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Ah! We were reading every word before the punctuation! You see: “Please – prepare – the – old – goat – for – wedding.”
Why on earth would I say that?!
Well, we were rather confused…
As was the goat. 

Having long since cemented their place in media coolness, the show casually took a moment to make sure that it would seem a very, very long wait for Series Three…

In this episode:

Song: Do the Pachacuti — Mat as the Incan warlord, Martha and Alice[?] as his backup dancers

Recurring sketches:

DI Bones: Historical Crime Squad — The Caveman and the Really Big Bear (“Never mind the afterlife, love, I’m trying to work out what sent him there!”)

Caveman Art Show — Cave Painting

Stupid Deaths — Diodorus, the not-so-hunchback (submitted to having his spine crushed back into position — “and when I opened my eyes, I was cured!” “Oh, too bad…” “…Unfortunately, I was also dead.” “Hurray!”)

Words We Get From the — Saxons


Woeful Second World War

Code Name: Goofy — What might happen were the British intelligence service just a little too clever for their own good… which apparently wouldn’t have taken much. (“‘Trapped in Paris — please send help!’ — Now, what is he trying to tell us?” “There’s a message in there somewhere…”)

Spy Gadgets — Featuring a truly impressive arsenal of Bond-esque ingenuity… not to mention one of the best vehicles for getting the historical exposition across ever. “Wait a minute — you come all the way to German-occupied France to tell me I need a bath and to brush my teeth?!” “Of course not!… although…”

Rotten Romans

Dumb Muscle — A gladiator keeps misunderstanding his trainer’s motivational metaphors (“You want me to lick him?”) to the point where it becomes very obvious indeed why he’s handed a blindfold…

Smashing Saxons

Bag-O-Swallow-Chick-Stomach-Stones — Explaining how the contents of baby-bird intestines cured headaches… possibly caused by infomercial pitchmen. Or, y’know, Vikings.

Good Luck Piggy — Shockingly, decorating your helmets with effigies of pork somehow failed to make you sword-proof. (“Oooh, that is nasty. Tell you what, I’ll get you a refund…” *whumph* “…now, where’d he go?”)

Terrible Tudors

Horrible Histories World Wrestling: Live from the Field of Cloth of Gold — Henry VIII and Francis I’s goodwill embassy really did founder on a wrestling match… but I’m guessing the inspiration for this one was more ‘Ben vs. Mat and see what happens.’

Henry VIII Online (imagine spot) — What would happen if Henry VIII had both succession issues and access to the Internet? …Yeah. Even besides the dating services… and (“Why has God forsaken me with only ladybabies?!”)

Incredible Incas

Francisco Pizarro’s (Very) Rough Guide 1526 — “This program is all about visiting Peru.” “And stealing all of their gold.” “Pedro, please…!”

Field Notes:

  • So here we are, at the end of the rollercoaster ride. Which frankly I never saw the point of that cliche, ‘cos any rollercoaster rides I ever took were spent with my head buried under my dad’s arm. But I’m willing to assume that the fun I’ve had sorting through this series firsthand is a decent approximation of what I’ve seen in the Canada’s Wonderland commercials.
  • Certainly it’s easy to see how a besotted media phenomenon-making machine got the idea. Series Two is the telly equivalent of the best friend everyone wishes they had: vivacious, fun, witty yet down-to-earth, game for anything, and just generally so damn charming — not to say well-meaning — you can’t even hate them when they screw up and start spouting racial cliches.
  • Quite literally, as it turns out. Because the Pizarro sketch reads exactly like, after that cringey ‘Live Like an Inca’ business, everyone sat down to figure out how to recoup, and — after also being reminded of the near-blackface makeup thing — Ben and Jim were picked in a heroic last-ditch effort to try and blatantly adorable their way out of it, and it worked.
  • I don’t even care that in actuality the thing’s probably about as self-aware as a Speedy Gonzales cartoon (as proven shortly thereafter by the return of the dopey animated pyramid). Just try listening to Jim chirping ‘Hola!’ or Ben’s uber-assured ‘Easy peasy, squeeze di lemon’, and tell me you’re not ready to forgive everyone involved all the things. Including ones they haven’t actually done yet.
  • The charm assault continues through the cute ‘n’ catchy tune about vicious cadaver mutilation, which goes so far as to self-parody their previous earnestness in the form of little bouncy lyric-following skulls. As a solo lyricist, Larry… proves he wasn’t the one in charge of making sure ‘Literally’ scanned properly (although, ‘but violence helped the most!’ — nice characteristic touch there). This one’s classic status is all on Mat, relentlessly working every facet of engaging he can think of, up to and including briefly channeling a Muppet.
  • As if to prove that that randomness isn’t a fluke, we also get Mat doing an appealing takeoff of… what, your typically 70’s police procedural? At least over here it’d be the 70’s. ‘Course, over here the crime drama parody would currently need to involve a pair of sunglasses and a really annoying meme, so maybe we should just drop the whole discussion of genre subtlety right there.
  • More seriously, DI Bones became the last of the really great, durable recurring concepts for a reason, and it isn’t just the floppy hair — although that helps. (So does the ‘runs like a girl’ thingy, as later to be demonstrated in Spy.) But mostly it’s about hilighting Mat’s very precise take on genre parody, which reminds me a little of Leslie Nielsen’s: he doesn’t interpret so much as exactly duplicate the cliches.
  • Speaking of interesting… also amusing, engaging, adorable and pretty much every other warm ‘n’ fuzzy adjective I’ve used in these reviews to even date: NEW CAVEMAN ART SHOW. ALL THE HAPPIES.
  • …Excepting of course the part where this is the last one. Again, I understand the lack of material to sustain an ongoing series — although I still have the grudge against actual Early Man for not getting off his hairy butt and into watercolours — but damn, this concept, or perhaps more accurately Mat and Jim’s interpretation of it, was just so much purely inspired surreal awesomeness. Some of which will eventually be translated into the Historical Paramedics, but still… in my heart they’ll never quite replace Grunt’s desperate efforts to figure out what’s hitting him.
  • Apropos of which… look, I don’t wish to out the production team as total sadistic bastards (again) or anything here, but Mat’s reaction to horking up the paint, and Jim’s equally realistic-looking concern, at least strongly implies a future BAFTA nominee very nearly kicked the bucket while dressed as a Neanderthal, and nobody even bothered to turn off the cameras. I really, really hope they at least gave Mat an extra draw in that year’s Secret Santa, is all I’m saying.
  • Of course, they did give him the coveted role of Guy Who Gets to React to the Wedding Goat in the ‘codebreakers’ sketch — seriously, guaranteed there were potential fistfights on first run-through over that one. I have no idea how Ben didn’t come out the victor — possibly they gave him a little lecture on sharing nicely that involved the phrase ‘Henry VIII is about to discover the internet’ — but it’s hard to see how he could’ve topped Mat’s take anyway. Esp. since the latter looks hilariously like he’s just returned from being chased by the really big bear.
  • Really though, the majority of the many laughs in this sketch belong to Larry and Jim and their clear mastery of (besides keeping straight faces) that so-silly-it’s-clever stuff that only the British can ever make work properly. And that for some reason — possibly ‘Allo ‘Allo-related — only ever shows up in the World War sketches. In case you’re still wondering whether this was deliberate, note the reference to ‘Agent Blenkinsop’, which should make fanfic writers looking for poignant endings very happy.
  • Oh, and while we’re on about the wartime sketches, they also function as a way to let Martha be feisty and fabulous at the same time, and let me be the first to suggest she’s earned that little perk. At first glance it seems remarkable that she wears red lipstick, high-heeled pumps and a chic little updo in such authentic style… until you realise that after having played Elizabeth I in full costume, pulling off gravy stockings is merely so much, well, gravy.
  • Elsewhere in gently endearing reminders of how far the troupe has come in a series, Ben finally finds a practical (ie., non-Caesar-related) use for that ‘dumb’ voice — and leather armour; Larry spends some more time perfecting his working-class Everyman; Simon bumps Death’s amorality a little further over the top; and the ‘Saxon words’ bit lets Lawry blow off some steam from the previous sketches…
  • …yeah, Lawry may have grown on me just a teeny-tiny bit, over the last little while. He’s a good egg. Or insect. Whichever.
  • So, the Tudor wrestling skit: not all that well-thought-through. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a cute and reasonably clever way to get across the image-vs-realpolitik dichotomy of the Field of the Cloth of Gold ‘celebrations’… but really now, show. I realise you got excited about the success of the monastery party time, but that’s no reason to conclude that every adult indulgence just naturally makes for great historical parody.
  • Besides… you’ve gone to all the trouble of not only a totally period-appropriate Henry VIII but a strikingly accurate copy of Francis I’s most famous portrait (oh-so-helpfully enhanced by Mat’s accent and/or little victory jig)… you’ve got the graphics rolling, you’ve just got finished elaborating on the many hundreds of people Henry alone has with him, and the glittering tent he’s built to house them in…
  • …and so naturally you figure this would be a good time not to augment your crowd scene with more than five extras. Or even drape a few yards of velvet and lame across the backdrop. Or, for that matter, give Francis an accurate personality (see below). So… basically the word ‘wrestling’ was spoken to the props department, everybody went “Yessss! Rawrrrr!“, and it all just went downhill from there, right?
  • When the word ‘Internet’ was spoken, on the other hand… wow. I don’t even know exactly why these online sketches should be so hysterically funny — on the surface of it, it’s so obvious: ‘Trype’, ‘Mullions XP’, har har har. But somehow, still, even my technophobe Mum was doubled-over in knowing giggles all the way through. It’s all so instantly recognisable as human, and so completely incongruous when applied to remote historical figures.
  • The torrent of tiny perfect details this dichotomy produces is just… you can’t stop listing them:, the woodcut desktop wallpaper, the cutesy animated birth notice, the ‘Yebo’ cameo from Henry’s first mistress Bessie Blount… (We both completely lost it at the dating service: ‘Protestant lady seeks rich, ennobled husband for good times and lots of male heirs. Likes beards’.)
  • So… onwards to Series Three. Which is going to be a whole different sort of rollercoaster, because we’re out of my familiarity zone. Shortly after it was introduced in Canada, we switched cable setups to one that doesn’t include BBCKids, meaning I’ve only actually seen most of the S03 eps once or twice. I have a confused idea of sophistication building laterally instead of upwards, more on lush production values than comedy innovation. Except, of course, for the music…

