet Capitalist Villain Mat is secretly just dying to manage them.) So you should absolutely feel free to enjoy the living daylights out of this beautifully and authentically produced number… but just in case, can I also recommend the guys’ sideburns as a fantastic distraction in a pinch?

The Suffragettes’ Song (from S03E08)

…threw myself under a horse
To try and make our case
Became a famous martyr, how did men react?
‘We can’t give women votes if they’re so stupid they’ll do
that!‘”

Where I’d rank it: 9th

Sorry, kids, I’ve had another few listens, and I’m still not convinced. Then again, I was never particularly convinced by, say, ABBA either, and you lot seem to take that whole thing pretty seriously, so as noted in the original review, quite possibly this is more about cultures clashing anything else. When people self-identify as ‘fierce’ over this side of the pond, it’s not so much a sign of their undying support for basic human rights as that they’re about to show you their navel piercing.

The one thing that prevented it from coming in dead last — and incidentally spared you lot my ramble about how despite their song being a sloppy mess the Evil Emperors at least conveyed real passion and commitment — were Alice’s solo bits, particularly the one quoted above. The blunt effectiveness of the male responses aside, if there’s one thing Series Three has taught us, it’s that we really don’t want to get Alice angry.

The English Kings and Queens (from S03E02)

“William, William, Henry, Stephen, Henry, Richard, John — Oi!
Henry, Ed, Ed, Ed, Rich II, then three more Henrys join our song
Edward, Edward, Rich the Third,
Henry, Henry, Ed again
Mary I, Good Queen Bess, Jimmy, Charles, then Charles again —
Jim, Will, Mary, Anna Gloria,
George, George, George, George, Will, Victoria!
Edward, George, Edward, George VI —
And Queen Liz II completes our list!”

Where I’d rank it: 1st

‘That show with the song about all the kings and queens’, that’s basically what HH is going to be fondly referred to in the years to come. Because sometimes, it’s worth reminding myself every now and again, it’s not about how cool it is to the adults. Although, in this case, it still is very cool, round-robin chorus and all. In fact, despite the blatant reuse of stock footage and costuming, it’s the one thing that keeps me from snickering when the producers start in on how seriously they take their educational mandate.

I believe them because, despite it all, I remember how ridiculously amazing it felt, as a little kid watching Sesame Street — the pre-Elmo edition of which is the closest American TV will ever come to recreating the HH vibe — that these grownups were so invested in doing this for me, that they’d put this much effort and interest and excitement into firing my imagination while still respecting my intelligence. Showing me what knowledge could be if I only cared enough. The gang making HH does care — and thanks to this song, now so do thousands of other little kids. Respect, guys. Totally.

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Posted by on June 16, 2013 in Series Three

 

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S03E12

I go berserk and my eyes go glazy,
I get so mad I could stab a daisy!
(But I won’t, cos that’d be… stupid.)

The interlude series says farewell with a sweet-natured microcosm of everything that always makes the show watchable… Party on, Horrible Histories, party on.

In this episode:

Song: Celtic Boast Battle — Mat and Jim as the quick-witted combatants, with Ben on beatbox and Larry on general inappropriateness.

Recurring sketches:

Historical Pet Shop — Greek

HHTV News: Isthmian Games — “Well, the bad news is, your prize is just a celery hat.” “So what’s the good news? “The good news is, I bought this delicious Greek dip. Mmmm… now that is rich.”

Cliff Whiteley — Stonehenge… But Why? (“Love the place. Favourite ‘henge, hands down. Got a piccy on the wall and everything.”)

Horrible Points of View — Stuart

One-offs:

Measly Middle Ages

Medieval Job Security — In the plague-riddled Dark Ages, a serf’s mere pustule-free existence was his ticket to better things… in the plague-riddled Dark Ages. Either way, this wasn’t gonna end well.

Dance Fever — A combination of spiritual stress and corporeal futility (and did we mention the plague thing?) somehow becomes the Ecstasy equivalent of medieval Germany.

Groovy Greeks

Festival News: Thesmophoria — Exploring the sacred mysteries of the feminine by… well, look, so we’ve all seen Clueless, right? Yeah, picture that, only with quite a bit more sitting in dead rotten pig to make crops abundant.

Cut-Throat Celts

Poetry in Motion — So there was this ancient Irish king who was so annoyed by his court poets he had anyone who dared to rhyme words banished… and if you can’t figure out how it goes from there, you may want to go lie down for a little bit yourself.

Savage Stone Age

Stonehenge vs. the Pyramids (animated) — Yep, they’re contemporaries. Thus explaining why the Egyptian native bearers didn’t exactly freak out with awe when the European archaeologists showed up to excavate their tombs.

Angry Aztecs

Aztec Hi-Tec All-In-One Cactus — It’s a sewing kit, it’s a meal kit, it’s a roof-mending kit, it’s even a winemaking kit! “There’s nothing you can’t do with a cactus — apart from use it as a seat…”

Chuckle Resin — “Tree, seriously, you’re making me eat tree?!” Calm down, Ben, in all cultures including your own chewing gum’s been derived from tree resin since ancient times… the crushed insects are new, though, I grant you. “Oh, that’s OK then! I love crushed insects!”

Slimy Stuarts

The Man Who Stole the Crown Jewels — Charles II, aka The Man Who Spent His Youth Hiding in Oak Trees, grants an audience to the one man in England who has an even more implausible tale to tell. Loveable roguishness proceeds to abound. (“You must come ’round to the palace for tea! You can regale us with your funny stories!” “I’ve got a fabulous one about the time I was plotting to kill you!”)

Field Notes:

