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S04E08

*SPLAT*
Only think, my son: the gods have chosen you to receive this divine message. Perhaps this bird brings tidings of great joy — or of a future love! Perhaps you have been singled out for greatness…!
Or perhaps the gods want us to stop standing under trees full of doves!
*SPLAT*
Yeah, could be that too…

Ever wonder what might have been had the show skipped over all those carefully-considered creative strides toward cross-demographic subtlety and just upgraded Series One to PG-13 instead? Well…

In this episode:

Song: Luddites! — Proletariat punk rockers Jim, Mat, Simon and Larry channel the original rage against the machine.

Recurring sketches:

Wonders of the Viking Universe — “What we Vikings don’t know about the universe isn’t worth knowing! …And we also know that it rests in the branches of an enormous tree called Yggdrasil! Amazing!” “Brian… stick to the script, yeah?”

Historical Dating Service — Viking warrior seeks a wife… and may have found one right there in the office. (“Now, how much will your father want for you?” “Oh, Sally’s cheap as chips. In fact, for two bags of chips, you could probably marry Sal and her sister!” “Hum. Nice deal. Well, I must go and fetch the goat…”)

Computer Game: Scorpus Chariot Racer! — “Yeah, green’s good… although red doesn’t show up your opponents’ blood so much!”

Stupid Deaths — Richard the Lionheart (Hit with a child defender’s arrow while distracted by the grownups’ comic efforts at defense, and… “Wait, you went into battle without wearing armour?” “Oh, totes! It’s how I roll!”)

Historical Apprentice — crop-rotation pioneer Viscount ‘Turnip’ Townshend and his Team Whig -vs- the random peasants on Team Go Wurzel (“I’m a Georgian gent, I never get my hands dirty. I’m more the ‘ideas’ person.” “Yeh, and I’m the ‘do the actual work’ person!”)

Shouty Man — New! Ancient Greek Tattoo Messenger (“Simply shave the head of your most trusted slave, then tattoo the message directly onto his skull… wait for his hair to grow back, and voila! The messaging system that’s ‘hair’ today, but not gone tomorrow! …or something.”)

Historical Dentist — Tudor (“You’re not going to put that poo into my mouth?!” “Don’t be ridiculous! In order to be effective, it must be your own poo. Ah, I don’t suppose you feel like –” “Not a chance, mate.”)

One-offs:

Rotten Romans

Disastrous Relief — After the Great Fire of Rome, Emperor Nero tours the devastation… which goes about as well as you’d expect. (“But Emperor, our lives have been destroyed! You have to do something for us!” “And so I shall! I promise you that I will not rest, until there is a thirty-five-foot bronze statue of me just — there! How do you think I should pose? Grapes, or no grapes?”)

Nasty Knights

Here There Be Monsters — A Crusader prepares the new recruits for the exotic fauna they might encounter in the Holy Land and OHAI MP’S ‘SELF-DEFENSE AGAINST FRESH FRUIT’ SKETCH DIDN’T SEE YOU THERE. (“What about the one-legged Cyclops?! What’ll you do then, hey?! — Too slow!! You think that slow, and he will dance on your grave — “ “Hop.” “Hop on your grave!!!”)

New! Mellified Man — A mummy in honey that’s yummy! “Want a great way to start their day? Give them the finest delicacy of modern Arabia! Chunks of real honey-soaked hundred-year-old dead person!”

Groovy Greeks

Winged Messengers — One thing about birds as divine symbols, they’re not subtle. At all. “Look, a dove! Tell us Aphrodite’s bidding, O White-Winged One!” *SPLAT!* “A blessing!” “Easy for you to say, you don’t have poo on your shoulder!”

Terrible Tudors

HHTV News: Behind the Throne — Profiling Sir Thomas Heneage, Henry VIII’s Groom of the Stool. Let’s just say, when historians speak of the position’s unprecedented access to the King, they were so not exaggerating.

Field Notes:

  • Right, so it turns out the Samuel L. Jackson pastiche was merely the beginning of the gleeful grossology update; in other words, it was already clear that the HH crew are past caring about any Carthaginian demographic barriers, and this is where we find out just how far. Spoiler: somewhere just barely south of the post-10PM programming watershed.
  • Which I… did not strictly consider necessary to my viewing happiness, but can sympathise. It is a truth universally acknowledged that, when a children’s edutainment series has patiently worked its way to grownup creative respectability, the creators thereof are entitled to have a bit of fun. At least, this is what I keep telling myself. Along with the occasional “well, at least they’re not actually sitting on the toilet this time… much…”
  • So what the hey, let’s patch together a half-hour kiddy gigglefest out of — among other things — Henry VIII’s bowel movements, mummies for breakfast, Historical Dentists with S&M fetishes and finding out exactly how desperate the Historical Dating Service tarts are! Oh, and of course a Sex Pistols-inspired song. Because education, or whatever it is that makes the BBC feel better about lyrics like “smash my switch up!”
  • It really is educational, though… the song, that is. (We’ll get to the mummies later.) Also, a job lot of satisfyingly clever fun. It’s so fundamentally logical, and universal, a subject/genre parody mashup that this team basically could not possibly screw it up, either production or performance. Once the connection was made, the only thing left to do was get out of the way and let the gang have at it…
  • …possibly after purchasing some additional insurance on ersatz Johnny Rotten and Joe Strummer, there. Giving Jim and Mat full licence to lose all inhibitions is not only as brilliantly, authentically entertaining as you’d expect, but also as you’d expect comes with bonus hilarity in the form of Jim’s subsequent Twitter account of having ‘nearly killed Mat and a crewmember’ with that staff.
  • Mind you, it’s not all about the rowdy stuff. There is still Historical Apprentice, once again starring Chris Addison and what I think we can safely now dub his thing for flouncy wigs. At any rate, as the wigs have gotten bigger — and, OK, his time spent hanging out-on set presumably increased — his confidence has noticeably expanded, to the point where he’s a genuine addition to the HH house style. (Check out the grin on ‘I’m a gent’, especially.) It’s a real shame it turns out to be one of those classic ‘finally gets it just as he has to go’ moments.
  • As a sendoff, though, it definitely makes the most of the trip. Leave it to HH to turn a sketch literally all about crop rotation into one of the flat-out funniest, most engaging of the series — largely because the slightness of the subject serves to allow Larry, Mat and Greg J. all to demonstrate just how adept they’ve become at filling in the odd comedy corners. The first two are of course old hands at the hilarious idiot game, but you especially have to love Greg, totally unable to keep his own intelligent interest from shining through the mute pitchfork-toting peasant.
  • Meantime Jim is still doing a great job of being Donald Trump Except Non-Ironically Entertaining — seriously, if the real-life Lord Sugar also does things like insist the Queen produce her birth certificate to prove she’s not one of the Lizard People, I don’t want to know, OK? The guy’s really starting to grow on me. As is his assistant Martha.
  • His assistant Lawry, on the other hand, is really starting to make me want a shower. And then I got to the Historical Dentist bit, and… well, look, let me stress the good news: as Not Brian Cox, he now has the wide-eyed idiot child of the universe thing about nailed, which makes me very happy — despite a severely ironic lack of fact-checking (see below). That said, there is not enough brain bleach in the whole amazingly vast universe to make me comfortable with inviting him into my imagination to explore feces-related fun and games.
  • I am less viscerally panicked by Sarah frolicking merrily amid the sadistic undercurrents, because for better or worse my brain accepts and even respects this as the natural level-up of her S1 persona… but I still had to construct an entire little fantasy around Civilian Simon and his de-fluffed hair, and how it clearly responds to his moods, to feel properly clean again. To top it all off, incipient obsession with this or no, I can’t quite shake the feeling that the patient would more naturally have been Ben.
  • I’m better with Simon driving the chariot; that sketch could use a dash of unexpected fun, given that it’s otherwise expecting to earn same from pretty much your average PlayStation experience (and, OK, ‘Dobbinus’. Heh…). Granted this isn’t going to hurt its coolness factor any with small audiences — and at this point, it’s almost reassuring to have evidence that we’re still thinking about the small audiences — but mere random brutish violence, in the gaming world, does not a viable parody make.
  • It does however make a dependably great Viking parody, which just about manages to save me from questioning why the HDating Service exists in the first place. Along with my other theory, which involves the producers creating a sort of playroom for the HH cast’s domestic whims — a chance to hang out with Mat’s adorable baby, for Martha and Dominique to whoop it up, for Simon to pillage stuff, whatever. It’s all very ‘women’s programming’, only in this case the man is literally a big dumb insensitive brute with only one thing on his mind.
  • This would be an excellent time for my usual rant re: Scandinavian accents, except that it’s also time to kick off the short-but-fabulously memorable career of our final major royal character, Richard I Lionheart, and in-between the mad snickering it occurs to me that I am a total linguistic hypocrite. Because reality dictates that the uber-English legend of countless Robin Hood movies is here played by Mat in full mock-Gallic magnificence…
  • …also an arrow stuck under his armpit, kind of embarrassing that. Even with their full rich schedule of simulating fresh scalp tattoos, you’d think the f/x crew could’ve glued a suction tip on the fly.
  • Nevertheless, Richard’s Stupid Death manages for once to upstage Death’s surreal antics (although the random mummy-motivating campaign sure doesn’t hurt). The really impressive part, in fact, is the unexpected coda, and more specifically Death demonstrating he knows when to turn it off. Right in the middle of all the enthusiastic ickiness, the perfectly-judged comic maturity here might be one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever seen on the show — and it says something about their newfound confidence that they’d even try.
  • Shouty Man with new! bonus afro and tiara, on the other hand, slightly less with the endearing. I like Shouty a lot, but this does not mean I was prepared for a glimpse into what happens when Jim not only gets bored, but apparently starts reading TMZ.
  • I am more solidly enchanted with his product concept. I don’t care how formulaic the gags for your history lesson are, if the formula was first concocted for the Flintstones — and is currently being executed by Mat and his grasp of the ridiculous — you’re pretty well covered in the random hilarity department. Kind of a shame they missed their chance at the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (or possibly Waterworld) gags, though.
  • Speaking of unsettling Howick-ness… Jim’s Nero has officially joined Ben’s Henry VIII in the Could Pass in a Serious Drama stakes. I am still giggling every second the vile sociopath’s onscreen, and still hating myself for it in the morning — even the ‘Hail me!’ bit, which I think itself actually dates back to the Roman era. Clearly I have no shame… albeit in my defense, Jim is trying on the aristocratic lisp that Caligula’s been modelling for awhile now, except working off Mat’s version rather than Simon’s, and so ends up declaiming that “I will not rust…!”
  • Another way you can tell this is a straight S1 update: Python influence bunged in wholesale. Seriously, the MP influence hasn’t been this obvious for awhile… luckily the the producers’ taste in inspirational sketches is as, well, inspired as ever, and so is Jalaal’s and Larry’s timing. Jim, meanwhile, is making about as impressive a Drill Sergeant Nasty as you’d expect… which actually works well as an oddball stand-in for Cleese’s full-on insane, under the circs. Like heading around in the opposite direction to achieve the same comic results.
  • There’s more exquisitely Pythonic goodness in the ‘Winged Messengers’ bit. Easily one of the slightest excuses for a sketch in the entire canon, but so worth it just to see Simon and Mat’s respective interpretations of ‘beatific’. Again, sort of disappointed they didn’t go for Ben here — since part of me can’t help but envision a smartly wicked riff on ‘Baybond’ — but I’ll take what I can get, especially when it’s “Maybe the gods want us to stand over there…?”
  • We do eventually get mondo Benjamin in the Henry VIII sketch, which is nice. So is Jim’s chipper devoted act, which really sells the outrageous premise, and Sarah, doing the best she can as Alice’s replacement brunette newsbimbo despite not having much indignation to stand on after that HDentist bit. Otherwise… yeah, again, the toilet sketches aren’t my thing, and so a tactful veil will be drawn over further comment. Except, maybe, to offer a hug to poor dear Jim. It’s a hell of a way to win comedy awards, isn’t it?