95% Accu-rat:

  • So seriously, this blindfolded gladiator thing was entertainment? Apparently, yes — but not quite the kind the show implies. Although there were enough different types of specialised gladiators (gladioli?) — generally based on such niceties as types of weaponry — that the Wiki page starts to resemble your average NFL draft-day chart, turns out the Andabatae weren’t so much specialised as they were really, really screwed.
  • Mostly, they were untrained criminal types whose deaths were tossed in basically as filler in-between the more serious matches — a bit like those halftime things where a fan is brought out to see if he can kick a field goal or shoot from the half-court line, only very much without the new SUV. As one unnervingly matter-of-fact Italian website on the Colosseum explains: These fights would have been fought for the amusement of the crowd… A morning event. Not in the same league as the gladiatorial combats which were the highlight of the day.
  • Francisco Pizarro: In real life, not all that hilariously adorable. Also not actually raised by pigs, but certainly raised among them, as an illegitimate — and eventually illiterate — son of a military officer and a peasant woman. So yeah, lots of possible compensation issues happening there, to go along with, y’know, the gold thing (like most of the great conquistadores, he was ultimately inspired by the legend of El Dorado).
  • The sketch also fudges a little with respect to his initial encounter with the Incan Empire; the happy-go-lucky flower children pictured were actually the Tumpis, a satellite people of northwestern Peru — conquered under Pachacuti, as it happens — and they were happy mostly on account of they weren’t of any strategic importance whatsoever. Except in terms of confirming for their ‘Children of the Sun’ that the great and gold kingdom they sought was definitely real… which eventually did lead to the collapse of the entire empire. Boy, hindsight, huh?
  • So, yeah, the Field of the Cloth of Gold (in reference to the material used for the tents and whatnot) was the ultimate definition of much ado about nothing; rather like the modern Olympics, only without the lasting goodwill or useful sports arenas. It’s also worth noting that in real life Francis I, while more prominently enshrined in history as one of the all-time great lovers — and renowned for his patronage of the arts besides — also fancied himself quite the fighter.
  • Not that he was any good at it, mind you, but he did insist on his prowess as a warrior prince, personally leading his troops into battle and everything. As for that matter did Henry. Your Real Renaissance Man was in fact equally devoted to the arts and to the art of war, as both were considered essential components of manliness.
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Posted by on March 31, 2013 in Series Two


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So… Squadron Leader Higgins… ve meet again!
I’m sorry, have we actually…?
Nein, nein… I just like ze vay I sound vhen I say zat.

The show wastes exactly no time in getting down to the business of being the rudest, rowdiest, most in-your-face children’s edutainment ever — and they do mean business, if the drift is clear. If not, the endless parade of dead bodies may help it sink in…

In this episode:

Song: The Wives of Henry VIII (Ben as Henry VIII)

Recurring sketches:

Shouty Man — Pee-Sil Laundry Detergent (“Wee! And the dirt is gone!”)

