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S05E11

Poland! Perfect… we’ll agree to protect them, and maybe they’ll repay us in the future with reasonably-priced builders…

For one last time, the show bounces back with the traditional series-ending leave-’em-wanting-more episode… or in this case, leaving the viewer terribly grateful it’s going away soon before it has a chance to spoil. Yep, still trying to tell myself that, and sometimes it even works.

In this episode:

Song: Australia — Martha recounts the famously Horrible antedecents of everyone’s favourite sunshine-intensive barbie-shrimp-slippers, with help from Simon and Ben… but not, surprisingly enough, from the wildlife. (Parody of: Kylie Minogue, feat Can’t Get You Out of My Head and I Should Be So Lucky)

Recurring sketches:

DI Sergeant Bones: Historical Crime Road Traffic Accident Squad — The Bikers and the Baffling Velocipede (“You mean to tell me you ride around on this thing with four wheels, two seats, a drawing board and a sunshade, but no brakes?!” “Why, yes!” “…Note to self: I. Quit. That’s it. I’m gonna write that novel.”)

Stupid Deaths — Pliny the Elder (Was trapped in a toxic gas cloud while trying to rescue a friend from Vesuvius’ eruption… “Hah, ‘fortune favours the brave’! Volcanoes favour the cowardly, mate! Ooh, I am on fire today! Erm, no offense…”)

Historical Apprentice — Team Maximus and Team Minimus vie to create and exploit a celebrity gladiator in some very creative ways… and discover that where gladiators are concerned, it’s possible to get a bit too creative. (“Can I just say, ‘man -vs- beast’ was actually his idea?” “Yeah, well, I didn’t mean a tiger, did I? I meant like a badger or something!”)

DVD set — Winston Churchill: Britain’s Wittiest Man (Britain’s wartime genius is also a comedy genius. Yes, really! “A prisoner of war is a man who tries to kill you–fails–and then asks you not to kill him!”)

One-offs:

Vile Victorians

New! My Little Pit Pony — Less with the sparky rainbow friendships, more with the grinding labour and choking toxic dust… and it fits perfectly in its special Coal Mine playset! (“Careful, Lily dear, you don’t want your My Little Pit Pony to get hurt in a rockfall, or an explosion in the mine!” “Don’t be silly, Mummy! …That’s just what happens to pit ponies!”)

Awful Egyptians

Don’t Tell the Corpse — Even before they got to the Land of the Dead, Egyptian funeral planning involved approximately fifty-seven zillion small details. (“At the top end, you can have the deceased’s intestines removed by a professional embalmer; and at the bottom end–so to speak–we can have his guts dissolved with the injection of cedar oil. You know, right up the–” “Yeah, thank you…”)

Hieroglabble — It’s the word-based board game that’s fun for the whole literate priesthood only! Warning: Hieroglyph combinations may take years to learn. “And coming soon, new Advanced Hieroglabble, with all the glyphs from the later Greco-Roman period–meaning you can play with up to 5,000 tiles!” “We’re gonna need a bigger board…!”

Gorgeous Georgians 

Pity Port Jackson — The arrival of a British relief fleet on the shores of the first Australian colony only complicates the question of who’s meant to be relieving who. (“Well, we’ve got to sort this out, man! Without food supplies, more people are going to die!” “*erghkkk* *thud*” “My point exactly!”)

Woeful Second World War

Neville Chamberlain Online — The Historical Desktop sketches literally go out with a bang, as the beleaguered architect of ‘peace for our time’ (#humblebrag) logs on to discover just how temporary it’s going to be… (“What’s this, then? ‘InvasionAdviser.com review of Czechoslovakia by AHITLER33’… OK, no need to panic, Neville; a lot of these invasion reviews are fake…”)

Measly Middle Ages

Great Historical Country Walks — The Norman conquerors’ subsequent ‘harrowing’ of the Northern countryside wasn’t nearly as pleasant as it sounds… unless you’re really, really into homonym-type puns. And even then, sort of disturbing. (“OK, so York is over there, by that massive bonfire… wait a minute, I think York is that massive bonfire…!”)

Sophisticated As — In which the new post-1066 fad for French words elevates dinner-party small talk into entirely new realms of awkward. (“Is there any more pig?” “Oh, really, Laurence! Zut alors!”)