95% Accu-rat:

  • I did get a little distracted by the unusually blatant goofs in the Viking Universe sketch — blatant enough, in fact, that I gather they may have been fixed on the DVD. In the original broadcast (of which I have the iPlayer recording), the Gorgeous Viking Scientist accidentally makes himself look not only mad, but frankly like he bought his diploma from a random guy — or possibly a talking rat — wearing a horned helmet at ComicCon. Protip: Loki is Odin’s son only in the Marvel Asgard, kids. And the ‘six-legged’ horse he gave birth to… well, why don’t we have Wiki explain it all:
  • In Norse mythology, Loki, Loptr, or Hveðrungr is a god or jötunn (or both). Loki is the son of Fárbauti and Laufey, and the brother of Helblindi and Býleistr. By the jötunn Angrboða, Loki is the father of Hel, the wolf Fenrir, and the world serpent Jörmungandr. By his wife Sigyn, Loki is the father of Narfi and/or Nari. And by the stallion Svaðilfari, Loki is the mother—giving birth in the form of a mare—to the eight-legged horse Sleipnir. In addition, Loki is referred to as the father of Váli in the Prose Edda.
  • …Amazing, isn’t it?
  • So of course is the Mellified Man, and not only because it stuns the rat into complete disgust only an episode or two after confessing to adore ‘rotten seafood sick’… and no, I don’t plan on letting that go anytime soon. Anyway, I’m sure we’ll all be most pleased — and not a bit surprised — to learn that ‘honey-soaked dead guy’ as medical aid may not have been an actual thing.
  • While honey’s uniquely limitless shelf-life could theoretically make it happen (still-edible traces of the sweet goop have been found all over the ancient world, including in some coffins) there’s very little hard evidence that it actually did, in medieval Arabia. The concept was recorded as a secondhand rumour by a 16th century Chinese pharmacologist, who noted that it even if true, it was considered a rare and exotic, uh, delicacy.
  • But wait, there’s more! The really fun part is, in the course of researching, I noticed the Wiki article has a section on ‘Similar Medical Practices’. To wit:
  • …the medicinal use of mummies, and the sale of fake ones, is “well documented” in chemistry books of 16th to 18th centuries in Europe, “but nowhere outside Arabia were the corpses volunteers”. Mummies were a common ingredient in the Middle Ages until at least the eighteenth century, and not only as medicine, but as fertilizers and even as paint. The use of corpses and body parts as medicine goes far back—in the Roman Empire the blood of dead gladiators was used as treatment for epilepsy.
  • Yep, the afterlife really could be only the beginning of your great adventure… only quite possibly not the one you were expecting. Makes the whole rest of the business with the poo and mouse parts and whatnot seem almost quaintly charming, doesn’t it?
  • Meantime, I am deeply saddened to report that tattooing random slaves did not, in fact, catch on as the text-messaging equivalent of ancient Greece. The good news is, though, that the facts as recorded here are still substantially correct. According to contemporary historian Herodotus, the whole thing was a sort of last-ditch inspiration by ancient POW Histiaeus of Miletus, who had to convince the slave in question that it would ‘help his failing eyesight’ in order to get him to submit to the procedure.
  • At any rate, the whole thing worked like a charm, the rebellion was a success and Histiaeus was freed. History doesn’t actually record what happened re: the slave’s eyesight, but I like to think he got many free rounds out of the story anyway, down at the Grecian equivalent of the pub.
 
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Posted by on July 30, 2013 in Series Four

 

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S04E01

 Take that, Hitler!

The first episode of HH the Bonafide Award-Winning Phenomenon debuts amid relentless hype, clashing expectations and creative dilemmas… if it were any other show, this is where I’d advise you start worrying. As it is, all you’ve got to be concerned with is an all-out charm assault…

In this episode:

Song: The Few (WWII RAF Pilots) — Jim as Douglas Bader; Mat, Larry, Ben and Simon as Stinky, Squiffy, Frantisek and Stanislav, respectively (Parody of: Take That, feat. Relight My Fire)

Recurring sketches:

Horrible Movie Pitch — The Dick Whittington Project (“So, who do you see playing the talking cat?” “Right, the cat thing again… This is a true story of my life. A political drama.” “Oh yeah sure sure, a political drama.” “With a talking cat.” “For kids!” “I love it.”)

Stupid Deaths — Tudor Archers (As should not actually be news, archery and stupidity don’t mix well… “So I leaned over to see what’s going on there with the bow, and…” “Yeeeessss?” “…twang. Right in me ‘ead.”)

Wonders of the Egyptian Universe —  “Before us Egyptians, no-one had any idea that the sun travelled across the sky by being rolled by a giant vast dung beetle!” “Alright, reality check, Brian: if this dung beetle is so massive, why can’t we see it?” “…a giant vast invisible dung beetle!”

Computer Game: Duat! Egyptian Journey Through the Underworld — “Look out, giant man-eating beetle! I’m packing a scroll!”

One-offs:

Slimy Stuarts

Wee For Victory — War with Scotland required a very personal sacrifice of the nation’s women… no, even more personal than that. “The makers of gunpowder for our troops are desperate… as, hopefully, are some of you…”

Warts and All — “Truly, Lady Fortune smiles on me this day! Finally, I get to paint Mr. Cromwell himself!” “…yeah, good luck with that.”

Terrible Tudors

The Spanish Armada: Judgement Year (movie trailer) — “So, to cut a long story short… no corks, no Armada.” “I’ll be back!” “Oooh, good catchphrase!” “Thanks.” “De nada.”

The Spanish Armada II: This Time It’s Really Judgement Year — “Are my ships ready?” “They are, sire.” “Do my barrels have corks?” “They do, sire!”
…”Bad news, sire! We have lost more than feefty sheeeps!” “…and the good news?” “Uhm… there’s venison for supper?”

The Spanish Armada III: This Time It Must Be Judgement Year — “What news of my Armada? Has it at last been successful?” “It has caused minor damage to Mousehole! An inconsequential village in Cornwall! Yay!” “I’ll be back!…maybe. It might take awhile.”

(Pause for Stupid Deaths sketch above, then…)

The Spanish Armada IV: Maybe This is Judgement Year — “I don’t care what happens, so long as my fleet of 140 galleons wasn’t wrecked by storms off the English coast!” “It wasn’t! … it never got that far. It was wrecked by storms off the Spanish coast.”

The Spanish Armada V: Let’s Face It, It’s Not Gonna Be Judgement Year — “Storms again?… yeah, I won’t be back. Forget it.”

Gorgeous Georgians

(Fees for) Safety First — In which seventeenth-century fire insurance is handled with all the empathic finesse of a… modern health insurance debate, come to think of it. “What happened to ‘No blaze too big, no fire too small’?!” “If you’re not insured, we won’t help at all!” “Well, can I at least borrow a bucket?” “NO.”

Toilet in the Court — You know how you never see aristocratic people going to the loo in those swank historical dramas? This right here is why.

Savage Stone Age

World of Stone — “We’ve got all the furniture new to the Neolithic era! Beds! Cupboards! Shelves! Dressers! Chairs! Even limpet tanks! Buy now, don’t pay until the Bronze Age*!” (*Delivery times may vary a lot. For henges please allow thirty years.)

