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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

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

S02E06

As I was just saying to the Prussian Ambassador here..
That is a pot-plant, your Majesty.
Oh… so ’tis. Well, as I was just saying to this pot-plant here…

Part two of the chipper midseries skip through Georgian madness, pirate antics and American accents… now with 75% less oddball earnestness… not to mention 100% fewer llamas.

In this episode:

Song: Blackbeard’s Song — Jim as Captain Edward ‘Blackbeard’ Teach; Larry, Ben, Mat and Chorus as his crew

Recurring sketches:

Ready Steady Feast — George III and the Beef Tree

Stupid Deaths — Clement Vallandingham (Apparently ‘make sure the pistol is unloaded before conducting the demonstrations’ took awhile to make it onto the American legal curriculum…)

Dodgy War Tactics — No.23: The American Civil War Battle of the Crater (Apparently ‘setting off mines underground makes for a really big hole’ took awhile to make it onto the American military-school curriculum…)

Cliff Whiteley — Mary Seacole vs. Florence Nightingale: Both swept aside gender barriers, saved lives, and established an enduring legacy of selfless heroism; but only the white one… um, invented the pie chart. (“Shut it, Lampy Knickers!”)

One-offs:

Gorgeous Georgians

The Madness of King George’s Doctors — Eighteenth-century medicine: a genuine tossup between suffering the cure or enduring the disease… unless you’re too valuable to have the choice. (“STOP BEING MAD! GET BETTER!!” “STOP BEING WEIRD ALL THE TIME!!”)

Rotten Romans

Elagabalus’ Romo Lottery Millions — In which it is doubtful which suffered more under the rule of a teenage Emperor: the crowds who got serpents chucked among them… or the English language. (“Play my game, and you could be well minted!… but not as much as me.”)

Something’s Fishy in Capri — And if your guess was anything other than ‘The Emperor’s sanity’, you have so not been paying attention.

Smashing Saxons

Saxon Weather Forecast — “Good news up in Scotland however, where we’ve seen some red sky at night! So expect calm weather there… assuming it wasn’t actually a monastery on fire, after a Viking raid.”

Ghostbuster, Crop Duster — Burning all your fields to ward off ghosts: possibly the ultimate in ‘seemed like a good idea at the time.’ (“Well, at least when I die of starvation, I won’t be able to haunt anyone! Heh-heh…?”)

Anglo-Saxon Famine Solutions — Lose your will to live now, save serious time later. (“What’s in the stew?” “It’s a, uh… family recipe.”)

Savage Stone Age

Trepanadol — “Now, here’s the sciency bit: At the first sign of a headache, get a totally unqualified colleague to knock a small hole in your skull…”

Stone Age Family Fortunes — Hey, actual  fascinating non-llama-intensive comedy involving South America! Way to go, show!… um, wait, West Side Story really isn’t a great substitute, characterization-wise…

Vile Victorians

Repeat After Me — See, this was why Victorian schoolmasters had all those fearsome punishments. It was kind of a vicious circle, really.

Field Notes:

  • Well, somebody’s on a roll. Exactly one episode after creating the ultimate spineless ball of useless, Jim here makes such a cheerfully badass pirate captain that he elevates Blackbeard’s Gilbert & Sullivan-inspired song, as a creative decision, entirely past ‘duh!’ into something really delightful. Especially is this impressive since the makeup team weren’t nearly as inspired by the name — I suppose an authentically bushy beard would hamper his performance, but lemme personally assure you, guys, the reflexive viewer wincing when he sets those comparative wisps on fire isn’t helping any either.
  • Leaving out my particular neuroses, though, it’s a really nifty song, full of a gentle non-sequitur playfulness that marries the two comedy genres together beautifully. Much of which is provided by the rest of the troupe shamelessly hamming it up in the background… specifically, now that I think about it, Ben taking the brunt of Jim’s random whims yet again.
  • While elsewhere, we have Mat very deliberately intimidating Larry, likewise yet again. Anybody else noticing a curiously unnerving yet entertaining pattern here, or is it just me? (And that’s not even getting into the whole poor-man’s Nicholas Cage thing with Jim and bees.)
  • Speaking of which, also of delicious helpings of scenery: helloooo Mat, breaking out at his most brilliantly, charmingly disturbing…ly still unconcerned by what Elagabalus is potentially doing to preteen hormones with access to Wikipedia. More seriously, that turn as the Georgian doctor hilights the intense watchability inherent in the intersection of his refined physical and offbeat creative charisma. This angle is one of my favourites, a purely elegant psychosis — essence de Gorey illustration, if you like — that, just to emphasise the brilliance yet again, is capable of squelching Larry.
  • Nobody ever accused Lawry Lewin of elegance — least of all me — but I must concede that his twitchy squeaky take on George III is… well, not growing on me, exactly. More like being forced to hear somebody running nails down a chalkboard yet being irresistibly funny at the same time; not comfortable, but still worthy of credit. (Albeit at least some of that credit should go to the writers, who’ve scripted lines a block of wood couldn’t screw up.) Too, Lawry was probably much easier to convincingly wrestle into a chair than Simon… sorry, I’ll be quitting while I’m marginally ahead now.
  • After all, I get more than my fair share of hilariously Loopy!Farnaby — now with extra-wonderfully inexplicable Italian accent — in the ‘Titus on Capri’ sketch. It’s just lovely to have Simon and Mat reunited for one of these Roman bits, and while Jim is missed, Larry’s sort of meta-introduction as the new guy on the block is appreciated. (“Yeah, crazy emperors are crazy, you get used to it…”)
  • Oh, and interestingly… well, not really, I just wanted an excuse to mention it… anyway, Ben makes a much more convincing Italian peasant than he does Incan priest.
  • Which reminds me, y’know how I complained they’d used up all the really good stupid deaths in Series One? Well… not quite. Beautiful mock-nineteenth-century American oratory there from Ben, just beautiful — cut off a bit short, but great while it lasts. I think Simon is really, honestly laughing at this one, and I so can’t blame him.
  • On the further subject of nifty throwaway turns, Jim and Martha as a couple fully continue to deserve their own sitcom. Meantime Mat as the Saxon weatherman is an appealingly clever parody — again, seriously, I hope the writers at least got fresh muffins in the break room after this episode, with extra jam for the one who came up with the ‘unless you’re lazy and a nun’ bit.
  • Also, bonus offbeat Baynton in the form of that thing where his voice randomly jumps about six octaves every other word… which is sort of how I imagine perky friendliness coming across in a Batman comic.
  • I love Dominique, for all the considerable force of her charm, comic timing and honestly cool ability to pull off a Jamaican accent without sounding like she’s either a Marley groupie or overdue for bobsled practice. She brings the same welcome breath of bright normalcy to the Ready Steady Feast sketches as in the HHospital. All of which makes it extra-sad that she’s stuck in that tangerine blouse for the duration. Is there some rule that says the ruffle quotient of British female presenters’ wardrobes must be in direct proportion to their personal attractiveness?
  • While we’re discussing f/x… there are two unavoidable possibilities inherent in the Saxon ‘sell yourself to the Lord of the Manor’ bit: either those are Jim’s actual feet, with possibly a bit of *gag* suitable camera enhancement; or somebody in the makeup dept worked really really hard to bring that horror to fruition, as the obvious culmination of a lifelong fascination with… I don’t know, Lovecraft’s eldritch abominations come to mind as a suitable starting point. Either way, I will now be forgetting that this sketch ever existed, kthx — OH GOD THOSE MUMMIES CAN’T UNSEE AHHHHHHHH.
  • Ahem. Yeah, so, this Cliff Whiteley sketch, this is the level of intelligent controversy they all should’ve been about. Just all the different kinds of awesome. Not quite enough to make me fall in love with the concept all over again, mind, but — honestly, have I mentioned how much I love Simon? Enough to overcome the ridiculously annoying sound effects, is how much, which is a whole lot. Besides which Dominique’s habit of full-on attacking whenever she gets a shot at a really meaty character is impressing me even more than all that other stuff.
  • Oh, is that what Family Feud looked like in the UK? Neat. Well, as noted the ethnic awkwardness continues to be awkward, but I’m getting used to that. Rather surprisingly, Ben does a nice daytime-gameshow-hosty schtick — especially when accidentally dismembering Granny. Clearly I’m not the only one who appreciates a good Willbond -vs- rotting limbs gag.