Field Notes:

  • Damnit, they’ve done it again. For one last time, the show has pulled off its neat and nifty trick of immediately following up a disappointing episode with one of such clever, insinuating charm you’re fully reminded why you started watching in the first place.
  • And it gets worse… that is to say better, except the part about being, y’know, Episode 11 of Series 5. Because it also fully honours the tradition of ending each series with a further flourish of all the things that make it most endearing. Basically the sketch-comedy equivalent of a cliffhanger, designed to make you realise not only exactly what you’re going to miss but just how much. Now, I don’t want to actually accuse the producers of setting up this next-to-last-ever episode with that in mind as well–they’re usually not that sadistic unless Mat’s particular charms are concerned, and—
  • *looks down sketch list* …Oh, crud.
  • So yeah, as a side-effect of serving as the prose finale (the producers perhaps realising, correctly, that in the literal final episode all anybody would be anticipating was the song) this episode collates the remnants of the casting experiment that gave S4 so much of its peculiarly sweet, vivid appeal: namely, Let’s Throw Baynton Over the Top and Film What He Finds on the Other Side. How sniffle-worthy it is to rediscover that particular meme at this late date will of course be dependent on how fond you are of Ol’Minstrel Eyes in particular; for me, it makes it very poignant indeed.
  • I think I’ve made it clear throughout this project that I have great affection for every member of the starring cast; but having also spent the same project dropping hints will formally admit here, where it seems to be appropriate, that Mat is far and away the only one whose departure would’ve made me reconsider watching altogether. Although the thought of losing Larry, Jim or Simon has at various times also made me twitch noticeably. Also sometimes Ben, usually when he’s onscreen with Jim or Simon. And Martha, in WWII mode… oh, and that whole Boudicca deal… Well, hell, it never did happen (and I suspect I only brought it up in the first place to delay the inevitable) so let’s move on.
  • Should anyone accuse me of waxing melodramatic about the above production motives re: rebounding or anything else, however, may I just point out that the very first thing the viewer is confronted with here is Baynton as DI—or whatever–Bones lolloping up to an accident scene making siren noises… then being pitched right to the outer edge of his Leslie Nielsen by Jim and Dominique as scatterbrained Victorian lovers. In the course of which he’s both literally and figuratively blown away by a [magically intact, but hey] parasol. Rebound nothing; I don’t think the show has pulled off this level of pure comic joy since Baynton as the Victorian HParamedic imitated a tapeworm.
  • Even making allowances for the usual attention paid to the Victorian bits, the dour DI—or whatever–in fact gets a more elaborately thought-through sendoff than pretty much any other of the show’s recurring stalwarts, up to and including Death and the Shouty Man (yes, if anybody’s wondering, I still have dibs on that band name). To the extent that someone was actually commissioned to execute a fully recognizable, detailed pencil portrait of Jim–which I do hope they gave him to take home–rather than resorting to either generic daisies or a gag copy of the Mona Lisa. Between which and the earlier papier-mache elephant, the gallant-to-the-last f/x team is definitely owed a bow.
  • Someone evidently really, really believes in this whole concept of melodramatic Mat as an *ahem* vehicle for police drama satire, is what I am saying here. And on the off-chance they occasionally Google their audience’s reaction, I would just like to not only offer them a hug of full validation, but once again throw out the suggestion that the material (also likely the performers) are available and the format beyond perfect for an ongoing standalone series of shorts. Trust me, I’ve had the Kickstarter copy written long since.
  • In other clearly-I’ve-been-a-really-good-fan-this-year news, the Historical Desktops also get a joyously worthy sendoff. Featuring not only the return of Jim’s Churchill (who finally gets to really show off that famous wit) but the full redemption of Prime Minister Simon, so badly wasted last ep. That single little #humblebrag hashtag, in that moment, is as absolutely perfect a bit of comedy as the show has ever produced.