Early News: End of an Era? — Guess what, people who stand in line for days to pick up the latest Apple gadget: you were out-tooled — literally — about four thousand years ago.  (“Ooh, look, they’re so shiny an’ all!” “Ehh, I reckon this whole Bronze Age thing is just a fad. I’m gonna wait for the Iron Age to come along.”)

Woeful Second World War

First, We Hit the Gift Shop — “German High Command wants us to bomb any city with three stars in the Baedeker guide.” “Do they have fudge? I luff fudge!”

Field Notes:

  • Well, this is exciting. Where I came in, you might say. Those familiar with my S2 reviews — and if you haven’t been printing them out and memorising key passages, why not, may I ask? — at any rate, those willing to put up with me to this point may recall that it was round about the Stonewall Jackson sketch in S02E11 that I finally decided to ask Google if it was just me.
  • What I found first was the Prom, which had just happened. So… clearly not just me then. The next thing I found was a comment thread re: the minor post-Prom debacle in which the cast was prevented from coming out to meet their fans, to which both Mat and Jim had apparently responded. This in turn led to an impulse to match the names I’d found to the faces… which in turn led to the discovery that holy crap there was an entire fandom out there. An over-12 fandom. (Good thing I picked up on that latter tidbit before I discovered the fanfiction, or things might’ve gotten really weird.)
  • There was also somewhere in there Stephen Fry, besides a boatload of awards, up to and including the British Comedy Award for Best Sketch Comedy. You’ll note the lack of “children’s” in that sentence; the People Who Notice These Things, UK division, certainly did. When they weren’t too busy swooning over the highwayman and snickering at the audacity of a platinum-blond Death. Clearly a delighted BBC had found itself driving a bonafide bandwagon: the kiddy educomedy it was cool for adults to love, too.
  • It was all just ridiculously, hilariously adorable… which made it unique among my experiences at the time. Clearly the only thing to do — and you might just keep this in mind, kids, next time someone tells you that escapism is harmless — was write a lengthy article for the semiprestigious online pop-culture ‘zine I was blogging for at the time, explaining in excruciating detail what a cultural phenomenon this children’s series had become…
  • …on which note I would just like to thank the entire Horrible Histories team for subsequently making me look awesomely sophisticated, instead of really, really stupid. I can tell, because as the hype for Series Four commenced, it became clear that the UK comedy community was backing me up. The show that had once pinned all its hopes for notice on Meera Syal reading fairy tales now found itself fielding requests from some of the hottest names in the business.
  • Most notably, the one from genre wunderkind Mark Gatiss and his buddies from the League of Gentlemen troupe, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, that the show host their reunion. The HH team, quite understandably, fell all over their hero-worship in their rush to say yes. Given that the LoG had produced some of the most famously dark, quirky, critically-acclaimed comedy of the last decade, this was already a much better idea than the fairy tales (or, for that matter, the Scary Stories). The really remarkable thing, though, was that the world’s most famously cynical media also thought it was a fine idea…
  • …right about the time that, as was starting to be evident towards the latter end of S3 and will become much clearer from here on in, the nature of the show’s material had undergone a sea change. Albeit not exactly in the way that’s popularly supposed. Human nature dictates that the well of Horrible historical moments will never run dry. From a creative standpoint, though, there’s a significant difference between a moment surefire enough to sum up in a cartoon and one that — while not necessarily less subtle — does require more delicate handling to extract the edutainment. Let alone what is at least nominally children’s edutainment.
  • And the HH crew had not so much run out of the former as run them into the ground. I have a mental image of writers scanning the books ever more frantically as they realise they’ve been hoist by their own ambition. After a moment of tense silence, one speaks: “… I suppose there’s always the Baron Rothschild and his –” “NO.”
  • In effect, they found themselves almost entirely thrown back on their own imaginative resources just as they were being forced to prove them. Full-blown comic maturity, a praiseworthy novelty up til now, had suddenly become a requirement on several levels… while still officially not happening at all. Because on top of everything else, thanks to revised regulations, they were now solely confined to the CBBC channel.
  • Enter the really nifty thing about all of the hype: it had been fairly earned — not just by the awards, but by the entire series of shrewd creative choices that underpinned them, both on and off camera. Shrewd, and frankly anarchistic. A team that had spent years juggling education with Python were not people who were about to be unnerved by abruptly skyrocketing expectations, however sophisticated.
  • As if to prove it, S4 kicks off with a bit of ecclesiastical exquisiteness that not only showcases the latest budget upgrades, but is the visually lavish equivalent of anything in any adult BBC historical costume epic… riiight up until you realise that what the unctuous clergyman is piously intoning is an urgent request for ladies’ pee. As in chamber pots now available under the pews. Welcome to Horrible Histories, everybody.
  • Which triumph they then follow up with an odd little interlude focussing on Oliver Cromwell’s ‘warts and all’ —  that’s literally the entire point, that warts are somehow grotesque abominations — that comes across as a script abandoned half-way through but filmed anyway because… well, hell if I know. Maybe the f/x crew spent all off-season perfecting Cromwell’s new makeup and nobody had the heart to tell them? They’d heard the fandom rumours about Lawry leaving the show and wanted to have a bit of fun off the top?
  • Alright, so subtle doesn’t always mesh well with shrewd. But by the time you get to a fourth series, sometimes, as per the above bit, endearing works nearly as well… yeah, I think I did just call Lawry endearing. Something about the way he skates right out to the edge of petulant whining trying to find a reason to still be onscreen is triggering my affectionate-nostalgia reflexes.
  • A much more effective combination of experience and intuition and endearing happens in the Armada sketch(es)… another personal set of Sketches That Make My Brain Never Stop Grinning Like a Loon, as you’ll have noticed from the fact that I’ve transcribed them nearly in full above. Thing is, in the course of which I realised that, frankly, the writing here is nearly as slight as in the Cromwell bit (although here at least they progressed as far as looking up everyone’s correct titles).
  • Then I read through them again, only in Mat and Larry’s voices to get the full effect, and I realised I’d actually just fully and totally proven… whatever it is I’ve been rambling about up to now. The whole wonderful thing is based on intimate knowledge of who the cast are and what they can do, as anchored to a perfectly adapted concept — equating Philip II’s attempts to a series of steadily diminishing movie sequels is just awesome.
  • And again, awesomely adult… on a few separate levels, as evidenced that Ben-as-Drake got his own notice in the reviews, and rightfully so. They really don’t give him enough chances to play with that suave… the smug is good, but it’s just not the same. Meanwhile, back in the foreground, Larry and Mat play off each other with the inspired — and, not incidentally, unselfish — brilliance of comedians who by now trust each other even unto stupid accents. Pace Carl Reiner, they “don’t know what’s going to come out — but they know that something is!”
  • Speaking of which: Kind of a shame that all the ‘Gift Shop Bombers’ bit is remembered for is the fudge; that’s probably the least remarkable aspect of the enchantingly unique comic chemistry that happens whenever Ben and Simon’s veteran understanding of ridiculousness is deliberately paired. Seriously, this is now officially not a co-incidence. Not sure whether it’s the result of the writers getting excited at that prospect or production carefully selecting the assignment, but they’re inevitably among the best-written sketches of their series, and this here is probably the best of that lot. Just fabulously witty stuff — I honestly had to restrain myself from transcribing it in full.
  • Great ensemble stuff also from Martha and the competing fire brigades, esp. Ben, who is clearly now allowed to amuse himself on-set however he wants. They all really do turn this very slight sketch into something close to a classic. In the process, quite seriously, demonstrating how much individual leeway they’ve been given by now within the format — to become a troupe, in fact. The evolution of Yonderland etc starts right here, kids.
  • Oh, and “Ding-a-ling-a-ling!” Simon and the marshmallows… nope, he hasn’t let me down yet. Not even once. And certainly not while being the go-to caveperson. In related news, it’s kind of interesting, as always, what media concepts — like annoying furniture ads — turn out to be cross-cultural… it’s somehow always not the ones I would’ve imagined.
  • We’re actually reintroduced to Death in the middle of playing rock-paper-scissors with the skeletons, which I like to think of as my own particular little cosmic present for being a really good fan. Aside from which — and the total lack of explanation for the new mummy sidekick, which acts as the pink bow on top — his contribution to the new creative subtlety this season will involve more patiently letting the corpses… ah, hang themselves, so to speak, with their own stories. Or, in this case, accents. Larry’s is the better anecdote, but Mat’s — by a hair — is the better-told.
  • By now, of course, you’re wondering how the music fits into all this… well, if you’re not, rest assured that the prospective new S4 audience certainly was, with bells on. Having as usual already surmounted the challenges the prose sketches were facing — up to and including ‘dazzlingly subtle maturity’ — this series’ musical efforts will focus increasingly on finding clever genre matches as a sort of quick shortcut to maintaining that impressiveness, or at least, quite a lot of impressed new fans.
  • Whether the actual songwriting itself rose to the occasion, as it did so amazingly last series… well, that’s to be seen. For now, it’s altogether irrelevant. The point of this series’ debut number is merely “Yeah, you remember that boy-band thing you all drooled over? So check this — now we have DANCE MOVES!” Well, sort of. Kiddy-show-level expectations do have their uses, not least when trying to pass off Willbond needing to not only stay in step but hold a note. Also, Larry doing that… whatever he does, when there’s music. Expecting it is not quite the same thing as being prepared for it.
  • OK, I know, details. In all seriousness this thing is a positive arabesque of engaging… IN A PLANE!… that somehow works as an affectionate takeoff of both real and Hollywood-style wartime heroics — while still providing fully *ahem* believably dashing eye candy. I’m literally only just now realising how horribly tacky topping things off with a Churchill quote could’ve come across under the circs, that’s the level of goodwill this show had built up to this point. As far as I know, there wasn’t even a perturbed letter written to the Daily Mail.
  • I personally tend to focus more on the goofy stuff mostly because my distaste for the genre target is such that the accuracy would otherwise really start to get in the way of my enjoyment after awhile. (You ever try to clear mouth foam off a keyboard?) So it falls to the guys to cheer me up, and as usual they don’t disappoint.
  • Especially not Mat, who’s throwing himself full-tilt into this whole derring-do-doing bit despite wearing a uniform that — as per usual in these things — is easily two sizes too big. Granted they’ve done a very decent job of tucking the extra in round the belt; still, being the one member of the squadron with both a lead vocal and a noticeably nipped-in waist cannot have been a major confidence-booster either. (I also wouldn’t have minded being in Jim’s head when they told him about having to fake prosthetic legs.)
  • So having gone on at length about subtlety and complexity, I must now concede that it’s time to introduce the League of Gentlemen into the conversation. Personally I could sum the whole thing up as ‘I don’t care if the HH stuff is nothing more than a showcase for their reunion, it’s all just completely freakin’ hilarious,’ but given that this is clearly the minority POV…
  • The trick is remembering that it is the LoG’s reunion. Everything I said in S02E03 about giving the Big Name(s) a safe place to play within an established, stylised concept applies here as well, except with extra chocolate on top in the form of what I said earlier in this review about it being an honour. No offense to the uber-dependable David Baddiel, but his presence didn’t rate a full-colour spread in the Radio Times. (Although it can be argued that the fez deserved one.)
  • In that context, perhaps it’s worth reconsidering the fact that two parties nevertheless came up with a durable, dependably funny and fascinating concept — one that meshes the worlds of celebrity and historical satire in a way that’s relevant to both, leaving the LoG free rein to do their preternaturally quick, clever thing and the show to provide interesting historical insights at the same time. Come to think of it, in most important respects it’s quite like Stupid Deaths.
  • This one in particular, I can’t understand what’s not to love. There’s just something about the way they bounce the over-the-top cynicism off Mat’s primly sweet earnestness — the talking cat -vs- “I created the first public toilets in London!” — that means I can’t stop giggling, no matter how often I watch it. (“How do you feel about Keira Knightley playing you?” Oh, god…) Also, as a footnote, nifty bit of accent misdirection on Gatiss there at the beginning. No idea why he decided to try the American, but I salute a decent attempt. The whole corporate stuffed-shirt thing really suits him, weirdly enough.
  • “Hi, I’m a hot Egyptian scientist…” Oh, very subtle, there, show. In not-entirely-unrelated news, the other major creative development this series will be a sharp uptick in the recognizable parodies. Despite the challenges any pop-culture takeoff faces re: aging well — and, as I can testify, exporting well — this is basically good news. Both as a way to be very-but-not-really adult, and to take advantage of some hitherto criminally unappreciated mimicry skills among the troupe.
  • Having now seen the original, I can appreciate that ‘Lewin!’ would’ve popped into the producer’s heads almost immediately… and frankly agree with them. It’s a shade too excitable for strict accuracy — as far as I can gather, Prof. Cox is more about the angsty “I am but a dust mote in the Great Cosmic Reality” understatement — but having once been handed this assignment, it’s easy to understand our Lawry jumping at it full-tilt. Yep, he’s won my heart… for those three minutes, anyway.
  • Ooh, and while we’re on about impressively heart-winning angst, check Ben in Val Kilmer’s wig from The Saint!… right, so there’s a joke exactly three people will get. Of whom apparently at least two are on the HH makeup team.
  • Speaking of which, it’s past time to pay tribute to this series’ f/x upgrades, including as noted impressively updated makeup jobs on Cromwell and Elizabeth I, a quick cut-n-style for Death, vastly improved computer-game graphics that allow for true, and truly hilarious, player interaction… and a squeefully tasteful teeny portrait of Gran and Grandpa Rattus, indicating that fame may have gone slightly to the head of our host rodent. (My theory is that, instead of a badger they eventually gave him a teeny raise to handle ‘the sad bits’).
  • O and hai, Also Starring Sarah H.! Can’t say I’m wildly excited to have you and your shrill little voice back, but hey, you’re an integral part of the HH lore, so… on the other hand, so is Lawry. Watch it, lady.
  • ‘Vanessa Stonebottom’? ‘Trevor Geek’? Yeah, some things HH will never change… no matter how much they should. Despite which the Bronze Age report is a fun little expansion on the Internet sketches (and incidentally a nice complement to the ‘aBook’ bit from S03E01). Much love for Mat the cave-hipster; I will not suggest he’s basically playing himself, because that would be evil, and… uh… oh, look, they even managed to work in some Ben-annoyed-with-Jim stuff! Awesome! *runs away*