95% Accu-rat:

  • Not a historical note per se, but just occasionally the show throws up an idea, like weather reporting via superstitions, that I can totally picture myself watching for real. The Newfoundland forecast alone would be worth it.
  • Arrrrrr! Because one can never have too many fun pirate factoids, matey, here’s some more fascinating detail about the man behind everybody’s favourite ebon whiskers. Which as it happens he never actually set alight — suicide being generally incompatible with swashbuckling — preferring instead to fake it with firecrackers etc. This wasn’t quite the comforting distinction you might think; as per the link: Before battle, he would dress all in black, strap several pistols to his chest and put on a large black captain’s hat. Then, he would put slow burning fuses in his hair and beard. The fuses constantly sputtered and gave off smoke, which wreathed him in a perpetual greasy fog. He looked like a devil who had stepped right out of hell and onto a pirate ship and most of his victims simply surrendered their cargo rather than fight him. 
  • Say, have you lot seen the Madness of King George, yet? I’d recommend it, great movie. Basically the film-length version of this ep’s take on poor George III, who ordinarily was really a decent if rather boringly prudish old stick, popular among his subjects for his unashamedly bourgeois tastes… which was why everyone was so completely freaked when he abruptly began jabbering himself hoarse, to literally anyone who’d listen.
  • This would go on until he was bright red and foaming, which sort of put a crimp in his chances with the Queen’s ladies even if he hadn’t also been randomly grabbing them and whispering lewd nothings (one of his victims, novelist Fanny Burney, later recorded his telling her — repeatedly — “They say I am mad, but I am not, I am nervous. If you must know what is wrong with me, I am nervous…”). At one point he flat-out threw the future George IV against a wall mid-argument, which might make their Prom relationship a bit more understandable.
  • The character Mat is supposed to be playing is the Rev. Dr. Francis Willis, not actually a court physician but the master of a Lincolnshire sanitorium of some renown. His theories did indeed involve uncompromisingly disciplining the madness into submission, hence the tactics shown here (albeit the mustard’s supposed to be in a plaster, ie. a sort of cloth pocket). Conversely, though, so long as the patient ‘behaved himself’ he was accordingly treated much more humanely than in your average asylum. At any rate, His Majesty did snap out of it at least for awhile, held no grudges, and Willis became one of the great physicians of the age.
  • Clement Vallandingham… quite a life, for all its awkward end. You have to realise, this was nineteenth-century America, men were bumbling around simultaneously being romantically dramatic and owning firearms more or less constantly. From his home state’s POV, he’s the heroic statesman who opposed the Civil War and eventually came to support abolition (if mostly for political reasons), all of which was tragically cut short by one weensy, understandable little lapse of concentration.
  • Although again, it’s one of the niftiest things about HH, that they can bring these types of hidden heroes to light — and  in this case, become their champion — the life and times of Mary Seacole are also a little murkier than the HH format allows. Although there very likely was a racial component (back then, even those sympathetic to ‘Negro’ rights could be absolutely horrified by the idea of one treating white soldiers), her rejection seems to have been as much a matter of her rather dodgy qualifications as anything else. Once she got out there and settled down to work, though, nobody of any shade or class was complaining…
  • …except, yep, ol’Lampy Knickers. Characteristically obsessed with raising the (incredibly poor) reputation of the nursing profession as much as healing the sick, Florence N. expressed her concern that Seacole ‘did much good for the poor soldiers’ primarily in the sense that she was running a sort of brothel, where she ‘made many drunk’. This wildly-unfair prejudice meant Nightingale did all she could to avoid anyone on her team being associated with her rival’s British Hotel — thus depriving history of one of its most spectacular potential mashups, and helping create a controversy that rages on to this day.
  • The Chico and the Man rejects featured on ‘Family Fortunes’ are supposed to be members of the Chinchorro tribe, fishermen who lived in and around what’s more recently the coastline of Chile and Peru, and they did indeed expend a lot of effort on reconstituting their dead as far as clay and sealskin would let them. This lovely article gives a much more rounded picture of a genuinely remarkable culture.
 
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Posted by on March 10, 2013 in Series Two

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

S02E03

Man-child! Do you want to be a gallant hero?!
*nods warily*
Then you must wee on that man’s head!