  • So here we are at the end of Series Three: the distilled and collected Essence de HH, in one convenient thirteen-episode package. If not a wildly fascinating innovative romp from the reviewer’s POV, still the perfect backdrop against which to have swept their first BAFTAs and held a wildly successful Prom and just generally firmly cemented their status as a modern classic of (technically at least) children’s TV.
  • That they were working basically laterally, from a creative standpoint, is still interesting inasmuch as it becomes a process of refining what was working from previous series and throwing out what wasn’t… well, mostly; see the Return of the Mesoamerican Pyramid Beam-In below, also the Scary Stories from previous weeks. On the other hand: Historical Masterchef, the HParamedics, the return of George IV & Charles II, and did I mention the music? Because it really was incredibly awesome.
  • In fact, this is how I now think of S3 after this in-depth closeup: several very cool sketches and some incredibly awesome music. Which, yeah, is sort of exactly how I thought of it before. But now I have reasons.
  • Including, definitely, this week’s tune. By way of leaving viewers once again with a don’t-forget-to-miss-us flourish, we are presented with Jim and Mat — the same guys who last ep were babbling happily about top hats — for aaaallll the fearsomeness. And the hell of it is, it works! Really. With the help of songwriting that demonstrates just how neatly and completely expert that process has become, the Boast Battle somehow manages to be a comprehensive lesson in gangsta styling while still being cuddly enough not to give the gradeschoolers any ideas.
  • Had Disney decided to produce The Story of Gang Warfare circa roughly 1956, this is exactly what it would’ve looked like, is what I am trying to say here. Right down to the Mutt-and-Jeff thing with one tall bearded guy and one pudgy little guy painted blue (in not-entirely-unrelated news, my Howick plushie will now be coming with fabric paint and a washable surface).
  • The rest of the f/x, on the other hand… yeah, they were doing surprisingly really well with the stabbing, right up until that cut back to Jim apparently trying not to lose a file folder under his arm as he beats feet. Also, according to Jim’s dance moves, frogs are reptiles now. And Larry… oh, Larry. What can you say at this point? I am thinking that it’s fundamentally a sort of a Pavlov’s dog thing. Start up the music and watch his inhibitions vanish.
  • Oh, so the Historical Pet Shop wasn’t going away just yet, sorry. Soon though, right? Athough, frankly, I must admit that if they all had involved Jim and Martha thus together I might’ve been inclined to be sorry they’re gone, especially in combination with the thought experiment explained via squeaky toy. There’s a weirdly irrelevant performer intimacy going on here — culminating in Martha clearly just barely holding it together at the sight of Jim in a toga. Sort of torn re: whether I want to know or not, really.
  • “I’ll be up in a minute!” — yeah, and three segments later I’m increasingly convinced that our Historical POV host has Ma Bates up there waiting. Come to think on it, this whole setup looks rather alarmingly like the glimpse we get of Death’s home life in the Halloween special, complete with wildly unnecessary middle-class fussiness. They were really building something intriguing here re: Horrible entertainment choices, and I’m really sad that I’ll never get to find out just what the deal is with that floral arrangement, at least.
  • Anyway, this is easily the best of the three POV pieces we do get… except, hang on, didn’t he handle complaints from the Stuart Era just last segment? Just how much do they have to dose the poor guy with to keep him going, anyway? Enough that he hears taxidermied people calling him upstairs? (In reality, of course, they’ve just aired the two segments out of production order. One benefit of technically being kiddy TV: v.short viewer attention spans, either real or conveniently attributable.)
  • Wow, genuinely lush-looking robes on Simon in the plague sketch there… actually, rather lush-looking and -sounding Simon all over, come to rewind that a few times. This wouldn’t be a huge selling point for me usually, but there’s literally nothing else on offer here but ridiculously engaging and attractive people, so hey, bring on the closeups. By now — speaking of refining what works — the troupe can in fact rescue a formulaic sketch merely by existing. Even so, in this case they had to haul in Farnaby and Baynton to make it work.
  • Which is actually kind of cool, inasmuch as it finally gives Mat a plausible venue towards combining his clownishly funny with his disturbingly vulnerable: the reliable ol’ poor-schmuck-convinced-against-his-will schtick, first seen in the earlier ‘sausage smuggler’ bit and refined here to the extent that the result is almost preternaturally adorable, not to say a perfect foil for Simon’s florid obtuseness.
  • While I’m on about Mat and perfect foils, I must give props to the silky-voiced and supremely funny — two things not often found combined — Rhashan Stone, HHTV Sport announcer and sometime Egyptian architect among other things. He’s done yeoman’s service this series especially, and I’ve not mentioned it once, totally my bad. I love him in the Isthmian Games sketch not only for the ‘now that is rich’ bit but for being a perfect backdrop to Mat getting a rare chance this series to let his face run completely riot
  • Check that: there was also Charles II, and Mat (along with the writer, clearly) is still in complete excited-puppy mode over this. Possibly because this is Charlie’s big chance to think with his actual brain, rather than… well, you get the idea. Helping him along is Simon, and at one point Ben in jester’s bells, and it is all just this impossible swirl of sweetly charming that defies any rational attempt to pin down what makes it work. I’ve watched it like, ten times now at least, and still no luck. I do however seem to have a permanent goofy grin plastered across my face.
  • Oh and hey, dig Dominique in that groovy ‘fro! Also, welcome to the first HH sketch to feature exactly none of the male cast, and perhaps not coincidentally a lot of excited squealing. Seriously though, I’m not gonna complain too much; it’s not my thing, but it is a well-put-together mashup of offbeat subject and familiar stereotype, and actresses wise enough to go for the affectionate rather than shrill parody add a few redeeming layers of smart and clever.
  • I have sometimes wondered why the show doesn’t cover more Irish history… and having now had a chance to listen closely to the Irish poetry sketch I’ll be considering that one answered, thank you. Seriously, Rickard, those little groans you’re hearing aren’t your juvenile audience, they’re leprechauns. And they are currently wondering why, in a country that frowns on Lucky Charms cereal for being offensively stereotypical, they still have to listen to your brogue.
  • Watched on the firm assumption that it’s a one-off, though, there’re still rewards to be had. Like for instance Jim all-but-warming up for Hippie Viking Paul Simon, which makes Mat’s sceptical reaction to him absolutely freaking hilarious in hindsight. Also Ben gets a chance to haul out his clueless blustering monarch stuff, which never fails to raise a smile — especially when said stuff is correctly accented, which in this case may actually have raised a tear of gratitude.
  • So of all the recurring characters to revive for no apparent reason, they go with Cliff ‘Whallop!’ Whiteley. Great. I could be watching a Caveman Art Show segment right now, show, but noooooooo, I have to sit through your apparently endless supply of ‘early man’ gags.
  • That said, the overall premise of this CW bit is genuinely witty, and handled with a gently appealing good humour, esp. as a followup to the fun but rather bluntly factual animation. It’s overall a fascinating and important enough subject that I’d rather have seen it all treated as standalone live-action, but am still not complaining. Encouraging kids to think outside their national, cultural and racial boxes: teaching history, ur doin it rite.
  • On the subject of more inexplicable decisions in that arena, as noted, we’re suddenly back to treating the Mesoamericans as some sort of outlandish artifact being beamed in from a David Icke daydream. Because the song clearly wasn’t enough evidence that this is an unusually exotic culture. A desert-oriented people somehow making use of cactus is just way too weird, man.
  • This is all especially irritating because so unnecessary; the sketches themselves are already everything that is quintessentially HH, silly and funny and fascinating all at once, not to say featuring cactus pulp that looks interestingly like leftover Flubber. One would think that the principle ‘you have Ben and Larry trying desperately not to laugh at each other, you already have everything you need for supreme viewer happiness’ would be a major guiding production lodestone at this point.
  • The Dance Fever sketch. Yes. Whoa. OK, Mat, I’ve been putting this off, on the assumption that your on-camera dance moves are something learned in clown class (How to Come as Close as You Can to a Seizure Without Actually Attracting Paramedics 101, was my specific guess) but I’m starting to consider the possibility that this might be your usual music-moving MO in actual and possibly mixed company, and, uh, yeah. Whoo-boy. I think you may be the first human being ever to have figured out how to look exactly like a Guitar Hero avatar of yourself, if that’s any consolation.

95% Accu-rat:

  • So, yeah, dancing mania. A fascinating phenomenon, and not just confined to Strasbourg. In fact the earliest recorded outbreak happened in 1374, and the last somewhere in the 17th century… and still nobody knows what happened. I mean, given that everyone’s pretty certain Grimm’s tales weren’t actually a documentary. Thing is, though, you’ve got apparently-entranced people prancing around 24/7, yelling, sobbing and singing, sometimes naked, sometimes making rude gestures, and — why not? — sometimes becoming violent at the sight of the colour red… you do start to wonder
  • Personally, as mentioned above, I’m all for the ‘it was the freaking Dark Ages, this made as much sense as anything else’ school of thought, but must admit some of the other explanations are a lot more morbidly spectacular, including mass ergotism (remember Larry twitching uncontrollably last series? I mean, as a result of ergotism particularly?), mass encephalitis, mass epilepsy, mass spider bite (hence the ‘tarantella’, a dance originally thought to cure this specific manifestation)…. Mass demon possession, that was of course a big one.
  • From the yep-they-weren’t-making-this-up files, vol 347: The Festival of Thesmophoria. Actually a sort of religious cult of the type that often cropped up around specific ancient god/esses, in this case Demeter, goddess of the earth and hence the harvests thereon. Those of you currently nodding thoughtfully and thinking ‘boy, I bet there’s a lot went on there even HH couldn’t show,’ you may now give yourselves a cooky. Or a ‘male genital organ made of dough’ and decorated with a pine branch, as you like — although I might just mention it’s been in that pit for three months along with the dead piglet.
  • Details are a bit fuzzy — Greek women weren’t commonly taught to write, remember? — but essentially, what you had here was a sort of classical version of Sex and the City, in which women could let their hair down and get in touch with their inner inappropriately sassy babe: The remains [of the piglet] were thought to have magic properties and, if mixed with cereal seeds and sown in the fields, to ensure a good crop. These procedures brought the women into contact with death and decay: this was the subterranean element in the cult. But it also brought them into contact with fertility and the erotic, via the dough models.
  • …oh, and the pig thing? When Demeter’s daughter Persephone was abducted by Hades, the ‘swine of the pigman Eubulis’ somehow disappeared into the earth with her. Because ancient Greece. The more you know.
  • Incidentally, about Stonehenge: the official website would like you to be aware that it — or actually they, what you’re looking at is actually three of them, built over a millennia on the same site — was actually pretty damn impressive, thank you very much. Thirty million man-hours’ worth of construction is not hay. The website is surprisingly tactful on the subject of its purpose, but it’s generally believed to have involved some sort of monumental or religious significance, because duh.
 
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Posted by on June 10, 2013 in Series Three

 

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S03E11

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
That top hats are fabulous? No. Although they are…

Aaaaand we’re right back up and bouncing happily on the Trampoline of Endearingness again. Not at all a bad point of takeoff, as Series Five debuts…

In this episode:

Song: The Ages of Stone — Mat as a totally Jazz Age cave pianist, man…

Recurring sketches:

Historical Masterchef — Pirate (“I like to think of it not as losing a hand, so much as gaining a utensil…”)

Victorian EastEnders — Moving on Up… From the Sewers

Historical Paramedics — Victorian (“And how often does that work?!” “NEVAH!”)

Historical Dragon’s Den — Stone Age (“Me invent beer! It grown-up drink* *Not for kids!” “Ugh… me invent headache!”)

HHTV Sport: The First Olympics — (“Let me guess… It’s an Ancient Greek thing.”)

Stupid Deaths — Milo of Croton (Strongman who got stuck trying to rip a split tree in half… “Hah, you spent too much time working on these muscles, and not enough on this one!… You know, the brain?… and sudoku, and…? Oh never mind.”)

Historical Pet Shop — Cavalier Prince Rupert, cousin of Charles I (“Did I mention that?”)

Historical Don’t Tell the Bride — Stuart elopement options (“Is this even legal?!” “Good question, and in answer to that I’d just like to say that your hair looks lovely…”)

One-offs:

Terrible Tudors

The Spaniard Takes a Wife — “Once upon a time, a loving king married a beautiful queen, and they lived happily ever after. Unfortunately, this… is the story of Phillip II of Spain and Mary I of England.”

