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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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!”)
- 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.
- 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.