Historical Hospital — Stone Age Medicine Man

Caveman Art Show — How to Preserve the Head of a Dead Relative

Stupid Deaths — Francis Bacon (caught pneumonia whilst experimenting with frozen chickens)

Fractured Fairy Tales — The Princess and the Pea, the Ancient Egyptian version (yay, she’s a princess! Time to die as a threat to the ruling Pharaoh!)

This is Your Reign — Henry VIII


Rotten Romans:

Urine Real Trouble Now (animated) — The cartoon centurion from the titles pops into the Shouty Man’s sketch to mention that Romans used pee as mouthwash. Everyone is so horrified that (in my imagination) they banish the animated characters from the live-action forever.

Measly Middle Ages

Mediaeval Loo Management — Possibly unsurprisingly, keeping the flame of humanity alive through the Dark Ages turns out to involve figuring out how to stop people pooping on passersby…

Woeful Second World War

Mary the Heroic Homing Pigeon (animated) — Forget the Polish and Czechs; some of the bravest RAF fliers weren’t even human.

Prisoners of War — In which we learn that Hogan’s Heroes may actually have been a documentary.

Slimy Stuarts

My Stuart Family: Keeping Up With the Joneses — Which apparently wasn’t any easier back when it involved non-microprocessor-intensive fruit.

Awful Egyptians

King Pepi’s Super-Sticky Anti-Fly Honey Slave — The good news for the Pharaoh’s house slaves: they didn’t have to build the Pyramids. The bad news? Well…

Pyramid Scheme — Being Pharaoh means never having to say you’re sorry for demanding that the Seventh Wonder of the World be your monument.

Terrible Tudors

Henry VIII in the Market Again (animated) — A succinct demonstration of the female reaction after one Tudor divorce too many.

Field Notes:

  • One of the main criticisms of the show is that it does a disservice to complex historical realities by isolating the ridiculous out of context. To which I would ordinarily respond, hello, requirements of an edutainment series =/= a textbook’s. The comedy’s intended to pique kiddy interest in the serious nuances, which is what matters.
  • But…I’m also a huge Tudor nerd. And when I see HH over the first few eps shamelessly playing up to the hoary (if admittedly far more media-friendly) legend, I can concede that, at the least, it took awhile for the bugs to be worked out of the process. While the books might be able to get away with cartoonishly evil caricatures, it’s rather more problematic on the level of sophistication the TV show was struggling for…
  • …and yes, I do realise I’m saying that about a show that also just based an entire sketch around two men being pooped on. (Note though how elegantly the blocking prevents anything from hitting their faces until the final embrace… really, a triumph of excrement wrangling.) A sketch consisting entirely of hauling out more and more of the Tudor executed still irks, because it’s just so damn pointless on any level, historical or comedic. (Generally speaking bodies are not funny until re-animated, hopefully in a shopping mall.)
  • All that said, the song is a fun and frankly impressive compression of Henry VIII’s convoluted marital history, and ol’Bluff King Hal himself would deservedly become one of the show’s iconic characters — extra-portrait-perfect here, before the makeup/costuming was simplified for routine use. Ben as noted almost can’t help but spring him to life; with not much work he could pass in a straight drama. If nothing else, his muttered asides (“Ha! The old Wolster!”) are just begging for a more deserving setting.
  • Several other best-beloved icons also debut here, to the point where this ep feels more like a pilot than the real one. Just a few minutes spent with Death and the Shouty Man (dibs on the New Wave band name!) and I’m willing to forgive anything… um, except possibly the return of the goofy live-action/animation interaction …oh, and [RANDOM EDUCATIONAL EARNESTNESS ALERT] the song lyrics. As in, on-screen. Which sort of makes me snicker unkindly, given Ben is speak-singing this thing with enunciation that would make Rex Harrison genuflect.
  • Come to consider it, they may have simplified future-Henry’s makeup to buy more time to buff up Death’s. The original look is weirdly minimalist, featuring large random patches of obviously live flesh, so the effect’s not so much Guardian of the Afterlife as Pretentious Student Film Extra, stuck alone and glowering behind a wretched cardboard check-in desk in exactly the manner of a cheap Bergman knockoff. I spend a lot of time, while rewatching Series One, regretting that they used up all the really good stupid deaths (like this one) before they upgraded.
  • Caveman Art Show… ‘now here’s a skull I prepared earlier!’…ARRGGHHHH I FRELLING LOVE THIS CONCEPT SO MUCH. (Love also for Mat & Jim onscreen together generally — the closest the show ever comes to that Pythonesque anticipation of intelligent anarchy). I was severely annoyed that they only made a couple of these bits, until I realised, y’know, cavemen, not exactly a wide selection of creative techniques available to demo in the first place. Still, you’d think they could’ve at least taken a break from the hunter-gathering long enough to master pastels or something.
  • Speaking of Mat, while the Modern Stuart Family is cute (“Yoo-hoo! Having lots of banana fun over here!”) what really impresses me about that sketch is him taking a full, unedited bite of an unpeeled banana. Let no one question this man’s dedication to his craft… on the other hand, questioning a craft that involves eating banana peels, sure, go nuts.
  • The modern Historical Hospital’s bizarre deference to Dr. Ugg notwithstanding —  Simon’s ooga-booga act is so unbelievably corny it’s possible the staff think they’re on Candid Camera — I am fascinated by the idea of tattooing treatments. Also with the, ah, high-pitched yelp our Benjamin lets out at the idea. If he ever achieves his dream of being cast as Bond he’d do well to have that footage burned, I’m thinking.
  • Undauntedly cheeky POW Squadron Leader Higgins, on the other hand, is much more like it (despite clearly being a lousy escape artist). Really, for Ben this ep is just one massive born-to-play-fest. Apparent inspiration Hogan’s Heroes, Teh Google informs perpetually-overestimating-the-good-taste-of-the-British me, did in fact make it overseas *muttermutter probably aired right after the Addams Family muttermutter* So hey, rock on ‘Commandant Klintzmann’, your hair has already won all the wars.
  • Ohhhhh, Larry. Had recalled it as being several more eps before he really brought the weird, but obviously I malign our resident redhead. Not so much that he (I’m assuming) conceived the idea of Pharaoh Pepi II Neferkare as an American infomercial pitchman — Ancient Egypt, Texas, same difference, right? You got your heat, your dust, your wealthy megalomaniacs with comical facial hair. What really impresses me is that he nails it. Absolutely. And in a later series it turns out that he’s also somehow absorbed arena rock ballads. Basically, Larry is a redneck, is what I’m saying. Only of course with way better beer.