All-New Tudor Sugar-Paste Toothpaste — Being forced to compliment Elizabeth I on her dental hygiene: proof that being a royal courtier wasn’t all beer and skittles. Or Skittles. It did however apparently involve a ton of other sugary goodies…

Putrid Pirates

Pirate Weather Forecast — Even talking about the weather is more fun when you add pirates. Kind of hard on the black cats, though.

Field Notes:

  • Yep, it’s back. Again. Series Three, you have proved true to my relationship metaphor from S03E01: while I have come to accept that while you may never really excite me (creatively, guys, creatively) in the manner of the series just fore and aft, your overall likeability, along with the commitment to a swift and engaging recovery from missteps — up to and including recognition of the immediate need for moar Baynton, as displayed here — does still go a long way toward strengthening my affection.
  • In all seriousness, though, I’m still not convinced my missing Mat so much from the latter half of the series is totally about the physical. Turns out that when Jim described his BAFTA-nommed buddy as ‘the absolute staple of our show’, he for once wasn’t making a snarky crack about the minstrel eyes.
  • Not that the others aren’t all staple-y in their own way; that’s what a comedy troupe is. Ben especially has been doing a sterling job of proving it lately. Only that Mat (and, to a less doe-eyed extent, Larry) bring a certain freeform spark to the whole — free particularly to shift between childlike and adult implications — which if you’re going to spend a season mostly resting on your creative laurels, it’s especially sorely missed.
  • Except for the music, which of course never quite rests anywhere. We’ve gone notably minimalist this week, but my imagination does not mind, for it has filled in the blank spots with a running paraphrase of the pre-production meeting. Highlights:
  • “OK, so we’ve got this incredible song. You know how Stone Age taxonomy sounds all sort of jazzy, like scatting? …Well, anyway, we get Mat to perform it in that skimpy fur tunic, it’ll sound fabulous. Trust me.”
  • “Wait, that’s it, just the one part? No backup chorus? Tell me at least there’s some fun stone instruments in there.”
  • “Ah, about that… have you ever seen the Flintstones live-action movie? Yeah, don’t. We figured, wouldn’t it be hilarious if instead there’s this huge modern piano in a cave. (Mat plays piano, right?) And just for insurance, we’ll do that thing where the cute stick cave paintings come to life. Everybody loves the little dancing buffalo.”
  • “I don’t know… Anybody remember what we did for the first caveman song?”
  • “Uh… I think we just sort of grabbed everybody from the other cave skits and had them do something sort of funny in the background, really. Plus, you know, that whole inset sketches thing. Man, am I glad we don’t have to resort to stuff like that any… What?”
  • “Hm? Oh, I just had a great idea…”
  • So yeah, a sort of luxury Series One format upgrade — which did turn out to be pretty great overall. Largely because there’s nothing more happifyingly catchy than an authentic jazz/big band performance; clearly Amy Winehouse wasn’t the only British musician of her generation paying close attention to the American standards. This is something else I find incredibly endearing (the paying attention, that is. The Winehouse question is another blog entirely).
  • Oh, also I bugged my multi-instrumentalist brother-in-law, and in-between funny looks — engineers just have no appreciation for history — anyway, he confirmed that if Mat can play the keyboards he can play the piano, at least in theory. That said, musical prodigy or no, Mat’s clearly not actually playing here — you can tell from if nothing else the quick just-the-highlights cuts used to show him at the keyboard.
  • (This is standard practice when not actually filming Chopin or Liszt biopics. Backing piano tracks, like any other, will usually already be pre-recorded, and attempting to match up the onscreen finger-flying with that would create a continuity headache nobody — let alone a BBC kid’s show on a budget — wants to deal with.)
  • Mat can also, and this needs to be stressed as frequently as possible, morph randomly into a hungry tapeworm-slash-concept art for A Bug’s Life II. This alone should cement his essential-ness in HH legend, if only because being in a performance zone where invertebrate-related humour not only seems like but is a gloriously funny idea must be at least one definition of pure joy. Which is, as it happens, exactly how the Victorian HParamedics come across onscreen.
  • This is in fact why I’m not altogether broken up that it’s the last of the lot; the Tudor one provided an instructive warning re: just how vulnerable the concept is to self-aware satisfaction… although I wouldn’t have minded risking that on a caveman one, also maybe pirate.
  • Luckily, in the meantime we have not only Pirate Weatherman Mat (“Sick as a parrot”… nice one that, must remember it) but Simon and his… unique… knack for both. The Stone Age Dragon’s Den is altogether hilariously adorable, not least because the format is ideally suited to an era in which pretty much every waking moment involved innovation.
  • I do also like the meta-conceit — found exactly nowhere else in the series — of flat-out telling the viewership that we’re going to have adult time now, kiddies. Especially the way Mat sounds quite genuinely concerned, like he’s somehow not a fully passport-holding citizen of a nation that considers drinking an essential life skill to begin with. Seriously, guys, you were providing cutesy little infographics for Viking hell by your third episode, and this is the child-development hill you want to die on?
  • Anyway, yes, Simon. Who it must be admitted makes a much more authentically appealing cave inventor than Mat, and whose essential role in the troupe is summed up nicely by the fact that when somebody on the writing team was all “Hey, you know what would be good value? If for once the pirate wasn’t all menacing, but really laid back,” everyone nodded and agreed. (Yes, somehow the entire production staff have all acquired Canadian accents, specifically the verbal mannerisms of a blogger from Southern Ontario. It’s odd, I know.)
  • So the HMasterchef featuring the resulting awesomely cool pirate is pure Farnabian bliss, and in combination with the ease with which Jim and Ben now inhabit their parody roles easily the best of the four HM segments. Although I do still have a soft spot for Martha and the whale phlegm. At any rate, I am unreservedly glad that this recurring bit will be returning, as it is explicitly designed so that familiarity only makes it funnier. I especially enjoy how unlimited background gags are built right into the format.
  • Moreover, in the process there have been vistas opened by Jim’s hitherto criminally underplayed talents as a mimic — this of course is his essential role, to be ridiculously talented regardless of whatever ridiculous creative situation he’s plonked down into — that are a big part of the reason I’m already anticipating, not only reviewing S4, but watching S5.
  • Although… So, uh, Rattus? The whole rat-blatantly-skewered-on-a-hook thingy…? Anything you’d like to share with the viewership, who frankly at this point is totally on your side, at least in between the violent retching? …Yeah, you’re right, I guess one more pet flea gag was totally worth ignoring it all. *rolls eyes*
  • In other recurring news (on several levels): No, show. I do not care if you bribe me with Mat playing the guy whose picture I walk past every day on the way to my cubicle (more below) and an adorable puppy. I refuse to be sad that the Historical Pet Shop is going away. Frankly I have reached the point where if I hear one more ‘hilarious’ animal fact out of you I’m going to throw socks at the screen, so there.
  • Ooh, way to bust out the snark, little cartoon Tudor lady! You were always my favourite. So are Mat as Prince Philip, and Larry his advisor, and their accents that are… sort of what would happen did Spain suddenly decide to embrace Snidely Whiplash, a la the French and Jerry Lewis. (Readers under 21: ask your parents.)
  • Larry’s essential role by this point goes a bit deeper than the offbeat wit; as his familiarity with performing alongside the others expands so does his low-level knack — probably related to his writing skills — for tuning into their schticks and enhancing them. So that anytime he’s paired with Mat or Simon especially, his overt silliness level goes down and the hilariousness of the whole goes up about 150%.
  • As if to maximise the potential of this, the writers have finally got round to the darkly comic melodrama inherent in the actual Tudor experience — although Alice predictably fails utterly at being homely, but never mind, it’s all enormously satisfying fun, and I adore it. Too much even to chastise them… much… for the “How’s about a kiss?” bit, which let’s face it, that’s literally the only reason Ben’s playing the priest, isn’t it?
  • Alice — who, probably to her ongoing chagrin, really is the very definition of ‘ladylike’ — is also signally failing to sell the lower-lower-class ‘Victorian EastEnders’ accent. Again, though, I’m pleasantly surprised enough at the return of this bit to let it pass. Even when tested by the writers’ weakness for horrendous poo-related gags, the thoughtful charm somehow remains strong with this series. I think ‘Dickensian’ may be a species of British media Teflon by this point.
  • (Totally random thought had while typing that last sentence: physicality aside, Simon would make an absolutely killer Micawber.)
  • On the other hand, Alice could not make a more perfectly virginal historical bride, nor Mat her feckless groom. Always nice when you go into a sketch cringing in anticipation at the cliches and end up laughing aloud. I’m not familiar with the source material, but this is at least equally enjoyable; a neatly and sweetly lovely little bit of universal satire, fine as a needle and as exquisitely performed.
  • You can tell this is Ben’s week off — or possibly just that somebody accidentally ordered the wrong size loincloth, because Larry is playing the latest big dumb doofus to have a Stupid Death, and from the camera angles the minimalist costuming was clearly supposed to be the hilight of the role.
  • And very acceptable it turns out to be… still, it leaves me strangely unsatisfied. I cannot quite think of a way to explain how Willbond is much better at this moronic stuff without implying terribly unfair things about our resident Oxfordian, so will merely say that it is an art… and hastily change the subject to Death and the ongoing skeleton-intensive middle-class psychodrama, of which I can never get enough.
  • Anyway, there’s plenty of appealingly minimalist Wilbond at the Greek Olympics, also Simon come to that. (There is also Jim’s facial hair, but hey, not even this troupe bats a thousand.) Lovely all-round expert mock-Olympic coverage this — presumably designed to co-incide with the anticipation for the real event, so I’m not sure how the parody writers missed the chance to swathe everything in magenta.
  • Otherwise it’s only missing the inspirational story of a marathon runner who began as a helot slave in Sparta and started running to avoid getting caught up in one of their periodic slave purges… OK, maybe you have to have access to the American coverage to get that one.