The revolution hits its stride… which, as is becoming traditional, involves disgustingly decadent Emperor Nero, vicious religious persecution, and happily blatant homoeroticism… all in different skits. Apparently I’m finally getting used to it, because it’s also all freakin’ hilarious.

In this episode:

Song: Spartan School Musical — Mat, Jim and Larry as Spartan High students; Ben as their teacher. (Parody of: Disney’s High School Musical franchise)

Recurring sketches:

Ave! Magazine — Profiling Spiculus, most famous gladiator in all of Rome

Historical Paramedics — Middle Ages (“Nigel, treacle!” “Yes, honey?” “No, no, get the treacle!”)

Scary Stories — The Children of Woolpit (“I grew a goatee for this!”)

Stupid Deaths — Tudor entertainer (The Great Stab-Proof Man… who one day forgot to rig up his stab-proofing)

Cliff Whiteley, Historical PR Agent — Billy the Kid & Wyatt Earp meet Pearl Hart… let the celebratory gunfire commence. (“Right, I’m gonna start chargin’ for that ceiling.”)

One-offs:

Rotten Romans

I’m a Christian, Get Me Out of Here! – Y’know that one Star Trek: TOS episode where the Romans had TV? That, reality-show division.

Love You to Death (movie trailer) – Nero’s love life: so not covered by Hallmark. “I need a sign! Something to show that you love me now, and not her!” “Right!… uh, something more than grapes? Because I’ve got loads of grapes!”

Groovy Greeks

Athenian Student — Who would later grow up to write plays and participate in ‘Wife Swap’, apparently.

Terrible Tudors

Surely, You Jester – OK, so How They Broke the News of Queen Katharine’s Adultery didn’t really go anything like this. But dammit, it should have.

Savage Stone Age

Coming of Stone Age – In which the prospective glory of hunting megabears and sabretooths becomes the key moment in… the discovery that turtle soup is delicious.

The Caveman Workout — “Stay in shape — and you too could live to the ripe old age of thirty!”

Awesome USA

Pony Express to Nowhere – The riders of the Old West are literally replaced by machines… provided they survived that long.

Field Notes:

  • So yes, in a surprise move, I will not be making much of the blatant adult-ness of this episode’s content, since every time I do work up a good North American-style “won’t someone think of the children?!” a helpful British reader pops up to assure me that it’s really no big deal at all over there. To the extent that I’m starting to get really interested in what would be considered the difference between adult & children’s comedy in the UK. Best I can figure is 1. Don’t swear (a lot) and 2. Don’t actually show the genitalia. That’s about it.
  • Meaning I will be entirely ignoring the Fisher-Price ‘My First Village People’ set that is the Spartan School Musical. It is, after all, the show’s mission to present accurate and/or educational satire; therefore not a peep shall I utter, despite severe reservations that the real Spartan cult of male love involved quite so much giggling, flirting, posing (with-or-without bullwhip) and Mat… uh… existing. I may have given a few especially disbelieving snorts when presented with Larry’s proto-jheri-curls, but that need not concern us here.
  • Anyway, for all that – and in several cases, because of all that – I still like it enormously. Even if the specific reference is a bit past sell-by at this point, the squeaky American accents will always most excellently make the point, and the few odd Britishisms (“lashings of good fun”?) in no way detract from its overall snarkiness.
  • Besides, the Christians-being-tortured sketch? Was all set to work up some prime aghast re: that one — had the thesaurus out and everything — until I realized that this is what many modern faithful think is happening every time someone tells them ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas’. Given the choice between the two forms of bad taste, I think I’ll go with the one that’s intentionally shooting for black comedy.
  • It helps that Jim’s hosting; not that he doesn’t continue to develop a nice line in cheerily amoral reality-show hosts, but c’mon, it’s Jim. You just sort of subconsciously assume there’s a mattress under that torture tree he’s describing.
  • Albeit Mat & Lawry are both too realistically vulnerable for comedic comfort. Apropos of which, fully not buying Lawry as a champion gladiator, either. At least Mat usually contrives to sound dangerous.
  • Jim also effectively works the awww-give-Uncle-Slimy-Sociopath-a-hug on (newly brunet) Emperor Nero, and I wish I could decide if I approved or not. Seriously, every time I watch this sketch, I giggle like a complete maniac from beginning to end, then hate myself in the morning. On this last run-through, however, I have about concluded it’s worth it. Because grapes. (Also, Alice doing a satisfyingly tempestuous temptress.)
  • Speaking of — AAAHHHH THE HISTORICAL PARAMEDICS! TOO MUCH SQUEE BRAIN ALL SPLODY… erm, translation: I’d forgotten that Geoff & Nigel’s manic multi-era medical adventures would be showing up this early, and they just make my sense of humour happy all over, inasmuch as they contain the distilled and combined essence of Mat, Jim and Larry (their author) at their most engaging. Meaning they may be the closest the show has ever come to intelligent comic anarchy without actually ripping Python scenes off wholesale; at least they merge historical fact with funny more deftly than most any other sketch.
  • Oh, and can’t forget kudos for the ‘patient’, remaining heroically unconscious through all that, uh, stuff. Not real, no — but imagination can be a powerful thing, when your eyes are closed…
  • … or sometimes even when they’re not, as the not-so-glorious-except-where-the-funny’s-concerned Stone Age hunt demonstrates. The deliberate application of modern disbelief to nostalgic past-time glamour is something the show will play with more and more as they gain comedic confidence (and concurrently care less and less about being earnestly educational), and as comedy it will never not work beautifully.
  • On the other side of the ‘will it work’ thing… the (not-so) Scary Stories. Hrm. Well. The milieu evokes rampant affectionate tolerance in this reviewer, due to its resemblance to a beloved sketch comedy of her youth, the Hilarious House of Frightenstein, which featured a very similar concept (using nursery rhymes, if she remembers correctly). But she is fully aware this is a minority POV.
  • Truth is, it’s always hard to integrate Big Names into an established sketch show in general, and the heavily stylized, character-driven HH format in particular. Hence, usually, these self-contained ‘presenter’ roles wherein the BNs can safely do what made them famous. And David Baddiel, bless him, is already working it like there’s no tomorrow.
  • Which there really isn’t — because there’s literally nowhere for him to go within the concept, save to storm off the set for good, and it’s odd that the veteran HH writers didn’t realise it. For now, though, Vincenzo Larfoff and his power fez merely represent some of the more sophisticated character comedy in the show’s history. Besides which his delusional pretensions will shortly hack off his f/x crew, so that’ll be good for a further couple segments’ worth.
  • Stupid Deaths, on the other hand, is the crowd-pleasing satire that just keeps on giving – especially to producer Caroline Norris, whom (I forgot to mention earlier) gets a cameo as the sooty-faced woman in the expanded titles. We’re also treated here to one of Death’s most endearing traits: his ability to appreciate real cleverness on the corpses’ part. It’s not personal, or anything; just cosmic business. To paraphrase the Reaper himself, I do love that level of detail, I really do.
  • Related question: given that the skeletons were clearly a last-minute add-on, does that mean Simon’s interactions with them – and, it follows, potentially everyone else — are ad-lib? At any rate, yes, the bony sidekicks are back, albeit their wigs keep switching and changing colour. No idea where that’s coming from, unless they’re supposed to be rotating guest judges…
  • …did I just try to explain why the skeletons’ wigs aren’t consistent? I may have been at this too long.
  • On the other hand, the historical patchwork underlying the Will Somers sketch, (see below), is very much worthy of comment; one of the few times the show outright works facts into a fictional frame. Reality may well be stranger, etc., but it’s never quite this pat to the purpose. Great, great sketch, though — like Nero’s probably one of the best of the series, and well-matched with it. “Skilful use of the tension inherent in a comedian working to get a laugh to illuminate the insecurity of the ruled under the ruler, as expressed in fart noises”; if I ever write a masters’ thesis, that is so the first header.
  • ’Awesome USA’, huh? Right, while I’d advise not encouraging them too far, it does fit the rhyming scheme, so still not complaining… except that I think we’ve discovered Willbond the accent ‘spert’s Kryptonite, and it is wearing a cowboy hat. And we won’t even discuss the effect on Jim and Mar… oh, screw it, they’re having entirely too much fun to stop now, and so am I to care what they sound like. Ben does make a surprisingly convincing Billy the Kid otherwise.
  • Cliff Whiteley is an interesting concept, albeit a tad over-produced for the value. It also has a built-in credibility problem, given the need to position Cliff as an experienced, streetwise historical shyster whose actual knowledge of history would nevertheless be dubious on a primary-grade level — swallowing Wild Western myth-building whole, for instance, or (in an unaired segment) unaware that the Royal Family has German roots. Especially is all this worrisome since — as a later segment will indicate — Horrible Histories, the TV show, very much exists in the Whiteleyverse.