95% Accu-rat:

  • Congratulations on making it all the way down here! Your reward is learning that Oliver Cromwell really should’ve been referred to as ‘Lord Protector’ (or more formally, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland), not ‘Mr’. He wasn’t any fonder of pointlessly fancypants titles than he was of formal portraits — and of course calling him ‘Your Highness’ was just totally defeating the point — but they had to put something on the official flowcharts, so this was the compromise.
  • Yep, Philip II really did not take his rejection by then-Princess Elizabeth at all well. It pleased Liz to claim in later years that his obsession with retaking England was all about thwarted love for her, and that in fact she could have him back merely by ‘crooking her little finger’. She of course refused to think of it out of love for her stalwart subjects, but still.
  • In reality, of course, it had much more to do with the fact that on her accession Liz has definitively tipped the national religious scales to Protestant, and as you may recall from previous entries, Philip was a confirmed fanatical Catholic. Not that this alone exactly justified wasting the equivalent of billions in national resources or anything… only that it really helps your lust for conquest when it’s sanctioned by the Pope, and back then His Holiness could totally do that.
  • Elizabeth was after all not only a ‘weak and feeble woman’, but one that the Vatican still officially considered illegitimate. By their lights, given that Mary Queen of Scots was still a toddler at this point, Philip was about as close to a Divinely-sanctioned legitimate claimant to the English throne  as was going. So you can just about imagine how wrecked his day was when God apparently sided with the heretic five times running.
  • Incidentally, the ‘minor damage to Mousehole’ is more formally known as the Mounts Bay Raid, or as Wiki seems to be alone in calling it, the Battle of Cornwall. On the international scale it was indeed a pretty inconsequential affair, although to the locals the whole ‘overpowering the local militia and setting fire to the town’ thingy must’ve been pretty damn inconvenient at least. Sir Walter Raleigh apparently wasn’t best pleased about having to bustle down to what he evidently considered the back end of civilization and train the remaining defenders, either.
  • So the Egyptian Book of the Dead: actually a personalised document commissioned for each individual mummy, of which several still exist to this day. They do indeed contain all sorts of spells and other stuff to impress and amaze your friends… a lot of stuff. This is afterlife as extended D&D session, and it’s hard not to imagine that a lot of it was designed to serve mostly the same purpose. Real life probably got really really boring at times, out there in the desert hauling stones around.
  • The sketch here actually starts a little late in the process; you’re a mummy, remember, so your first priority would be making sure all that disembowelling wouldn’t hurt your chances. During embalming there would be chants performed to preserve your body (‘jewelled heart scarabs’ available for a small fee in case of damage to the real thing), and later on food and incense offerings designed to satisfy your ka, or life-force, which was a bit peckish after all that reassembly.
  • Finally, the appropriate spells would then transmute you into a sort of soul-shadow, suitable for negotiating the Byzantine corridors of the afterlife — many, many more than could be comfortably fitted into one short sketch. If you were lucky — or at least had friends with a lot of time on their hands — and completed all the steps above, you became an akh, and earned the right to travel with Ra himself in his golden barge; if not, you remained a ba, a bird-headed being that had to maneuvre under its own, um, wing-power. Either way, I can’t help thinking it would’ve improved the sketch immensely…
 
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Posted by on June 23, 2013 in Series Four

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

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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S03E04

Well, from the records I’ve been able to find — birth certificates, that sort of thing — there’s a very strong possibility that you are descended from royalty!
*….* Of course I’m descended from royalty! I’m King!
Oh, so you knew?

The show bounces back from a rather stolid outing on a trampoline made of 100% pure endearing. This right here is the episode you show your friends, when they wonder what’s up with you and snickering madly at children’s TV. Trust me.

In this episode:

Song: Work, Terrible Work! — Ben, Mat and Larry as Victorian factory owners; the children’s chorus as their tiniest employees. (Parody of: Food, Glorious Food! from the musical Oliver!)

Recurring sketches:

Historical Fashion Fix — Gilbert the Middle Ages Peasant Becomes a Noble… Illegally (“C’mere, peasant, I’m arrestin’ you!” “What for?!” “That outfit — it’s criminal!” “Oh, that’s weak…”)

DI Bones: Historical Crime Squad — Caligula and the Mystery Assassins (“Oh, mother! What kind of sick man would attack a priest with a hammer?!” “…You’re really not getting the hang of this, are you?”)

Computer Game: Arena Fighter — The good news for Roman criminals: they were given a chance to battle it out in the Roman arena. The bad news? …Yeah.

Dominic Duckworth: HHTV Investigates — The Age of Chivalry… Not! (“Augh! He hit me with a fish!”)

Stupid Deaths — Knights Templar (One drowned in a latrine pit, and… “He made such a noise, that he woke all the Saracens in the camp! They swiftly surrounded and killed us!” “I have said sorry for that, y’know.”)

Words We Get From the — Greeks, part 2

Historical Headmasters — Spartan (“What? Stealing?!… Well done, lad!”)

George IV: Who on Earth Are You? — Hint: not somebody who was overly fond of his ancestors. Any of them. (“In an unusual twist on what normally happens on this show, the King of England has taken our historian into St. George’s Chapel, to prod some of his dead relatives. It’s all gone a bit weird, really.”)