95% Accu-rat:

  • Right, the real story behind Phillip II of Spain’s sneering villainy is… well, it involved significantly less sneering, and a job lot more dour dutiful Catholicism, given that it was actually Dad’s brilliant idea that he wed his cousin Mary in the first place — in order among other things to unite their thrones against the oncoming Protestant Reformation. Seeing as how Dad was Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and Emperor Charles I of the Spanish Empire, what’s a guy surnamed ‘the Prudent’ to do?
  • Basically, what he’s shown doing here… well, barring the dashing around being tall dark and handsome. In reality, at the time shown here, Philip was a polite, sedate young manikin with the blonde, blue-eyed looks — and trim calves — that were actually required to be considered a hunk in sixteenth-century Europe. Being a tad on the short side (about Jim’s height, actually) didn’t hurt his status with the ladies at all.
  • It certainly didn’t deter Mary, who was as (sort of) shown thirty-seven to his twenty-seven, and very much still a virgin, because did we mention she was also a fanatical Catholic? They didn’t have ticking clocks back then, so biological metaphors tended to be couched more in terms of “Fulfilling God’s will that I have offspring to carry out my work,'” but you get the idea. Philip sent his portrait along, and — despite literal riots among her notoriously xenophobic subjects — that was it. Did we mention she also really didn’t get realpolitik?
  • The net result went also as shown, only even more pathetic, famously involving at least two false pregnancies. Frankly embarrassed by this faded, middle-aged woman clinging desperately to him (even their formal portrait is awkward), Philip basically kept appearances up just long enough to persuade her to get involved in his ongoing war against the French, whereupon they promptly lost Calais, England’s last possession on the Continent. Shortly after that, Mary took to wandering the palace halls muttering to herself and occasionally attacking Philip’s portrait…
  • You can see why Philip saw his much younger, comparatively much hotter sister-in-law as a more appealing alternative. Even much later, after they were well embarked on their epic feud — the one that would lead to (spoiler alert) the Armada — Elizabeth liked to boast that she could have him back merely for the asking… you’ll recall that marriage proposals back then generally didn’t involve getting close enough to breathe on your beloved before the actual contract was signed. Also, incidentally, that the Tudors pioneered the art of sugar sculpture…
  • Cut to a couple centuries or so later, and the English throne is being occupied by people considerably more eager to head out and make their mark in — or more accurately on — the world. One of them was, yep, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, who some years after playing amateur dog trainer convinced his Cousin Charlie II to back a go-getting little fur-trading outfit calling themselves “The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England Trading Into Hudson’s Bay”. Which, in 1670, is exactly what they did.
  • Hedging their bets in true Renaissance explorer fashion, the GCAETIHB promptly dubbed huge swathes of their new possession ‘Rupert’s Land’, and appointed him their first Governor. Thus it is that, yes, Prince Rupert’s portrait (OK, a replica of, but still) now hangs on a wall in an office in suburban Brampton, Ontario, Canada: the buying offices of the Hudson’s Bay Company, now Canada’s premier department store and my humble 343-year-old employers.
  • Clearly, Rupert’s expedition were careful not to harm any albatrosses en route to the New World. Because this never-kill-an-albatross thingy, quite the big deal, and not only for pirates.
  • Check out Samuel Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner for a glimpse into just how seriously the random murder of dorky-looking waterfowl could impact your performance review — also the English language’s stock of cliches. It starts off with “Water, water, every where/Nor any drop to drink”, proceeds through “Instead of the cross, the albatross/About my neck was hung”, then winds up with Death winning the souls of all his crewmates… after which things really start to get bad.
 
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Posted by on May 27, 2013 in Series Three

 

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S03E10

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)

Recurring sketches:

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!”)

One-offs:

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.

Smashing Saxons

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.

Gorgeous Georgians

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.”

Rotten Romans

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…

Slimy Stuarts

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.

Field Notes:

  • 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.

95% Accu-rat:

  • 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’).
 
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Posted by on May 27, 2013 in Series Three

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

S03E09

To win at war, make crops grow more, to cure our kids when ill,
The sun to shine, this song to rhyme, more victims we must kill!

Wondering where the Aztecs got to? Well, wonder no more. As it turns out, human sacrifice is a lot more entertaining than llama ditto… how to tell if you’re a serious HH fan: if that last sentence made sense.

In this episode:

Song: Aztec Priests’ Song (Ain’t Stayin’ Alive) — Larry, Mat and Jim as the terrible tooth-licking trio (Parody of: the Bee Gees, feat. Stayin’ Alive)

Recurring sketches:

Historical Pet Shop — Victorian (“I have never been so insulted by a woman with a frog!”)

Computer Game: Splat That Rat! — …Or at least, as much of the game as they can get through before the host objects on, erm, rodentarian grounds. (“A line of decency has definitely been crossed here! If there’s any more like this I’ll…I’ll be writing a stiff letter of complaint to the Daily Mail! You know I will! You know I will!“)

Come Dine With Me — Medieval (“Next guest is Derek, who commits the ultimate social faux pas of dying of the plague the moment he steps through the door!”)

One-offs:

Vicious Vikings

Author of His Fate — Monks-vs-Vikings, interlude: A literate brother convinces some decidedly illiterate raiders to spare him so he can record their ‘heroic exploits’ for all time… unfortunately, the reviews are savage. Literally.

We Sell Any Monk — “From our new market city of Dublin!… Fat ones! Slim ones! Bright ones! Dim ones!… One to read! One to write! Not much good in a fight!”

Vile Victorians

The Victorian Traffic Report — Much like medieval ditto, Victorian streets were also awash in poo. Because horses. Next!

Terrible Tudors

The Price of Confusion — A savvy seaside merchant confirms to a naive traveler what the rest of the world has suspected for quite some time now: pre-decimal British coinage was pretty much made up as they went along.

Silly Tudor Laws — Another mini-Blackadder episode, in which a nobleman is forced by Elizabeth I to first wear a woolly hat, then remove his sword-impeding cloak, and then his royals-only purple doublet… leading inevitably to: Cecil, there appears to be a naked man in our throne room….”

Angry Aztecs

Aztec Gardener’s World: Live From Ancient Mexico — “So to make an irrigation system we’re going to need a bow, and plenty of arrows… some red paint… and of course, a person to sacrifice. An enemy warrior is best — but an annoying assistant will do.”

Aztec Whodunnit-O — “This year’s must-have board game! With thousands of sacrifices to the sun god every week, it’s a game you can play again and again!”

Frightful First World War

Inspecting the Troops — When soldiers are being slaughtered by the millions year after year, eventually the recruiting offices stop being so picky about stuff like, say, age and/or gender…

Rotten Romans

Tabellarii Messenger — Rome’s Premier Mobile Slave Service! (“Always there for you! And at the bargain price of a little food and water a month, you can enjoy unlimited messages!”)

Got to Be Smuggling Something — Trying to get unauthorized weapons into Rome: as it turns out, not something you want to attempt around lunchtime. “Wait, wait! It’s not really a sausage, it’s more of a frankfurter!”