95% Accu-rat:

  • Right, so, seriously, Spartan love. The song fudges a little (about the only part of the production that does); what was ‘banned until you’re thirty’ was marriage, as in to the opposite sex, to provide children to keep the State strong and thriving. Until then… well, they spent their entire adolescence through young manhood cooped up in close proximity with other young men they were taught to rely upon absolutely as comrades-in-arms; you do the math.
  • Much has been written regarding the general Greek attitude to homosexuality, and in particular pederasty (and thanks to the Alexandria sketch much has likely been looked up prior to this), so I’ll just say here that the Greeks regarded love of all kinds much as they did anything else: as not so much a question of morality as artistic expression. Also, that actual sex didn’t necessarily have anything to do with it.
  • On the subject of the Tudors, as ever, I can provide details. Let’s break this down: a) Yes, Henry VIII had a famous jester named Will Sommers (or ‘Somers’), who could get away with an awful lot in the royal presence — although he once nearly lost his head at the royal hand for daring to be rude about Anne Boleyn. b) Yes, Queen Katharine — the otherwise wholly unremarkable, giggly young result of Henry’s midlife crisis — did sleep around, although apparently with only the one man after her marriage. c) Yes, life was a job lot simpler for everyone nearby when Henry was in a good mood.
  • And d) this is the important bit — no, a) didn’t break the news of b) to c). What actually did happen was Archbishop Cranmer (a prominent Protestant in opposition to Katharine’s powerfully Catholic Howard family) wrote a letter, and placed it where Henry would find it after evening prayers. Whereupon Henry did call for Katharine’s execution; that is, understandably humiliated and furious with it, he burst into tears and started yelling for an axe. They finally calmed him down enough to let it go through proper investigative channels, but he never did see her again.
  • That crazy Wyatt Earp, always playing fast and loose with the truth — possibly including, as it happens, when telling Cliff Whiteley what ‘really’ took place at the OK Corral. The details of that day, from the motives of the participants up to and including who had guns when, are still very much in dispute, and even scholars of the period agree the real story will never be known. (I’d *ahem* suggest the really excellent The Last Gunfight by Jeff Guinn to those interested in an in-depth overview of the Earp clan in general and their antics at Tombstone in particular.)
  • Oh, and Pearl Hart: also absolutely worth reading up in detail. Not just because — as I just discovered myself — she was Canadian-born, only a couple hours down the road from where I’m typing this (actually, the next village over from my hometown). Quite the fierce and resourceful participant in not only the Wild West but the general female mythos of her time, was our Pearl.
  • On the other hand, yes, the Pony Express, in reality much more evanescent than the romantic ideal — a characteristic it shared with pretty much all the ‘wildness’ associated with the western USA in the 1880’s, wherein the guiding principles weren’t the romantic notions of personal freedom, but the prosaic realities of money and political power.
  • Meaning this particular aspect of it wasn’t particularly mourned at the time, either, because frankly, as shown here, you couldn’t come up with a less efficient postal system if you’d actually set out to make all the lousy-service cliches come true in one stroke. As per Mystery Science Theatre 3000: “The Pony Express: When it absolutely, positively has to be there in… three-four months or so.”
  • The Nero sketch is accurate as far as it goes… which is to say, just a little bit too far for most viewers’ stomach contents. Although, interestingly, one contemporary historian suggests Poppaea Sabina was really a rather nice, thoughtful lady, who urged her Imperial husband to show mercy to the Christians.
  • But hey, it’s Emperor Nero. You just know he’s not going to delegate a detail like kicking his wife to death (and why would you specify ‘kicking’ to your hitman anyway?); he’s going to do it himself. In the stomach. While she’s pregnant. Usual disclaimers about sourcing apply, especially to whether it was intentional and/or how remorseful Nero actually was… none of which make it a pleasant story by anyone’s account.
 
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Posted by on February 24, 2013 in Series Two

 

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