One-offs:

Slimy Stuarts

The Happy Highwayman –“So, to summarise: You’re a Royalist, you’re down on your luck, and you don’t actually have any money. So then! Guess there’s only one thing for it!… *click* *EEK!* “…Here’s a bag of gold coins to tide you over.”

A Mug for the Royal Mug — Charles II has a moment of visionary clarity and strikes a decisive blow against tacky monarchist tchotchkes, thus earning him the gratitude of generations of Commonwealth citizens… that, and he was really looking forward to that ruby-encrusted statue.

Measly Middle Ages

Leech Catching a-Go-Go — A professional leech-catcher from the Middle Ages demonstrates how it’s done… involuntarily. Several times. While trying to explain to a sceptical pal how great his job is. (“Well, I’ll tell you what, Geoff: I think it sucks! Ha!”)

Rotten Romans

Are They Dead Yet? — So you’ve lost your gladiatorial match, and you’re lying on the ground convinced that this could not possibly get any worse… Then the guy dressed as the god of death shows up wielding a red-hot poker, and you remember: you’re Roman.

Field Notes:

  • Hello! Now, how did I manage to miss this episode? I mean, I didn’t actually miss it, because it turns out to be a personal Greatest Hits collection of all the sketches whose memory makes me go ‘Yeah! Hee! I should so watch that one again… now, which episode was that?” I kid you not: somehow it has never subsequently clicked that the ‘That DI Bones one with Caligula!’ and ‘The one where Larry’s catching leeches!’ and ‘Wait, wasn’t there one where George IV actually starts pulling tombs around?!’ internal dialogues all have the same source.
  • And somehow I just forgot altogether that there was a Fashion Fix featuring Mat and Jim falling all over each other’s naked chests. I feel specially bad about this one — not only on account of my apparently incipient Alzheimer’s but because the boys are working SO HARD to make sure this sketch is not only memorable, but full-on makes it onto Tumblr. They’re tossing in every last bit of fan bait possible, up to and including sniffing… well, everything above the waist, really. And as far as I can tell, it didn’t work.
  • This is a total shame, even if you skip the innuendo-fest. It is just so cute, how even the uber-bitchy FF host (“Smelling salts for the star! And a skinny mocha!” — seriously, I think they skipped the script & just sent Mat to intern with Free People for a week) can’t resist Jim the Woobie, who is in turn pulling out all the stops here, to the point where he might as well be an Eeyore illustration.
  • Literally every moment is worthy of a .gif — they even throw punny Larry in there, presumably as a last-ditch sop to the Hale groupies — but nope, it’s Baybond that’s inevitably become the thing. Were I Jim, I think I might be mildly insulted by this.
  • The universe — or at least Larry, evident author of the leech-catching bit — has however seen fit to reward our Howick with a rare character that isn’t karma’s chew toy. In fact he actually gets to deliver the punchline, and you can tell he is so appreciating this to the full, because he looks way happier than any man should to be delivering a pun that abysmal.
  • Mind you, Larry is at the same time doing full penance for his sins, not only here but in the Stupid Death; thus definitively proving himself either the world’s best sport or its most benign masochist. Either way, the resulting air of wounded dignity shining through the goop is ridiculously funny, especially when combined with the ability to simulate being attacked by leeches. How you would phrase this on a performers’ CV I have no idea, but I do think it deserves at least a line.
  • Meanwhile Mat’s also off in odd corners being funny, with full emphasis on the ‘ridiculous’ (and even fuller emphasis on the ‘falling over’). In fact he’s so excited apparently to be playing Charles II again, I caught myself involuntarily muttering “Down, boy!” Although really, he has a point — to the extent that the credibility stretch actually messes with the mirth a bit. Y’know, the man goes around dressed like that, he has a right to assume his advisors know he’s OK with blatant overkill.
  • Also, those wigs; interestingly enough Mat turns out to be the only one who can wear them without looking like he’s being slowly devoured by the Lion costume from the Wizard of Oz. (While I’m on, the Baynton nonchalance re: plastic wings glued to his temples is also impressive. I’d be batting at them compulsively within seconds.) Ben has a much more understanding relationship with the stiff Cavalier hat from the highwayman bit – something about the way it’s bristling along with his indignation tickles me mightily.
  • Oh, look, somebody’s figured out a way to combine Lawry’s total inoffensiveness with his psychotic bastardness in one sketch! Now that is clever — charming, even, in a weird making-personable-lemonade-out-of-a-lemon-persona way. Especially since, I don’t know what it is about HH villain characters and their villainous note-taking, but every time they pull those little pieces of paper out – shades of Draco in the ‘Historical Law’ bit — I cannot stop giggling.
  • Between all this, and totally wanting that cape, I am almost reconciled to the realisation that the show is just going to keep bunging variations on the stick-insecty theme at me until I give in. I will even concede that, despite his mildly dopey name, Sir Francis Guesswork proves a (comedically) sophisticated foil to George IV, as well. It also gives Ben a break for once — that royal-advisor smug of his is fully amazing, but looks like it might get painful to maintain after awhile.
  • Characteristically, Lawry does an especially fine job of looking totally grossed out… come to think of it, those coffins would be nigh-irresistible to a prank-inclined props team. Really, that whole genealogy sketch is just… whatever I was saying about lazy writing last ep, forget it, OK? Just a deliriously perfect blend of characters, subject matter and sheer non-sequitur dark comedy that is like nothing the show has or will ever manage again — just brilliant.
  • This is another way you can tell that the comedy is now the confirmed priority: sketches that are obviously about the writers playing with the character, not their historical value. There’s another beautiful example here in the beyond-hilariously-inspired pairing of DI Bones and Caligula — and can we all just take a second to be relieved that Simon’s back playing the latter? Apparently, His Imperial Loopiness got a brunet rinse for the occasion and everything.
  • (Oh, and the story about killing the priest instead of the sacrificial beast, are we all convinced that’s just the most gruesomely giggleworthy anecdote ever, yet? You in the back? Yeah, just wait…)
  • Anyway, so he’s already totally fun to write for, and on top of that someone’s taken a real shine to the dour DI, and/or has an affinity for American B-movie melodramas. They also, evidently, know what Mat can do with melodrama given the chance. The result plays almost as a parody of the duo’s usual Roman-sketch dynamic: Here, it’s Mat who forces Simon to underplay to him… which Simon characteristically turns into a chance to make Caligula even more deliciously unhinged. It’s all just immensely satisfying for the serious HH fan.
  • What? Yes, of course I remember there was a song. It’s… um, a very catchy song. Yeah. In fact, it’s a catchy song about the horrors of Victorian child labour which is in turn a takeoff of a catchy ditty about the horrors of Victorian-era workhouses. So the parody has a sort of recursive-meta-loop thing going on, which I enjoy because I’m Aspergers-y like that, and totally not because I am looking for ways to keep my interest level high enough to comment in the first place.
  • …At least, not entirely. Because, OK, those uber-Broadway numbers that end with everyone’s arms outstretched to the balconies are not really my thing, especially not the moppet-intensive kind. (I think Annie — the Albert Finney movie version — may have caused my snark instincts to develop prematurely.) Even the cue cards can’t really cut through my scepticism here. The fact that this is the approximately 9328th iteration of the theme (in fact it’s basically the very first sketch on Victorian child labour set to music) may also not be helping.
  • For those of you who do enjoy this sort of thing, though, go nuts with my full backing. It’s a great video. It’s beautifully produced, and entirely accurate — Oliver! Lite, now with 50% less simplistic melodrama. It also features Ben finding the absolute best use for this talk-singy smug ever… really, just one of the best uses for Ben ever. The man was born to play an old-fashioned Carnegie capitalist type, to the extent where any picture I have subsequently seen of him without muttonchops causes some faint melancholy.
  • I also very much like the way Mat’s coldly stern pose visibly dissolves the closer his contact with his teeny ’employees’ — very sweet. There’s no way to blame him; although this lot is extraordinarily adept at the song-and-dance stuff by the standards of kiddy TV — especially the little pickpocket — they are in no way over-rehearsed. The combo produces a charming effect similar to the actual kids’ voices used in the Peanuts specials.
  • Oh look, it’s another random recurring invasion of the present by the past: Historical Headmasters…. yeah, yay. This (spoiler alert) really should’ve been a one-off bit; this one is just a rehash of the Spartan song, only now with new extra-special weird in the form of NOBODY FREAKING CALLING THIS OUT AS WEIRD! I mean, c’mon now people! At least call a PTA meeting, or whatever you have over there!
  • Although… given the way the fluorescent lighting hilights the extreme plastic-ness of the ‘leather’ armour, it’s possible to imagine dude’s merely an escaped mental patient and everyone’s been advised not to disrupt his fantasy until the doctors get there. Which helps. Also, cute Bertie is cute… and so is Rattus’ little random Rembrandt outfit! ‘FleaBay’ — squeeee!
  • Oh… so that’s who Dominic Duckworth is? Apologies to whomever’s entry I deleted off TVTropes because I totally didn’t recognise the name. Even after the ‘hit me with a fish!’ line was used in S3 promos over here for the longest time. I will be having a stern discussion with my hippocampus shortly.
  • Right, so this is a decently clever bit — obviously so, to the point where I’m rather surprised it hasn’t been tried before this. The ‘Bible-Cam’, another nice touch. I do wish they’d sprung for a power tie or cufflinks or something on Dom, though. The set, on the other hand, is really making me wish the budget increase had kicked in before the Field of Cloth of Gold sketch…

95% Accu-rat:

  • “Short tunics are very fashionable now!”… cue panicked blushing as every adult in the viewing audience starts realising why short tunics were fashionable, for men in particular… then realises their kids are looking at them funny… Well played, show.
  • So, Captain James Hind. What he was captain of is a bit obscure, but swashbuckling seems as good a candidate as any. OK, so the good taste in capes may have been exaggerated a bit. And the claim that he solely robbed Cromwell supporters seems only to have been made by the man himself as he was about to be executed for high treason, ie. supporting the Royalist cause — like Dick Turpin, he wasn’t above thuggery and murder when it suited him, regardless.
  • But in every other respect he was as flamboyant a Stuart-era character as ever twirled a moustache. His positively affectionate entry in the Newgate Calendar (the 18th-century’s answer to the True Crime Library) makes for excellent light reading, along the lines of the Scarlet Pimpernel: Hind has often been celebrated for his generosity to all sorts of people, more especially for his kindness to the poor, which it is reported was so extraordinary, that he never injured the property of any person who had not a complete share of riches.
  • Yep, that’s Charles II’s ‘s real face on the mug. Years of what back then would’ve been dubbed ‘debauched living’ will do that to you. He was in fact dark-complexioned enough (thanks in real life to that French and Italian background) that several of your more enthusiastically revisionist African Pride websites have dubbed him ‘The Black Boy King of England’ and insist that he was in fact black by heritage — where that heritage comes from gets a bit murky; there are the usual mutterings of ancient tribal migration into Europe and what not.
  • Short version: no, of course he wasn’t. He was however unusually tall for the era, standing well over six feet, and must’ve cut an imposing figure regardless (…ladies), which according to Wikipedia led to some real difficulty in finding disguises to fit whilst fleeing from Cromwell’s army. Stuffing him in an oak tree was among the more creative solutions.
  • Hey, did you know the real Caligula might not have actually been a native-born psychopath? He was the youngest son of a honest-to-goodness national hero, Germanicus, whose popularity was such that when he died suddenly it was (and is) widely assumed that Emperor Tiberius had him poisoned, to eliminate the possibility of a palace coup. Good ol’Tiberius — remember his paranoid streak? — then proceeded to execute Caligula’s mom as a traitor for being ticked at this. Then he starved her two older sons to death.
  • Caligula, on the other hand, he took something of a shine to, taking him into his household and *gulp* teaching him everything he knew. Despite which Little Bootikins was remembered by (an admittedly desperate, but still) populace mostly as a nice kid, and when he ascended the throne actually seemed to be living up to those expectations… right up until he mysteriously fell ill a few months later. Brain damage? Epilepsy? All anybody knows for sure is that that’s when the Perversity Parade started up in earnest.
  • Yeah, so, as I mentioned the last time chivalry came up, nobody actually acquainted with the human race — especially that section of it engaged in historical research should be real surprised that it worked much better as an ideal than as any sort of practical guide to human behaviour. Or, come to that, be amazed that a nice fresh fish would be considered a valuable prize in an era prior to refrigeration, especially the further inland you were.
 
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Posted by on April 28, 2013 in Series Three

 

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S02E05

I had just ten years on the throne — do you remember that?
No, all that you remember is…
I was really fat.

An episode-length lesson in the ways well-intentioned ambitions can be memorable for all the — awkward — reasons. Luckily, that also happens to be a pretty good description of King George IV…

In this episode:

Song: George IV: Couldn’t Stand My WifeJim as the Prince Regent/King George IV, Lawry as King George III

Recurring sketches:

Historical Shopping Channel — Pirate Hour

Computer Game: The Real Tomb Raider (“NO zombies! NO mummies coming back to life!” …and more to the point, no Harrison or Angelina.)

Scary Stories — The Curse of Tutankhamun (“I mean, if it’s not a real ghost story, why not get John Barrowman? Or Ant & Dec?!”)

Bob Hale — The Crusades Report (“We apologise for the technical hitch we appear to have with Bob today…”)

One-offs:

Putrid Pirates

Unexpected Treasure — Things that don’t come up often on Talk Like a Pirate Day: once you’ve hauled in the loot, yo-ho-ho, how did the fifteen men  divvy it up?

Incredible Incas

The Incan Family Players: Live Like an Inca — Or, y’know, sort of a rough approximation of an Inca. With a few pieces inexplicably borrowed from nearby cultures. Also, those hairdos. But hey, did we mention they had llamas?!

Incan Rites of Passage — Oh look, it involves a llama sacrifice! And by this point, most of the audience is probably helpfully volunteering to hold the knife!

Gorgeous Georgians

Congratu-very-lations at Last — ‘George IV learns of his father’s death’ is one ride-the-pony move away from a world-storming dance video… until his butt gets involved. (“Um… you know what might help, what if you wore a corset?” “I AM WEARING A CORSET!!“)

Measly Middle Ages

New! Old Crone — “You’ll wonder how you ever survived on a Crusade without one!” (Warning: Old Crone is very old and may not even survive the journey. Always read the label.)

Awesome USA 

Awesome Agent Moses — Sometimes, the life-or-death fight to keep the flame of humanity and equality alive just really requires you carry around a chicken.

Rotten Romans

Poop for Sale — Roman toilet cleaners out to make some extra cash… which goes about as well as you’d expect. (“No thanks, I make me own.”)

How to Behave at a Roman Dinner Party — In which the ‘very height of civilization’ turns out to resemble that of your average four-year-old — only with even more strategic upchucking. (“Well done… that’s my feet, but well done.”)

Field Notes:

  • So… in one of life’s fun little co-incidences, we’ve reached the part of Series Two when I get to be the cultural insider. (No, I’m not American myself, but trust me on this. As we Canadians like to put it, when there’s a elephant in bed beside you, you’re naturally aware of his every move.)
  • Starting with with the ongoing — and, judging by the quality of the execution, hastily-slapped-together — conceit that the Mesoamerican content is an exotic, alien interloper, being beamed from… some sort of pyramid… somewhere… via powerful Von Daniken-esque antennae. All of which leads me to wonder — why include the South American continent at all, exactly? Even if we concede the attempt to widen horizons past Western Europe, then why the Incas/Aztecs?
  • Again, given the unquestioned conscientiousness of the HH production team, I’m willing to assume there’s some sort of obvious connection to Mesoamerica I’m missing here, which some thoughtful UK reader will no doubt explain to culturally-ignorant me at length shortly after post date. But until then, I’m going to go with the theory that somebody on the same production team has an ungovernable llama fetish and figured this was the safest way to work it out. ‘Cos really now, guys.
  • Then there’s their take on the antebellum American South. Which is… a bit harder to wax sarcastic over. Sure it’s not incredibly nuanced, but then trying to work the funny closer to the reality — as per Series One’s experiment with Nazism — would…it just… nobody wants to deal with that. (Hence why Quentin Tarantino won an Oscar.) So the bumbling-but-right-hearted cartoonishness here can be easily excused, especially given that Harriet Tubman’s story is undeniably the most kickass angle possible to approach it from — also that our Dominique is clearly determined to be far more than the local token of diversity, and more power to her.
  • Still… Jim, we can probably get along from here without your Colonel Sanders impression, ‘k? Your average plantation owner may have been morally blind, but they were capable of noticing when being fooled twice by the same damn woman within thirty seconds. Your slaves also need to hitch up their American-ness a bit — I’m still onboard re: dropping the then-authentic-now-unfortunate dialect, but staying within the same continent should’ve been doable. (Protip for any freshly-inspired future UK screenwriters: ‘brilliant!’, in America, has no use except as shorthand for ‘British!’. Go with ‘great!’ instead.)
  • As for the third controversial point raised within this ep: Lawry as George III does not and could never measure up to Simon’s version. Not open for discussion, folks. Not that this diminishes the value of Lawry’s performance; he’s pulling out every tic and twitch at his disposal, which is actually pretty true to the reality of poor George’s affliction, and thus under ordinary circs would be… entirely adequate, and even charming.
  • It’s only that he’s up against Simon’s particularly extraordinary command of crazy, which is like trying to dispute Einstein’s theory of relativity; it’s possible to have fun in the speculation, but the weight of reality itself is against you in the end. Literally, as it happens, given that there exist recordings of the Prom version of this episode’s song, not to mention the inset sketches produced specially for it.
  • Now that that’s settled, we can get on to the stuff universally acknowledged to be wonderful, ie. that same song. Or more specifically, Jim’s performance thereof — and in the lead-in sketch, in which we meet the Prince of Whales in all his sniveling, superficial yet strangely poignant glory. Just when you’re starting to worry, the show offhandedly reminds you that they have available a performer, and vocalist, able to turn what could’ve been one-note childishness into a full-on festival of fun comic nuance. And you instantly resolve to never, ever doubt them again…
  • …of course, you’re also pretty sure they’ll be easing off the llama obsession from here, which also helps a lot. (As do the clever little homages to Indy and Angelina/Lara Croft in the computer game). But mostly, it’s about the comic-nuance thing. I especially like the detail paid in re: making the song just Lite-FM enough for satirical comment, yet substantial enough for the genius to shine through. Lyrically it’s maybe a bit too heavy on the ‘I did design‘ –type forced scanning, but I suppose for once that’s true to the period.
  • Basically George IV represents the apotheosis of Jim’s talents in the same way Charles II did for Mat earlier… you can tell, because the Happy Dance of Hey Dad’s Dead. Improvised of course, because no scriptwriter could possibly have seen that coming, let alone what appears to be a very authentically nonplussed Ben. You can just see him mentally resolving to never work with children, animals or inspired Howicks ever again.
  • Apropos of which… now five of the six have an iconic royal alter-ego, and Lawry has Cromwell. Meanwhile Larry has: Bob Hale. This tells you everything you need to know about our Bobsy, really. Except that he’s received the first, and most dramatic, of his annual age-lifts… which in turn coincide/contrast with his level-ups in manic irrelevance. Since meth is a non-starter, my theory involves Bob’s selling his soul for his historical expertise, on the installment plan (I have a lovely sub-theory in which he finds the contract while lost looking for after-shave in Wal-Mart), and gradually becoming ever-more-aware that he’s got nothing left to lose.
  • In related speculations, I note that his creator — as an offshoot of his role as go-to for all generic types — has somehow also become The One Who Inevitably Works With Children and Animals. Oh, and can’t forget being slathered with poop, because the writers sure won’t; which becomes several different types of amusing when you remember Larry is one of the writers. Not saying a decently-accessible masochistic streak is helpful re: working on HH… I’m just saying.
  • The general extent to which everyone’s personality quirks are starting to shine through is also on loving display in the ‘Pirate Treasure’ sketch. As is is the general level of fun everyone had, being healthy young males wearing swashbuckling costumes and yelling ‘Arrrrrrr!’ a lot. The ending is a bit of a letdown — it feels bizarrely like Mat actually did cop out, leaving the rest unsure how to fill the gap — but s’ok, the pirate sketches are still the gold standard for the HH format: intrinsically fun, funny and interesting. (Especially Mat clearly putting some thought into whacking Larry, in light of the ‘no need to bully me today’ scene in the Series Three outtakes…)
  • One minor weirdness, as per the ‘Pirate Shopping’ bit: forget it, show, that is so not Black Bart. Or if it is, I fail to see why his reputation needs to be stomped all over just because you couldn’t be bothered to respect your own continuity. Therefore, I hereby dub this guy ‘Captain Fancypants’, and now feel much better about him being snaffled by someone named ‘Cutlass Liz’.
  • Apropos of fun, Ben’s having way more of it than you’d expect starring in his own private laundry-detergent advert. I totally approve of this, also note with interest that those are one more thing both sides of the pond have in common… along with (of all things) 50’s social conditioning through hokey filmstrips. Could’ve made a great recurring thing out of that, esp. with Larry as host.