Field Notes:

  • And thus we have arrived at possibly the most unique — and uniquely polarizing — tune in HH history… also, of course, some very chuckle-worthy sketches, but still. In a series full of “brilliant song, and oh yeah, there was also an episode…” moments, the One With the Psychedelic Disco Aztecs stands out because, frankly, once you’ve seen that video the entire rest of the show feels anti-climactic for awhile.
  • Personally, I unreservedly love the whole production and squeeze it and call it George. Because it has the absolute courage of its comedy convictions, because within them it is brilliantly intuitive — hey, a cruelly decadent culture fascinated with shiny things, what other genre you gonna call? — and deftly funny with it…
  • …and because, well, Larry. It’s his first and thus far only musical lead, and anyone even remotely familiar with the show knows by now how Rickard reacts to this kind of major chance, yes? Right, exactly that, complete even to the smouldering gaze at the end. And — although technical details don’t really apply — impressively not-vocally-cringey to boot. Of course it also hits square right in Mat’s performance zone and, rather more startlingly, Jim’s vocal ditto — those high notes are impressive, even for him.
  • So yes, in comedy terms at least there is something irresistibly over-the-top ridiculous about a culture in which even a placid garden show requires WATERING THE SOIL WITH THE BLOOD OF INNOCENTS. Especially when same is formatted as one of Ben & Jim’s classic demo sketches. The central gag may be contrived — and it might just be worth noting, the ominous Red Spot ends up nowhere near the annoying assistant’s heart — but watching these two together behind a table is never not worth it.
  • I must also take a moment to display heartfelt gratitude to the makeup team, who evidently have done some research between series, let’s just leave it at that. I’m not completely sure how authentic the replacement is — let alone how they got it up Ben’s nose — only that it can’t possibly be mistaken for blackface, and thus I am one happy North American reviewer.
  • Of course, the spectacle of Willbond the wannabe Hispanic will never not be hilariously awkward anyway; I’m trying to picture a scenario in which eager young Benjamin W. envisions a career that will involve wearing that costume, and I’m failing miserably. Ditto, come to think of it, for Jim and that Dutch-bob wig.
  • Anyway, Ben recoups in the Tudor money bit; casting directors looking for the villain of their next implausible action movie take note, Willbond has that ‘looking suave while rattling off a pointlessly complex monologue’ thingy nailed. (Bonus costuming advice: he looks really good in dove grey. You’re welcome.) At the very least, when he inevitably gets his BAFTA nom, this and the ‘Causes of WWI’ are totally the clips they should be playing.
  • Meantime, the Aztec board game bit likewise does a nicely clever job of getting the whole wildly mundane “if this is Thursday, it must be time to rip the hearts out of more hapless prisoners” thing across, with for the non-UK viewer bonus insight into what marketers think the average suburban British family considers quality time with each other. This turns out to be rather interestingly tea-and-crumpet-stereotype free, although… uh, so you lot really do call it ‘Cluedo’? You don’t think the extra syllable might be just a weensy bit unnecessary? No? Right, just checking.
  • Speaking of unnecessary…  The 2nd Baron Rothschild is back, everybody! He and his menagerie have worked their way up patiently through three series, from a mention, to an animation, and now here he is in the flesh! Even the Wiki episode list has noticed this by now! Let’s give him a great big hand!…
  • …yeah, I don’t get it either. At all. My best guess — which I tend to run in my head anyway as a more amusing alternative to one more HPet Shop bit — involves somebody back in the BBC boardroom with a childhood nostalgia for zebras, and the production crew’s increasingly desperate attempts to simoultaneously keep both him and the audience happy: “Look, Ben, we’ll put you in the extra-shiny suit, and you do the Henry VIII voice, OK? And Larry, you distract from the side… What? I don’t know, um, something with side-whiskers.”
  • Or we could just go with the much more artistically appealing ‘satirical comment on relative human/animal empathy’ angle, seeing as how this sacrifice-n-slavery-filled episode also features Rattus finally boiling right over at the treatment of his ancestors. I am at any rate guessing this would not be a good time to mention a) that he’s even more adorable when he’s bristling with rage and b) all those other skits in which rodents bought it without a squeak from him.
  • About that ‘We Sell Any Monk’ sketch… I gather it was one of the big fan-favourite hits from S3, so the reason I’m sitting here totally baffled is because it’s clearly parodying something UK-centric, yes? Involving your version of entrepreneurs overcompensating for low commercial budgets by being as insanely annoying as humans didn’t even think was possible? If so, I understand, and even sympathise… but I also hate those commercials so much that even Jim (in hilariously denim-y armour) can’t compensate.
  • Oh, goody, new and exciting ways to demonstrate how cheap life was in the WWI trenches! And hey, just for fun, let’s ensure that Mat’s uniform is two sizes too big for him, that won’t help the viewer’s increasingly morbid sense of doom at all!
  • Still, it is a pretty clever plot twist, as these sketches go. Also, it features the return of Major-General Chucklehead, which totally works like a little ray of sunshine cutting through the gloom. I’m honestly starting to enjoy Simon more when he’s doing restrained than full-on crazy; much more engagingly unpredictable.
  • So I’m thinking anyone still concerned with how familiar the HH crew is with the world of online fandom in general and fanfic in particular may want to re-watch this latest monks-vs-Vikings bit — “Write about my biceps!”, featuring both Cosplay Warrior Ben and Nordic Larry — because the answer is at least possibly, not to say amusingly, ‘very’. I suppose the parody target could be considered generic romance novels… but that raises a whole new set of hilarious side questions re: sheer authenticity.
  • On a not-exactly-brighter-but-definitely-less-fraught note, while the Medieval Come Dine With Me covers too much familiar ground to be really memorable, I do cherish the whole zany-Perrault-parody vibe of Martha’s ‘Lady Cranky-Portcullis’ , especially as pointed out the snarkily aware narrator. Sort of Shrek-esque, only refreshingly free of the stench of commercial desperation.
  • Like, for instance, Elizabeth I. Great sketch, the Silly Tudor Laws, not least for what’s also hands-down the ultimate best use of Ben’s smug ever. (The little tiny “Ta-dah!” — that there is comic skills, people.)  The whole thing basically runs on everyone’s personality come to that, up to and including Saucer-Eyed Larry the guard; because when you give it a second’s thought, it makes no sense whatsoever that they wouldn’t get it all over — hat, cloak, purple — in one shot.
  • I would however forgive much more for the increasingly rare glimpse of Mat being purely Mat. Pity having to cover that hair with the woolly hat, but the “I thought it was rather fetching”… yeah, nice to have you back, Baynton. (Incidentally, the the outtake from the ‘naked’ scene, as included on the DVD, makes a priceless bonus treat: “Now, Mat, if you’ll just put your fingers back on your nipples…” “Well, THAT’S a direction I never thought I’d hear.”)
  • Apropos of which… the Tabellari messenger service bit… sure, why not? Victor Borge’s ‘animated punctuation’ routine could stand the updating — particularly, the addition of emoticons. May I just suggest that Mat has now officially more than earned back whatever that miming course particularly was worth, and probably the rest of the clown school cost on that one “Heart attack! Sad face!” bit. I especially enjoy the little incoming signal… oh, and Ben the ‘upgrade’. Yep, fangirls — they know. Oh, yes, they know.
  • Wow, quite the little Bag of Weapons Holding our sad-sack sausage smuggler has there. Exactly how big is this invasion force, anyway? And why on earth isn’t Confidentius there pulling this off himself? Yes, overthinking again, I know, but I can’t help it, Mat does such an unsettlingly effective job of playing vulnerable that it forces the viewer to deal with it in reality. This is one of many reasons I’m seriously intrigued by his new series, The Wrong Mans.

95% Accu-rat:

  • Right, the Aztecs — or as they preferred it, the ‘Mexica’ — and their unique need to keep the blood flowing (human, animal, bird, probably the odd iguana, they really weren’t picky) lest the forces of darkness overpower the sun ….no, seriously. I remain slightly disappointed that the show has never expanded further on the full-blown telenovela, only even less plausible, that was at one point the Mexican national religion.
  • While the nature and number of sacrifices is (of course) disputed, with more recent revisionist scholarship moving the numbers down from mindboggling to merely horrifying, no-one disputes that the Aztecs’ need to placate the bloodthirsty gods they envisioned as controlling the universe influenced nearly every aspect of their lives. I mean, that sun kept disappearing behind sissy little clouds and stuff! Clearly, it needed all the help it could get.
  • Enter the xochiyaoyotl, or ‘flower wars’: a sort of low-level ongoing series of skirmishes fought with surrounding tribes that had the dual purpose of sharpening up Aztec youths for real battle and… well, let us just say that all those POWs had to come from somewhere. Can’t you just imagine the Aztecs’ innocently wounded surprise, when the Spanish conquistadores did finally show up to vanquish them, that these same surrounding tribes didn’t instantly come running to offer help and succour?
  • Although in real life the victims were actually accorded great honour, to the point where, believe it or not, some of them went to the, uh, ripping block quite willingly. Ritual cardiac amputation would at least mean a relatively quick and painless death, and more to the point, ensure you were immediately resurrected to join the good fight against those aforementioned forces of darkness. Basically, Aztecs believed in a heaven consisting entirely of being leveled up to the most awesome World of Warcraft quest ever.
  • Oh, and incidentally, blood is actually a great fertilizer that’s still in use today — all those proteins and minerals and nitrogen and whatnot are just the stuff to make the garden grow… and, as it turns out, other animals, too. Just try not to think about that, next time you’re enjoying a yummy Big Mac, ‘k?
  • Just for the record (358th in an ongoing series): William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley. Not to put too fine a point on it, but he was already roughly Ben’s age by the time he and the 25-year-old Princess Elizabeth first made contact, and by this point… yeah, OK, I’ll stop being a killjoy now.
  • At least they got the attitude more or less correct; Cecil was generally distrustful of the handsome male courtiers his boss liked to surround herself with, and a little overt humiliation wouldn’t have come amiss… except that he totally would’ve foreseen the nudity thing & planned accordingly. Dude was a political badass.
  • …unfortunately, this meant that neither he nor ‘Sir William’ were actually bound by the woolly-hat law. After all, in Tudor reality — and as you may have gathered by how stupid they look with all the satin and whatnot onscreen — wool caps were entirely the trademark of the working-class, and thus, as per this actual page on Tudor Hats: …in 1571 a law was passed which ordered everyone over the age of six to wear a woollen cap on Sundays and on holidays in order to help England’s wool trade. Needless to say royalty and the nobility were excused from obeying this law.
 