  • Really, the whole thing is almost painfully wonderful, to the point where, as usual with these bits, it’s difficult to coherently explain why. All I know is, favourite sketch hell, it just officially became my Favourite Satirical Concept Ever. So many juicy comedic threads intertwined so cleverly, character, plot and matching reference, and never a false step; in fact, the skill level actually keeps climbing as each sketch progresses, and the best part is you can never tell what form it’ll take next, because it’s mostly in the tiny throwaway asides. Here, for instance: that pic of Dali on RateMyTache.com… “Have you tried our sister site, RateMySide-Whiskers.com?”… Churchill bragging about having ‘the top score on Minesweeper in the Foreign Office’…
  • ….and as the sprinkles on the top of the sundae of endearingness, the mummy judge makes a triumphant comeback on Stupid Deaths! I have no idea why I should be so ridiculously happy about this, but come to think of it, let the fact that I am stand as an appropriate final testament to just how much sheer engaging the show has achieved with this segment.
  • In particular this is another massively satisfying old-style SD, even if the death, once again, is much more unfortunate than genuinely idiotic. Evidently—and rather interestingly–aware of this, Mat contributes a performance that fully manages to salvage Pliny’s dignity while still fulfilling all the requirements of the surreal silliness.
  • Speaking of salvage, the show has also finally righted the HApprentice ship, producing a segment that’s decently clever re: both satire and subject. If the funny’s still not quite hitting the lavishly witty heights of last series, it’s at least back to not involving charts. In their place are some really genuine side pleasures, including more hilariously sweet “isn’t this all just so much fun?!” from Greg, more vamping from Simon, more intriguingly grrrl-powered Martha, and of course more cringing amoral schmuck Larry. Funny how I don’t mind Rickard whingeing in the slightest, but when Lawry does it… well, Lawry isn’t otherwise in this delightful final wrapup episode at all, as it happens, and we’ll just leave it at that.
  • There is however one last nicely sophisticated use of the Hadland crazy-eyed brittleness, or crazy brittle-eyed-ness, or whatever it is. Having never previously heard of Abigail’s Party, of which fandom agrees the Norman dinner party bit is supposed to be a piss-take, my viewing notes here continue “… nice ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’-esque tension she and Larry set up, anyway.”
  • Ordinarily I’m not a fan of novelty naming, but the ‘Laurence’ conceit is for once actually reasonably novel, and in fact has me musing over other notably missed boats in that line. Matthew Arnold, anyone? Martha Washington? Benjamin Franklin? Simon Bolivar? James… pretty much every other male born in Western Europe from 1700-1956?
  • Meanwhile, in all the kerfuffle over Sarah and the bald cap, it further occurs to me that something should be said for the almost equally inexplicable “stick Jim in a Dutch-bob wig to indicate exotic antiquity” trope, which makes a typically non-sequitur appearance in the Egyptian funeral sketch, alongside its (slightly more understandable) cousin ‘Mat in artfully disheveled shoulder-length tresses’. I dunno, I just have much more trouble imagining either as the go-to ‘do for the happening historically accurate North African male than as the go-to method of keeping the makeup team amused.
  • Anyway, one of the few longform sketches of S5 pays off handsomely regardless, in terms both of a satisfyingly logical, detailed followup to last series’ ‘Duat’ bit and allowing Baynton and Howick one last surreal romp together. They’re the one intra-troupe pairing that right to the end I’ve never known what to expect; save that, as here, it will be both gloriously and uniquely adorable.
  • Up to and including, in this case, Mat’s accent I have no idea what it is, and don’t want to know, because frankly that’d spoil everything… oh, and the gestures, can’t forget those. Altogether, assuming he’s not actually mimicking someone specific, this is one of the single best characters he’s ever created for the series–perfectly skimming his own unique line between irresistibly childlike silliness and razor-sharp adult satire.
  • Also, somewhere in there he and Simon throw out a small celebration of the show’s decision to finally cover some Australian history, in the form of finding time to pull off a freakishly expert mimicry routine. The technical term for the amount of rehearsal required to achieve the apparent offhand ease with which they speak in unison in the Port Jackson sketch is “one hell of a lot.”