95% Accu-rat:

  • OK, Rattus, it’s an easy mistake to make, but just so everyone’s clear prior to embarrassing themselves at their next pretentious gallery opening: Agent Moses = Harriet Tubman, incredibly awesome hero of the abolitionist movement who would occasionally motivate her terrified ‘cargo’ with a loaded pistol, telling them they would ‘be free or die.’ Grandma Moses = Anna Mary Moses, incredibly cute little old lady who became an American folk-art sensation at age 78.
  • Oh, and Tubman’s newspaper distraction? It worked because everyone knew she couldn’t read, not the other way around. A white Southerner of the period, however easily amused by poultry, would never take a ‘negro’ woman for an ‘educated lady’.
  • Right, the Incans… without further editorial comment, may I just point out that:
  1. Their average day did not, in reality, consist entirely of finding new and increasingly mundane reasons to sacrifice llamas.
  2. The beer (called chicha, and still brewed among many South American peoples to this day) was not made of human spit, it was made with human spit, ie. they would — and occasionally still do — chew up some corn to kickstart the fermentation process. A seemingly subtle distinction, but an important one, given that the alcohol thus produced would naturally kill off any residual ick. Think of it as the way the American political process eventually killed off any residual Todd Akin; in both cases the way is now much clearer re: enjoying a refreshing beverage.
  3. The mass heart-ripping — as the show will concede next series — was the Aztecs’ schtick, and to a lesser extent the Mayans’, not the comparatively peaceful Incans’. Ironically, in making that mistake the show missed the chance to hilight the uniquely horrific nature of Incan sacrifice, which involved literally fattening small children up prior to leaving them on a mountain to die of exposure.
  • On the other hand, the show is if anything massively understating the loathing George IV felt for his consort. Caroline, Princess of Brunswick was actually his first cousin, and their home ties were extremely important to the elders of the House of Hanover. The kids, on the other hand, were frankly enjoying the English scenery — especially the giggly, good-natured part of it wearing low-cut blouses.  So yeah, the whole thing started as “Son, why don’t you settle down and marry a good German girl?” and deteriorated from there.
  • It was and is generally conceded that Caroline was not the world’s most loveable personality; it has been suggested that she suffered from a mild version of whatever afflicted Uncle George III. Her escort to England, Lord Malmesbury, recorded that she lacked judgment, decorum and tact, spoke her mind too readily, acted indiscreetly, and often neglected to wash, or change her dirty clothes. He went on to say that she had “some natural but no acquired morality, and no strong innate notions of its value and necessity. Or, as my Treasury of Royal Scandals puts it, a ‘crude, foul-smelling exhibitionist’, whose hobbies — after her inevitable separation from her royal husband — included sending ‘obscene and harassing’ letters to her new neighbors.
  • Regardless of all of which — and a lot more she never bothered to hide — the public inevitably took her side in every effort her husband made to rid himself of her for good, simply because they couldn’t bear to think of taking the Prince of Whales’ part in anything. Jane Austen, summing up the general theme, sniffed in a letter: Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman and because I hate her Husband. (Which incidentally became a problem when the object of her hatred revealed himself as one of her *ahem* biggest admirers, for which etiquette demanded Emma be dedicated to him.)
  • The show’s portrayal of George IV is an exaggeration based on that perception: as the man himself claims, despite his pathological self-indulgence, he was neither unintelligent, uncultured nor unkind… and frankly was quite the ‘stunning show pony’ for much of his life. As time wore on, however, it became increasingly harder to find any of it under all the chomping, slurping and… other stuff. The famous Voluptuary Under the Horrors of Digestion by James Gillray about sums up the result — note that among the bottles are remedies for venereal disease.
  • Yeah, the Curse of Tutankhamun, pretty much entirely discredited for the reasons outlined. I mention it here mostly as an excuse to share this even more hilariously OTT cursed-mummy story, which is of about the same vintage and hauls in the Titanic for good measure.
  • The Real! Tomb Raider business rather overstates the case, inasmuch as in the real reality, you’d have a brace of native labourers to do most of that grunt work for you. Your job would be basically to stand around barking directions and generally being all White Man’s Burden-y until there were signs of a significant discovery being made. At which point poor dear you also took on the wearisome business of taking all the credit and becoming an international celebrity. (One thing you would probably not be doing is wandering around in full formal dress — even Victorians knew not to wear black-tie in the desert!)
 
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Posted by on March 10, 2013 in Series Two

 

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S02E01

General, I said a weapon like a pike! I didn’t literally mean a pike, ‘pike’ was just an example! Honestly, if I told you to go and jump off a cliff, would you?!

…he’s gone to jump off a cliff.

Newly professional-looking credit sequence, newly sharp and sophisticated writing, makeup and costuming budgets obviously increased, camerawork much more assured, parodies much more pointed, Stupid Deaths upgraded, the Incredible Incas introduced, Larry and Martha now part of the leading troupe, Rattus’ hole gets a makeover… as, of course, does the music. Even the gross has been bumped up to Shakespearian heights.

Welcome to Horrible Histories.

In this episode:

Song: The Viking Song (Literally) — The ancestors of Spinal Tap: Mat (lead vocals), Ben (lead axe), Larry (bass axe) and Jim (drums)

Recurring sketches:

Come Dine With Me — Roman Emperor Elagabalus (“Huhuhuhuhuh! I’m so random!”)

Shouty Man — New! Incan Hole Childcare System (“With the unique dig-anywhere design, you can take your hole wherever you go!”)

Stupid Deaths — Bobby Leach (fearless daredevil who.. slipped on a bit of orange peel on a New Zealand sidewalk & died of gangrene)

Historical Mastermind — William Shakespeare (Great. No, really. Future argumentative revisionist: “How could a mere uneducated peasant write works of such timeless genius?” Future me: “Knock-knock!”)

Computer Game — Operation Defend Britain!… somehow. (“And just what do you think you’re doing? I’m a real nun!”)

One-offs:

Terrible Tudors

Portrait of a Furious Queen — Being a raving beauty was way easier back when “PR firm” meant “guy with a paintbrush who doesn’t breathe unless I say so.”

Incredible Incas

Incan ShamPee — “Available in all full bladders. Bucket not included.”

Vile Victorians

Welcome to Badminton House — Or as I like to think of it, Inexplicable Moments in Mild Victorian Eccentricity, Vol.3…

Great Eccentrics of the Victorian Era: The 2nd Baron Rothschild (animated) — …Vol.4… (Also vols.1, 5, 6…)

Slimy Stuarts

Fawkes’ 13 (movie trailer) — “Because you’re a Catholic, and I’m a Catholic, and the King hates Catholics! He seems to think we’re always plotting something.”

The Irony is Deafening — Royal press restrictions: one giant step backward for freedom of expression, but apparently one giant step forward for screwball comedy.

Woeful Second World War

Arming the Home Guard — Awwww, they should’ve let them keep the pikes. The grandkids would’ve paid a lot more attention to the stories later, believe you me. Especially if they also involved accidentally sticking them into nuns.

Durham Accident Book — The local (and obviously pike-free) HG division can’t even save themselves from splinters. Bonus: attempts at the accent almost as painful-sounding as the actual injuries.

Vicious Vikings

Sat Rav — Quoth the navigational device: Nevermore! (Yes, I have been saving that one. Shut up.)