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Posted by on May 19, 2013 in Series Three

 

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S03E08

You’re on form today, your Majesty! That’s the third cowardly animal you’ve heroically almost hit!

The series diverts from the recent brilliant-music-and-borderline-skits formula to bring us… very decent skits and borderline music. Not a bad tradeoff, really.

In this episode:

Song: The Suffragettes’ Song — Martha as Emmeline Pankhurst, Alice as Milly Fawcett

Recurring sketches:

Stupid Deaths — Henry I (Died of an over-effective purge after a meal of lampreys — “Ooh, did the eels make you ill? Did they? Huh? Hey? Hmm?”)

HHTV News: Mike Peabody Live — From the Storming of the Bastille (“Are you the Governor of this prison?” “No!” “Now, that right there is the Marquis Bernard de Launay, Governor of this prison…”)

Words We Get From the — Saxons

Historical Headmasters — Tudors

HHTV Sport — Tudor horse racing (“Really, Henry! There ought to be a law against using small children as jockeys!” “Hrm, yes… better ask the King about that… hang on a minute, I am the King! NO!”)

One-offs:

Measly Middle Ages

Killed Out Hunting, So it’s Said — Wherein William II learns that, amazingly enough, surrounding yourself with armed and disaffected nobles in a remote area is not necessarily conducive to royal longevity. “Oh dear, I appear to have accidentally shot the King. That’s bad, isn’t it?”

Fabulous French

Madame Tussaud’s Make Show — Yeah, so your fun day out with wax Elvis is building on the lifework of a woman who raided cemeteries and sanatoria to make death masks of guillotined enemies of the State. Sweet dreams, kiddies!

Smashing Saxons

Kidnapped! Part I (movie trailer) —  In a Saxon world ravaged by war… nothing is forever. *bonk* “Hey! That was a new helmet!… And I’m quite annoyed about you kidnapping my wife, too!”

Kidnapped! Part II — In the dark age of the Saxon world, a man would pay the ultimate price to get his kidnapped wife back. “Half-a-penny?!” “Won’t take it? Ooh, that is too bad. Guess I’ll just have to start over with a younger, prettier, less naggy wife! Sorry dear!”

Vicious Vikings

Winter Cooking With the Hairy Vikings — “Oh, I love a bit o’walrus!” “Yes, LOVE a bit o’walrus!”

Aethelred the Unready Online — Poor old Aethelred; in his day the Nigerian scammers skipped the compliments and went straight for the swords. Because, y’know, they were Vikings.

Field Notes:

  • Yeah, so it had to happen sometime. Twelve songs a series, they can’t all be masterpieces… especially when the first seven have set the bar at somewhere approximately ‘beyond amazing’. But I am sort of sad that the first comparative flop had to involve the Suffragettes, who — as you can still tell, if you concentrate determinedly on the song hidden under all the flashy poses & filters — deserved much better than this. It remains the only HH video that I can’t at all figure out where they were coming from.
  • Although I can take a stab at the musical inspiration… I think. I’m kind of hoping I’m wrong, actually, because the last time I could be said to be surfing the musical cutting-edge was around 1992, so that the stylings here look vaguely familiar doesn’t say a whole lot for their hip fierceness. Although as far as I can tell Kylie Minogue is still a viable preoccupation within the British segment of my Twitter feed, so maybe that whole ‘sassy girl with a synthesizer’ thingy just made that much more of a splash with you lot than it did in North America.
  • At any rate, whatever the cultural gap, I’m still not impressed enough to build a bridge. It’s an impeccably catchy song, and I like the idea of the dismissive male response as counterpoint to the fierceness… if only the fierceness had come across as real. Making the flash the focus glosses over the point — the same one the show made so admirably with Boudicca and the WWII girls: these were, first and foremost, human beings.
  • And the British suffragette movement was nothing if not human — flawed, furious, just enormously outraged that they couldn’t have basic rights as people. Everything, in fact, but flashy. (For a much more satisfying example of this outrage acknowledged, check out Schoolhouse Rock’s deservedly classic Sufferin’ Til Suffrage, which hauls in rock legend Essra Mohawk to recast even the comparatively milder American struggle into Boudicca-esque terms.)
  • Speaking of basic humanity… very basic… Lord, do I love the ‘Kidnapped’ sketches. Up to now — and, it must be said, afterwards — the parody movie trailers haven’t really been taking full advantage of the format, but this right here is the expert version. Just wonderful mock-epic stuff that skewers scenery, narration, drama — the whole package — as effectively and effortlessly as if they were butterflies. Simon is of course the perfect would-be Magnificent Bastard, and equally of course Jim is all over the sad weasely stuff… and, erm, Martha’s developing quite the nice line in naggy wives. Even random bewildered Larry on his stool couldn’t be improved upon.
  • So yeah, some performers are drawn to Shakespeare; others are naturally badass action heroes. Ladies and gentlemen, Mathew Baynton: absolutely peerless at faking digestive issues. (In related news, I also occasionally wonder how the f/x guy in these situations explains the long hard day he’s had to his family. If they have school Career Day in the UK, I bet he’s a real hit.)
  • Honestly, this death seems much more pitiable than stupid, unless of course you’re twelve, and… sorry, major demographic target, I do keep forgetting. Carry on, everyone. Mind you, this is the same SD that features Death holding a staring contest with Louis the (actual) skeleton, so I can’t really complain my satirical needs aren’t being served anyway.
  • The brown note also shows up in the latest .com sketch, but only as the tagline to a much more ingenious parody. The focus in this one is less on the details & more on the concept of ineffectual Aethelred as equally hapless cyber-scammer target — which turns out to be fully deserving of the attention. Also, they’ve found a way to work Nordic Larry in there, which makes everything better, especially when it’s signed ‘yours very trustworthily.’  It’s sort of like Ben and Scottish, only tilted about 45 degrees off plumb.
  • Otherwise… yeah, well, the details aren’t exactly neglected. Stained-Glass Windows XP… Norsebook… the ViPhone… ‘Pay up, pal!’, I especially enjoyed that one.
  • Big episode for Larry altogether: finally he gets his shot at royalty… ooh, ‘shot’, probably bad choice of phrase there, sorry. But yes, for a brief shining moment Rickard is the King. And, as is much more characteristic, also has seriously bad hair. Nobody here mentions possible motives for William’s mysterious death, but being trapped in view of that bouffant for years earns my retroactive sympathy for sure.
  • Anyway, as royal sketches go it’s a great, cheerfully snarky example, although I do have the nagging feeling it could potentially have been much more had Mat and Simon been given a crack at each others’ roles. At least Mat gets a chance to put that new and sweetly reasonable normalcy to really good use…
  • He also gets a decent chance at the old Gallic campiness in the Toussaud sketch — I do like how the prospect of losing his head is enough to startle him almost out of the accent, and for that matter does startle him into more digestive distress, up to and including fainting away entirely. It really is a knack.
  • Meantime, either Martha is way overdoing the insouciance or my serious reading on the Revolution is getting in the way again. I’m willing to concede it may be the latter, but not that accents are totally her equivalent of when they ask Ben to dance (…although still an improvement on Larry’s). While I’m on, I might as well note that the Caveman Art Show skull was more convincing than the supposedly pro models here…
  • …And now I’m all sad, because the Caveman Art Show is gone forever. Thank goodness there’s still Mike Peabody, who may have fuller access to hairspray but isn’t much better at figuring out what hit him. This one is probably my favourite Peabody skit — insert Ben’s unerring knack for reaction into a series of reliable gags expertly played by the others, and the result is irresistibly funny all round. Besides which, seriously, very nice hair Ben has in this one…
  • …yeah, I seem to have developed a shallow streak, or perhaps it’s merely the ‘won’t somebody think of the readers?!’ bit of my brain trying to distract me from noticing that the ‘large mob of very angry Frenchmen’ actually comprises the standard ten or so people — one of which is Lawry, so really more nine-and-a-half. I do feel bad about constantly ragging on the miniscule extras budget, but I can’t help it, they keep calling attention to it, and it is hilarious. So, come to that, is the giant shiny plastic lobster smack dab in the middle of the camera.
  • Also, what I said once before about Lawry being convincingly French? Forget it. (Even if he is an improvement on Larry. Your drunk uncle at a party doing his Pepe le Pew impressions is an improvement on Larry). Convincingly psychotic, though, that I’ll still give Lewin in spades. I’ll likewise give props to revolutionary Mat, who has sensibly decided to give up the pathos and go straight for the swords — and the chocolatines. Great stuff, the revolutionaries just sitting there, watching interestedly as Mike flees for his life…
  • …Oh, and Rattus little ‘flat-packed guillotine’ — squee!
  • ‘Barry Canter‘, the turf reporter? Oh, ha ha ha. Now, show, what have I told you about the stupid names? I haven’t? Well, I’m warning you now, it can only end in heartbreak. Anyway, so I guess Henry VIII’s just your common or garden-variety big dumb Willbondian doofus now, huh? Complete with hunks of meat? Yeah… this is sort of depressing. Something off about this whole sketch, really; the timeline is for once roughly OK — save the hair — but the whole is just… I dunno… the King hanging round random racetracks in his college sweatshirt or whatever, not massively Tudor-iffic.
  • Although… ‘Cockfighting’? Well, yes, it was totally a real thing, strictly involving chickens, but… say, anyone still surprised that the entire collection of clean outtakes from this series only runs about three minutes? Yeah, didn’t think so.
  • Ben’s much better served in Tudor terms with his Historical Headmasters turn. To the point where there’s really no reason why this HHeadmasters bit shouldn’t’ve been the only one, it gets the idea across quite nicely, thanks… Except that Ben is really overdoing the screechy stuff. Seriously, Ben should not screech, like, ever, OK? Especially given that the dagger he’s screeching about is really, ah, Nerf-y. Putting those costumes under that fluorescent lighting was like the world’s worst idea.
  • Apropos of swordplay, the Saxon Words bit… Oh, brother, even for the ‘slip it under his armpit and distract ’em with growls’ standards of this show that has got to be the least convincing stabbing ever. At least aim for the general area of his chest, Lawry, you doofus!
  • So the fully adorable walrus-loving ‘Hairy Vikings’ are in reality a parody of… *returns from Wikipedia*… oh, boy. Yeah, OK, we’ll just assume you lot know what you’re doing and move on, there. Besides, I’m really enjoying these glimpses into the mundane (ie., non-lethal) aspects of the Viking culture — and of course, Jim and Simon, whom if they had a real cooking show I would totally watch the hell out of it. “I think we’re gonna need a bigger pot!” — nice one, Farnaby.