  • In tandem with Simon’s reliably thick-headed bureaucratic schtick (which the writers are still enjoying as much as ever) this just about makes me not amazed that this much creative effort would be invested in a slight throwaway bit that doesn’t even have the side bonus of making Ben miserable… um, depending on how closely he was paying attention the day they taught ‘falling’ in drama class.
  • It’s altogether funny, really, how Australia of all civilizations has been so thoroughly overlooked in the HH canon up til now. The sketches about a country founded literally as a side-effect of punishing people who stole handkerchiefs and impersonated Egyptians (per Bill Bryson) seem like they’d pretty much write themselves. I’d been assuming the lack of same was the result of the notorious Aussie sensitivity to what they term the ‘stain’ of their convict heritage, except we now have a whole entire song crammed in here in a clear effort to make up for lost time.
  • And it is… well, as a prelude I should mention that Kylie Minogue is known in N.America primarily as “that Loco-Motion remake girl”, and that when this song was first aired surprise at learning she was still relevant anywhere sent me to Wikipedia. Where I was chastened, but not all that enlightened. Except inasmuch as that it’s clearly an apt (if not actually obvious) parody match, and definitely a nice step up, sophistication-wise, from the relentlessly banal adherence to novelty of our previous entry. Martha contributes her usual effective vocal, and the songwriting does an excellent job of playing peppy plastic synthpop off relentlessly earthy reality–quite a nice sharpish touch about it, really, if you listen closely enough.
  • That proved a bit difficult, on account of the video having some uncharacteristically severe problems with holding my interest. When your biggest visual achievement–in support of a song set in one of the most famously charismatic ecosystems on the planet–is speculating whether Ben losing his hat was accidental or not… yeah, a biggish boat got missed somewhere, and I don’t think it contained Egyptian impersonators this time. What’s left is I suppose charming enough, depending on your appreciation for a behatted Benjamin; but overall much more reminiscent of the first-series musical ethos than the last.
  • There’s also the rather uncharacteristically glib little swipe at the Aborigines, that appears to have much more to do with the chance at a winking reference (the general conviction that bare namedropping = cute enough to kiss these last couple of eps is rather worryingly suggestive of songwriter burnout) than any type of desire to convey the reality of early colonist/native relations–again, a touchy subject, and not really suited for indepth comedy treatment, but let us just say the latter likely have a much different perspective on who turned out to be the ‘bad neighbors’.
  • It looks especially odd alongside the effortlessly snarky My Little Pit Pony business. Which turns out to be everything sweetly and slyly subversive that the earlier Spartan Girl advert should have been, starting with the pitch-perfect logo art, and delights me exceedingly in consequence. The more so because I have no particular investment in the parody subject; I think I must’ve been born without the ‘little girls=love ponies’ gene. Thus am all the more free to enjoy how this sketch skewers the moral blindness of the Victorian upper-middle-class more effectively in thirty seconds than in the entirety of last series’ uber-elaborate Wife Swap.
  • I also like the snarkiness of country-walking Martha trying to switch gears upon encountering rampant horrific death and destruction, except she’s wearing a pink puffer jacket. Altogether it’s one of the niftier throwaway bits of the series, although y’know, honestly, maybe it’s different in the UK, but when I hear ‘harrowing’ my first thought is the more disturbing meaning.
  • There’s likewise a lot of pop-cult parody goodness to be had in the Heiroglabble advert, which admirably maintains the board-game spoofs’ gentle-but-multidirectional satire right to the end, and throws a rather surprisingly low-key final cameo from Deary into the bargain. On the other hand, there is Simon, who in his relentless quest to find something unique in every character he has ever been given has finally been driven to pulling out his Death voice and hoping that nobody recognizes it without the makeup. Pretty darn effective in the moment, mind you (especially when combined with the ongoing ‘random Jaws homage’ thingy), but still… one more little sign that they all gave it up just in time.