Field Notes:

  • Right, the whole figuring out what worked thing, apparently it went pretty well; inasmuch as it seems to have consisted more-or-less entirely of ‘They not only bought it, they gave us more money for it! FREEEEEDOMMMMM!!” Followed by several minutes’ Dance of Joy around the boardroom, or wherever it is the creative types are given their mandates.Which is to say, the HH we all know and love — ie. a slightly more conscientious Blackadder — makes a remarkably complete and self-assured debut, to the point where said debut seriously does exude an air of almost giddy relief.
  • Thus it’s fitting that it all leads off with our first look at Mat Baynton 2.0: alternately mad, bad, and… well, not ‘dangerous’ exactly. Only that his day job just couldn’t continue to ignore the fey ambiguity behind the boyish charm. Esp. given he was just coming off a supporting stint on the notorious Horne & Corden (as literally the only aspect of it I could find described anywhere as ‘funny’) So… they decided to exploit it, instead. Then, presumably, sat back with champagne to watch as their cross-demographic horizons abruptly exploded.
  • In possibly related news, to kick off this bright new era in HH musical credibility, Mat and Larry have written… a note-perfect 80’s hair metal power ballad. The mind boggles to consider how this cross-cultural intimacy might’ve come about. The traditional way involves hanging out in a pickup truck in a Midwestern mall parking lot, drinking Old Milwaukee and playing air guitar so that it shows off your tattoos to best advantage (in case any actual girls should wander by, natch). I would scoff at this explanation, except that I have seen an actual pic of youthful Larry. Also, adult Mat’s patent inability to keep a straight face past the second chorus.
  • It may also be a factor that our Laurence just happens to have colouring very reminiscent of an *ahem* authentic ancient Norse warrior. Including unusually bright blue, deep-set eyes that, if other self-posted pics are any indication, he has long since decided are his best feature. He may be correct, at that. At any rate he is now entirely redefining ‘make the most of your chances’ even by his standards (as set during the earlier “sowsages” scene in the Elagabalus sketch). At one point during the choruses even Jim ‘Sharp Stone’ Howick is glancing over at him like “Whoa, man, family show!”
  • All snark aside, it’s just amazingly nice to have the music back. Yeah, it was mostly a no-brainer once the media picked up “Born 2 Rule” and ran with it as the cool, innovative bit; but if Series One has any meaningful legacy at all, let it be the demonstration not only that the media was exactly right, but what the alternative would be. Going forward, not all of the parody songs will be as good (and even fewer will be as sophisticated) as this one – but they will all be songs, as supervised by adults with an understanding of both music and comedy, as opposed to merely an earnest desire to entertain children.
  • It’s the most prominent of generally reassuring signs re: straight priorities. At least, this is how I reassure myself that I’m not entirely nuts to keep going with this project: the show is also actually invested in making me almost embarrassingly glad to see a time-travelling conman with no indoor voice and a Grim Reaper who’s patterning his mid-afterlife crisis as a perpetual X-Factor audition, just because he can.
  • Yes, they’re brilliant satirical concepts and all, but there’s something more intangibly satisfying happening here. When asked about the inspiration for the similarly beloved-by-all-ages Looney Tunes, Chuck Jones once said “We didn’t make them for children, and we didn’t make them for adults. We made them for ourselves.” There is a perpetual feeling, when watching HH from this point onwards, that both writers and performers are doing exactly the same thing.
  • While I’m on, yay! for the return not only of Ben the goofy military gallant — he can wear a uniform, and a uniformed character, in much the same way Larry wears Viking getup — but also the gaming hero. I have always found the show’s retro take on video games highly amusing, inept graphics and all — esp. given the real possibility, based on the behind-the-scenes vid, that Ben at least may not quite realise it is retro. I particularly like the little “ow – ow – ow…”
  • Meanwhile, Martha is likewise making the most of her promotion. New!Liz I is a bit stereotypically broad for my tastes (although Jim’s Walsingham is surprisingly effective; see below). I do however enjoy watching her showing off all her considerable poise, charm and comic timing — and couple-chemistry with Jim — in the otherwise fully pointless badminton sketch. OK, that and awwww Jim having so much fun punting into the breakables! My Howick plushie may need to come with kung-fu kick action.
  • Simon, on the other hand, was off working on the Boosh quasi-spinoff movie Bunny and the Bull for much of this series’ filming, so now’s the time to get used to his understudy, Lawry Lewin: aka the world’s only bipedal stick insect. As you can imagine, the transition will be a little fraught. Now’s also the time to confess it, I suppose: what with missing ol’ Dandelion Head badly, and constantly being mildly irritated by his replacement’s take – ie., just as neurotic but not nearly as happy about it — I never did warm to our Lawry.
  • This is not to say there aren’t times when that same style actually works on its own (as per the effete and earless Stuart author here, for instance). I honestly admire him besides for being the definition of a dependable supporting player; he’s more than earned his current position as unofficial seventh member of the starring troupe. But anything that requires more active interest in the man will always be beyond my ken. Sorry in advance, surprisingly vocal Lewin fanbase.
  • Still on the subject of tact… or not… look, show, I do understand that you’re British, also a silly comedy. The horrific minefield of racial sensitivities I’m anticipating, re: your decision to populate Mesoamerica with (very) white guys in fake tans, just isn’t there from your core viewers’ POV. I get it. But oooh, trust me, the Shouty Man’s look here is awkward — even if you ignore the entire sociopolitical argument and just go with “Have your makeup staff ever even seen a Hispanic person?”
  • It’s a double shame since otherwise the upmarket f/x debut is triumphant. Most notably, we’ve switched out Elizabeth I for the more traditional Scary Old Clown Makeup Lady, in order that she might display her truly legendary vanity — by describing an ideal self (“Petite-nosed…” etc) that sounds very much like her Series One incarnation. Yeah, should’ve taken that up with your agent, your Majesty.
  • Elsewhere, we’ve established that Mat should not attempt a Northern accent ever again, and that Jim should… well, look, I’m not going to start handing out accent advice to somebody who can switch at will between saucer-eyed adorable and freakin’ Winston Churchill, because I do not wish to mess with anyone who clearly has the power to take over the universe with sheer awesome anytime he wants. Also, the ‘S’okay, it’s just a MASSIVE SPLINTER’ thing was hysterical.
  • Boy it didn’t take long to call for a redo of the Fawkes story, did it? As previously noted, I am totally onboard with a second draft, especially one that makes so much the better use of the material’s huge potential both artistically and – we don’t have Fireworks Night over here, remember — educationally. (Plus giving Larry a chance to demonstrate he can actually settle down and act when required.) Mild weirdness alert when Ben ‘the brains’ gets all of one word to demonstrate it, but hey.
  •  Also raising the ‘intelligent comedy’ bar — well, once you get past the wholly inexplicable part where neither of them visually recognise the problem, ie. the other’s very clearly severed ears — no, really, get past that part. Forcibly if necessary. It pays off in a genuinely hilarious screwball scene which acts as further evidence that somebody in the writing staff also grew up with Abbott & Costello movies… or whatever the British Sunday-morning-TV-filler equivalent was. At any rate, it’s appreciated.

95% Accu-rat:

  • So… Emperor Elagabalus (or, more formally, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus). Easily the most un-nervingly edgy of all HH icons; fear of what happens when sweet young fangirls go to look him up has kept me out of the fanfic archives for some time now. Because in real life (although as usual the sourcing’s a bit sketchy), the ‘random’ teen dude with the charmingly dopey giggle was — if not actually a transgender who offered a reward to any surgeon who could give him a sex change — at least a desperately sexually confused mope who married as many as five times, lavished favors on male courtiers popularly thought to have been his lovers, employed a prototype of whoopie cushions at dinner parties, [don’t ask me how HH missed that one, I’ve no idea] and was reported to have prostituted himself in the imperial palace.
  • On the (faintly) bright side, history agrees that if it existed, the famous powder-room lion was probably old and mostly toothless — remember that they had to get him into the palace in the first place, not to say keep him there, and cattle prods weren’t exactly a thing back then.
  • Another way you can tell this is a whole new series: I’m about to say something nice re: the show’s Tudor fixation. The gratuitously well-researched appearance of Elizabeth I’s security adviser, Francis Walsingham, is actually one of the things that initially piqued my interest in the show beyond ‘Oh, look, they made a cute series out of those snarky books…’ Cos he really was a dour, humourless, all-black-wearing Puritan sort (yes, basically an early version of Oliver Cromwell) who was renowned for being the one courtier who always told our Liz how it was, no more nor less. Which in real life earned him her tremendous respect, but never mind.
  • So yes, Elizabeth, famously vain over her appearance. What the show doesn’t mention is that she also considered her pretty, slender hands one of her best features, hence that weirdly stiff arms-in-front pose in all of the official portraits. On the plus side, she was also the Tudor most willing to get out there and show her actual self to her subjects; her amazing knack with the common people was obviously inherited from similarly-but-more-inexplicably-beloved dad Henry, and one of their firm proofs that she was in fact his daughter.
  • Yes, OK, show, the Baron Rothschild did actually have all those fun animal pets, and I can fully see where they’d amuse the kiddies no end. Still, as Victorian eccentrics go, he wasn’t really even in the top ten. Besides the good Dr. Buckland, eater of royal hearts, check out Friar Park, built by Sir Frank Crisp (and later lovingly restored by some musician guy named George Harrison.)
  • From the Department of Whoa, People Really Do Care About This Stuff! (vol. 324 in a continuing series) comes the guy who created a FAQ section on the show’s Internet Movie Database page for the apparent sole purpose of typing a massive wall o’ text rebuttal to their take on the Home Guard. One can only hope his relatives have managed to keep him from watching Dad’s Army. The truth, as always, seems to have fallen somewhere between the two extremes. Honestly I had a feeling, inasmuch as there’s no way any reasonably healthy males given the chance to play war would be that un-creative re: the homemade weapons. Or maybe we should just be grateful they didn’t have the Internet to search, yet…
 
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Posted by on February 17, 2013 in Series Two

 

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