95% Accu-rat:

  • The Peabody report is surprisingly faithful to the reality of the Bastille’s storming — absent the chocolatines and plastic lobsters of course. The grim ancient fortress was basically every forbidding medieval dungeon cliche made, uh, stone. It had for centuries functioned as the symbol of royal authority-slash-tyranny in Paris — Versailles being several miles down the road — given that it had traditionally been the prison into which the King bunged political offenders, which of course back then fully included ‘people who looked at him funny.’
  • Or at least it had done. By the time 14 July 1789 rolled around, there were actually only a few random prisoners being housed there, or as Wiki puts it ‘seven old men annoyed by all the disturbance’: four forgers, two “lunatics” and one “deviant” aristocrat, the Comte de Solages (the Marquis de Sade had been transferred out ten days earlier). And far from being the sadistic whip-wielding warden of legend, Governor Bernard-Rene, Marquis de Launay, was a minor placeholding functionary who came down with an acute case of ‘in waaaaay over his head’ shortly after the mob showed up.
  • Not precisely the stuff on which romantic revolutionary ideals are nourished, although the vainqueurs did their level best, joyously hoisting the Governor’s head on a pike and hauling the prisoners out into the yard to formally announce that they were now free from tyranny, huzzah! The prisoners’ response is not recorded, but probably involved the French equivalent of “yay…”
  • Fortunately for dramatic license, the Bastille also happened to be holding 250 barrels of gunpowder at the time, and hey, if you’re mad as hell and not going to take it any more, it’s handy stuff. So they seized that — and whaddaya know, suddenly found themselves in charge of Paris. The very next day the King was all “OK, OK, you win, I’ll recall (populist) Finance Minister Necker and come down there to discuss things personally.” And the rest, as they say, was history…
  • …as largely captured in wax by one Anna Marie Grosholtz Tussaud, who prior to starting up her London museum had one of the more colourful muses in creative history. Per Wiki: Tussaud was arrested during the Reign of Terror… her head was shaved in preparation for execution by guillotine. However… she was released. Tussaud was then employed to make death masks of the victims of the guillotine, including some of the Revolution’s most infamous dead such as Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Marat, and Robespierre. Her death masks were held up as revolutionary flags and paraded through the streets of Paris.
 
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Posted by on May 12, 2013 in Series Three

 

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S03E07

…Like Marcus, my pet flea, is in ‘thrall’ to me. He does whatever I tell him — Marcus, stop that — Marcus! I’ll have a bath! I will!

In which the show hauls out their ultimate weapon against mid-series lull… no, not Nazis, Farnaby. And a wind machine. It may not sound like much now, but just wait…

In this episode:

Song:The Evil Emperors’ Song — Simon as Caligula, Mat as Elagabalus, Ben as Commodus and Jim as Nero. (Parody of: Michael Jackson, Bad)

Recurring sketches:

Shouty Man — New! Ushabti Coffin Dolls (“These beautiful handcrafted figurines will magically turn into actual servants to look after your every need in the afterlife! And there’s hundreds of different ones to collect!”)

HHTV Sport: Twisting the Cow at the Highland Games — Wherein the Scots compete to, yes, be first to twist all four legs off a dead cow… and if you think that’s sick and disturbing, just wait ’till you hear the post-match puns.

Horrible Points of View — Stuart (“So next time you’re watching Hannah Montana, be thankful you’re not in the Stuart era, or she’d be played by a bloke!”)

Stupid Deaths — Moliere (Took a fatal coughing fit while performing in his own play: The Hypochondriac.”Hah! I might die laughing!… no, wait, I’m dead already, aren’t I?”)

Historical Wife Swap — Vikings (“ARRRR!” “Don’t growl, dear.”) vs. their Thralls (“EEEK!” “Don’t be alarmed, I’m just very ugly.”)

Bob Hale — The American Report (“Home of the brave and land of the free! And you know what else is free? Yes, it’s this fantastic Bob Hale action figure, which is FREE when you buy my incredible new Book of Interesting Facts!”)

One-offs:

Awful Egyptians

The Secret of Tombs — Keeping the Pharaoh’s treasures safe for the next life eventually trumped the showy display of them in this… problem is, of course, the Pharaohs were still operating in this. (“OK, fine. Here’s your bonus.” “…There’s nothing there?” “Oh, but there is — you just can’t see it! Hah!”)

Gorgeous Georgians

A Failure to Communicate — George I’s English is about as good as Robert Walpole’s German, which poses a serious problem when trying to run the country… or does it?

Awesome USA

Paul Revere’s not in any way Effective All-American Toothpaste — The historic connection between sugar and tooth decay: clearly, not as incredibly obvious as you might think. (“Because teeth are over-rated!”)

Rotten Romans

Caligula is Grateful — Handy rule for dealing with mad emperors, No.326: Never, under any circs, assume they won’t take you literally. Especially when offering your life in exchange for theirs…

Field Notes:

  • So, you’re no doubt all breathlessly wondering when we get to the less interesting stuff, as mentioned in my S03E01 review — what? Oh. Well, shoot, then we’re all going to be disappointed. Or possibly not. Because to paraphrase the Mythbusters, I think there’s something a bit off about this boring stretch; I’m standing right in it, to the best of my recollection, and I’m not bored yet.
  • Not that it hasn’t threatened lately — and if I do remember correctly, looms more ominously still just ahead. But it must be conceded that I’ve since become more realistic about the ability and/or responsibility of a children’s show to keep an adult interested… and noticed that despite which, every time adult ennui does loom, things abruptly veer off into adult-level quirky. Or, in the case of this episode, just cuts to Farnaby in (surprisingly attractive!) drag. Well played, show, very well played indeed.
  • Not that this is by any means their only ol’Dandelion Head-related dodge. In what I can only suggest might have been a deliberate attempt to help mitigate the by-now-near-absence of Baynton, they’re also featuring crazy Scots Simon, Georgian Simon, of course Simon as Death… and, in a move that demonstrates just how serious they were about it all, Simon as Caligula: now with bonus song-and-dance action.
  • This last was I suspect a fairly hefty factor in the decision to re-re-recap the evilness of Rome’s rulers, although I can’t totally discount the chance to finally exploit the fact that the “killed the priest instead of the beast” anecdote rhymes. Hey, they managed to find the one Caligula story that’s both mildly catchy and PG-rated, they’ve earned a little celebration. So yes, here it is in all its glory, folks! Revel in a lisping Farnaby boogeying down before purple curtains!
  • No, seriously, he attacks his first big musical role with real aplomb. As of course do they all, even Ben, because it’s impossible not to enjoy yourself doing a takeoff on old-school King of Pop-style posturing. Which means the viewer feels like a right old grump for complaining not only about any staleness but the lyrical/scanning dodginess (“You only got the Emperor job cos you were chosen by your dad!” — well, yeah, isn’t that how  it usually works?) I do though appreciate Elagabalus’ unexpectedly thoughtful admission that ‘Could argue I was sad’.
  • In the end, despite all the eyerolling from my common sense, I fell in love with the evil emperors — at least on mp3…. and that was the day I learned that some earworms are more socially acceptable than others. Protip: absently humming “In a good mood today, so I won’t slit your throat!” will get you looked at funny in most places, but especially Sunday services.
  • I am not quite as fond of the video. On rewatch, I can pick out lots of individual really funny moments, most involving Mat and either the wind machine or the chance to very obviously recreate his dorky  teenage Saturday nights at the disco — at least, I hope those moves date from his teen years. There is also how they use Dutch angles to make Ben look like he’s delivering an authentic rap. But… somehow… they’re focussed in too hard on those individual scattershot bits. Sort of a creative missing the forest for the trees effect.
  • On the other hand, I do really appreciate the chance to slow down, take a break from the warrior stereotypes and scan a few Viking… uh, peat bogs, or whatever that is ‘at the bottom of the garden’ that’s turned their servants into road-show Hobbits. Honestly I’m rather disappointed in the makeup team; as they’ve proven by now, they could’ve put a LOT more effort into making Jim & Katy really ugly. Didn’t want to scare the kiddies I guess, although it seems a weird time to start being concerned about that.
  • Seriously though, this is an unexpectedly charming slice of Viking home life, and an encouraging sign that they’re aware of the dangers of stagnation on at least some level. (Except in re: the fainting thing, unless we want to call it an official running gag, which nnnghhh… not so much.) Just sharp, clever writing that actually uses the cliches as a springboard, rather than the point, and so feels genuinely fresh & funny. Basically, yet another indication of how far they’ve come in three series.
  • Speaking of which, it’s also a nice unusual treat to see one of the other two Georges getting some play. And of course Ben — in that sweetly ineffectual mode that to my mind is criminally underused — getting another chance to show off his German, not to mention Simon proving that he can play restrained as effectively as he can do anything else. The net result is fragile, funny, and enormously charming; one of those lovely offbeat things that always seem to result when these two are paired (see also S1’s very similar-in-spirit ‘Viking Poetry’).
  • Along those lines, it’s really odd that Larry’s quirky-but-impressive knack for mimicking American used-car salesmen hasn’t really been exploited since episode two… but then he opens his mouth, and you realise that Paul Revere wasn’t actually Texan, and you think maybe it all worked out for the best, pretty much. Great hair, though. And the smile, he’s got that right down, which does help quite a bit in a toothpaste ad. Maybe he just watches Mad Men for all the wrong reasons, this is my latest theory.
  • The same rather clumsy grasp of Americana is reflected in his Bob Hale report. This is mildly disappointing, because I was really psyched to get the wry, incisively satirical British take on trans-Atlantic jingoism, and instead I got… the jingoism, more or less. It appears Bobsy was for once so tied up in self-promotion that, after the smallpox blankets, he just grabbed a few additional facts out of another interesting book without noticing it was published circa 1955.
  • He does however get major unintentionally-amusing-foreshadowing points for scornfully hilighting that one Pilgrim who brought all those shoes instead of survival gear (oddly, 139 pairs here). “Now there are some very weird priorities!” Oh, do tell, Larry?
  • Shouty Man, meanwhile, is in the midst of a fully hilarious creative comeback that of course involves showing up at a dying king’s bedside to enthusiastically hawk coffin dolls, including a butt-wiper that squirts… yeah, never gonna see the outtakes from that one in a million years, sadly enough. I’m also really enjoying this new angle where Shouty’s interactive with his customers, which seems to be what the writers are going with in order to keep the gag fresh. On account of, y’know, they were even then in the process of being nominated for a BAFTA. No, not specifically for the butt-wiper doll, but still.
  • These are also the people, and no this cannot be emphasised enough, responsible for sticking Simon in front of a camera hefting a cow’s hindquarter and spouting completely indefensible puns. (In fact, it’s not at all unlikely it’s meant to be the same guy from S2’s ‘Scottish Wedding’ bit.) Although, weirdly, the makeup team again totally misses a prime opportunity to exercise their random-body-fluid-simulation skills. Pure and total essence de Farnaby, this one, regardless.
  • As is of course the non-singy Caligula. Frankly I’d much rather they’d been obsessing over this whole sadistically hilarious ‘you offered your life for me, so pay up!’ business instead of the priest/beast, but I suppose it’d be a bit more difficult to condense into a snappy anecdote and/or rhyme. They do a pretty good job of it here, though, including the nice Blackadder-y touch implying his victims more or less deserved it. In fact these two are among the more entirely unpleasant HH characters ever — even Jim can’t save this guy.
  • Elsewhere, though, Jim gets a chance to use a slightly modified — no, wait, this is pretty much exactly how George IV would’ve reacted to the invisible-tomb thing, if he were Egyptian. Which lends a nicely surreal note to an otherwise fairly routine sketch. Unfortunately nobody seems to have thought of thus rescuing the Stupid Death, which has an oddly rushed aspect to it, as of potential unfulfilled.
  • On the subject of surreal — to the point of vaguely unsettling, really — we’re also treated to an ombudsman Mat whose quiet despair has been apparently augmented both by what sounds like a sinus infection and a fascination with Disney sitcom heroines. I’m sorry, I know it’s a kiddy comedy, but there are some things that a grown man references it’s just gonna get him glanced at askance, and Hannah Montana is one of them. Especially given the sketch ends really abruptly after that.
  • Hey, a presenter role for Dominique that does not involve weirdly ruffled polyester. I am wholly onboard with this — with anything that gets me more Dominique on my screen, really. There’s something about the snarky smarts that always seem to be lurking just behind the perky cute that keeps me compulsively watching, and for that matter had me wondering first go-round if the show really understood what it had in her… which of course they did; like Giles Terera — but even more inexplicably — it just took four series to fully kick in.
  • Although, it must be admitted: I actually kinda like the bagpipes. Yes, I’m aware this makes me weird. Used to it.

95% Accu-rat:

  • So yes, the Scots Highland Games did apparently at one point include the cow-twisting business. The good news is it seems to have been discontinued long, long ago… at least, I think it’s good news. When various modern HG websites — remember, these are still people who proudly train for the title of ‘guy who can throw the telephone pole the farthest’ — use phrases like ‘Luckily for us’ and ‘Thankfully…’ in describing the demise of an event, you can’t help but be sort of simoultaneously glad and sorry it’s gone.
  • Ah. OK, inspired by the comments below I’ve done a bit of poking into the story of would-be Jamestown colonist William ‘Original Shoe Fetish’ Mullins. Apparently the discrepancy between the two totals given by Bobsy and in the S4 New World song has to do with the fact that he also brought 13 pairs of boots to go with the 126 pairs of shoes. Larry’s obviously using the combined total. As for the rest of Mullins’ tragicomic story… well, hey, I have to save something for S4.
  • Meanwhile, George I. Theoretically, at least, a fully-fledged ladies’ man and star of some fairly exciting scandals, which may indicate the German accent of the time was considerably sexier than the modern version. At any rate, as ‘Born 2 Rule’ notes, he quite literally only gained access to the throne of Great Britain in the first place on account of the fifty-six closer candidates all being Catholic.
  • (In case you’re wondering, yes, they did make the attempt to ask at least several of them if they’d convert. They said no.)
  • Having thus basically won the World Superpower Lottery, George… did not see why he should bother upping the formality (or sociability) level beyond his prior life as Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg. Which predictably earned him quite a few snickers among the British aristocracy, because, you know, those stupid Germans, with their crude manners and weird food and hefty women! Har! No wonder the poor guy spent about a fifth of his time back in his beloved Hanover.
  • He did, however, apparently have much less difficulty making himself understood to his new underlings than this sketch indicates; remember, the common language of Europe’s glitterati at the time (ie. not only George but most of his ministers) was actually French, and by the time his reliance on Walpole had grown to the extent shown here — actually much later in his reign — George’s English had also become fairly decent.
  • It must be conceded that the American Report did a pretty good job of covering the basics of the American revolution; it’s only that Bob had such a brilliant chance to introduce newer and more intriguing details. Just for starters, Columbus of course didn’t ‘discover’ anything, no more than did the approximately 54274 other nations/races who claim they got there first (including but not limited to the Vikings, Polynesians, Japanese, Egyptians, Irish and Chinese).
  • What he and subsequent Western European would-be colonists really did was show up and announce to the current owners, “Nice place!… We’ll take it. On account of us being all superior and civilized and stuff. Har!” Right, so irony: not a huge feature of 17th century political thought. Although, how much of the Native decimation via disease was actively intentional is less obvious than indicated here. We do know the idea of Judas-gifting them smallpox-infested blankets was at least discussed, and from there it’s easy enough to imagine it being carried out, but to what extent is unclear.
  • OK, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin aka Moliere, yes, he really did take his fatal coughing fit during a production of what would be more accurately translated as The Imaginary Invalid. However it might just be pointed out that this wasn’t quite the fully cosmic co-incidence the show is implying, given that the playwright already suffered — as was practically de rigueur for your seventeenth-century sensitive artiste — from pulmonary tuberculosis. The coughing fit actually caused a haemorrhage in his already frail lungs. Still, one suspects the comedian in him probably totally approved Fate’s choice of backdrop.
 
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Posted by on May 12, 2013 in Series Three

 

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