95% Accu-rat:

  • So, the show’s take on cavemen… everybody realises they most likely didn’t actually speak artfully-broken English and/or hop around like demented orang-utans being poked by Discovery Channel directors, right? You in the back?… OK, just checking.
  • Rattus gets a lot of comedy mileage out of Stone Age ‘trepanning’ here, as have many, many before him… but as he admits in a later ep, the newest research indicates a lot of cave-patients actually did survive having holes drilled in their heads (presumably being frankly too backward to realise they should be keeling over). You know, Reality, you are one hell of a buzzkill.
  • One more (small) reason for me to be cranky over the parade of Tudor bodies: one of King Henry’s eviscerated ‘advisors’, Thomas Culpeper, actually wasn’t. He was merely a favourite courtier, apparently because the King saw a great deal of his own younger self in the handsome, sporty young buck… which became severely ironic when Culpeper was discovered to have been bonking Queen Katharine Howard. It’s generally important, when reviewing Tudor history, to remember that while Harry and clan were undoubtedly (to various degrees) despotic tyrants, they were also extremely intelligent, complex people, and shrewd politicians besides. There was a reason behind every execution… just not always a good reason.
  • Although, the little animated bookend showing contestants running screaming from “Who Wants to Be Henry VIII’s New Queen?” auditions (not actually the plot of the sketch, although now that I think of it…) — anyhoo, that bit is 110% accu-rat. Around about wife hunt #4, it was getting very hard indeed to spin Henry as ideal marriage material, even in that notoriously pragmatic age. Christina Duchesse of Milan is reported to have quipped that if she had two heads, one of them would certainly be at the King’s service; while Marie de Guise (eventual mother of Mary Queen of Scots), suggested as worthy of the King’s stature, retorted that while she might be a big woman, “she had but a little neck.”
  • As per above, the song’s neat retelling of this convoluted marital history makes it a favourite of mine… with the tiny little proviso that Katharine Howard (the second ‘beheaded’) probably wasn’t nineteen. She was the eighth or so of ten children born to an obscure second son, and nobody bothered to record her birthdate for posterity — sources I’ve seen place her as anything from fifteen to twenty-four when she first came to court.
  • Meanwhile… I’ve spent quite some time on Google Images, staring earnestly at the homely alabaster visage of Pharaoh Pepi II, and have seen nothing to indicate that this was a man who liked to flounce around in a platinum wig with dryer lint glued to his chest. (Nor, I am truly sad to report, is this au courant among the Texas elite). On the other hand, you know that rule I imposed last entry, about not arguing with the history guru? That, plus new, similar rule about not messing with the makeup team. Their wound-simulation skills scare me.
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Posted by on December 21, 2012 in Series One


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