95% Accu-rat:

  • Right, so velocipedes. Actually the collective name for all human-powered wheeled vehicles (the term itself comes from the Latin for ‘fast foot’). Of which the bicycle is one, and the more outlandish ‘quadracycle’ shown here another. There were and are also, of course, unicycles, tricycles and something called a dicycle, wherein the two wheels are side-by-side rather than sequential. All of them went through endless permutations beginning in the early nineteenth century, as inventors vied not only to come up with more sophisticated pedaling mechanisms but, seemingly, new ways to cull the thrill-seeking herd.
  • Nobody tell poor Bones, but he encountered one of the more stable setups all told. By contrast, Darwin probably heartily endorsed the original ‘bicycle’, the famous (if in reality very short-lived) penny-farthing, which left the rider wobbling on a tiny saddle atop an enormous front wheel. As ludicrous as it seems now, the p-f was intended then as an improvement on the boneshaker, first developed in the late 1860’s and what children’s books of the period mean when the bratty rich kid brags about his ‘velocipede’.
  • The joke’s on him, see, because they got their common name from the harsh ride that resulted from the inflexible wrought-iron frame and wooden wheels. Thus the model we know and love, first introduced around 1880 or so, was initially called the ‘safety bicycle’… because it had a braking mechanism.
  • OK, Neville Chamberlain deservedly takes a ton of flak for the whole deeply unnecessary ‘peace in our time’ grandstanding, but let’s not crucify the poor guy just yet. More sympathetic revisionist historians have suggested that our Neville was a lot cannier than he traditionally gets credit for. After all, signing that treaty with Hitler did buy the erstwhile PM the time he needed to quietly get the UK on a proper war footing, without which, frankly, Churchill wouldn’t have had a nation to inspire in the first place. It’s only in hindsight that these boring backroom policy details get obscured by the whole, y’know, “YOU SIGNED A TREATY WITH #%@$%-ING HITLER?!” thing.
  • Meantime, over on the other side of the world: Australians, as noted just a little tetchy about the whole ‘originally a penal colony’ concept. The rest of the world, meanwhile, is all “Are you kidding? An entire country of badass thieves and murderers and stuff? That’s, like, so cool!
  • Needless to say, the rest of the world is indulging in serious wishful thinking. These were not cunning master criminals; these were mostly hapless slum-bred pickpockets and drunks and tavern brawlers and (no, seriously) Egyptian impersonators and suchlike, precisely none of whom had any skills whatsoever that might help upon being plonked down on the other side of the world and told to recreate something resembling a civilised existence. The lovely (at least in hindsight) Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson is available for the curious.
  • Short version: everybody got off the boat and immediately began randomly bumbling into such Colonisation 101 roadblocks as what to plant when and which end of a cow you get milk from (that’s assuming they could even find a cow, given that most of the herd promptly escaped into the wild on arrival) and how to store food supplies so bugs don’t get in and, um, whoops, bugs are good to eat, right?… all, it must be assumed, while coping with the native wildlife’s tendency to viciously murder them for no apparent reason. (Ohai, cute little cone-shaped shell just lying there on the beach! I think I’ll just pick you up and squeeze you and —OHGODOHGODTHEPAINOHGODMAKEITST*erk*)
  • This is not even mentioning the native human population, who despite the song’s assertion were basically OK with and even seemingly amused by the palefaced newcomers… except for those occasional times when they also decided to viciously murder them for no apparent reason.
  • All this, as the sketch here indicates, was not doing wonderful things to the already-high stress levels of those stalwart representatives of Queen and Country tasked with reducing some type of order out of this inexplicably colourful chaos. They’d just unmasked the one convict who’d faked being a botanist in order to get special privileges (among various other similar scams), and here’s the Second Fleet shows up not with desperately needed supplies, but with plenty more of those damned convicts. So yeah, the original Australians: in the most literal sense, not happy campers.
 
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Posted by on October 19, 2014 in Series Five

 

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S04E04

My home was in Plymouth, let’s call this New Plymouth!
I got an ideer, let’s call this New Hampshire!
I’m from Newcastle, can we call this New Newcastle?!
…Nahhhhh.

In a bit of have-to-believe-it’s-intentional irony, wanna-be Americans reach their new world just as the show settles comfily into mining their backlog of surefire funny…

In this episode:

Song: It’s a New World — Mat, Martha, Larry aka William Mullins and Ben (in decreasing order of credibility) reveal the Pilgrim Fathers as hardcore, man. (Parody of: Empire State of Mind, Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys)

Recurring sketches:

HHTV News: Mike Peabody Live — From the Norman siege of Palermo, 1064 (“This looks like a disaster, Sir Robert! Most of your men have been bitten by spiders!” “Well, no, I haven’t — I just like dancing!”)

Stupid Deaths — King Harold’s Brothers (“So let me get this straight: The Normans were losing, until you two ran down a hill… causing the end of your brother King Harold, the end of Saxon rule in England, and in fact, the end of the Saxon era altogether?!” “Yeah, in a nutshell…”)

Words We Get From the — Normans

Dodgy War Inventions — No.81: The German U-Boat (“It was the perfectly designed fighting machine…” including a sleek, modern, and — as it turned out — rather over-complex toilet: “It’s supposed to be a white flag, only… ja, long story, sorry…”)

Historical Apprentice — Team Neanderthal -vs- Team Homo Sapiens (“I’ve had some primitive types around the table over the years, but you lot take the flamin’ biscuit! Two words: Beard. Trimmers.”)

DI Bones: Historical Crime Squad — The Victorians and Something Funny in the Water (“Ah, yeh, that’ll probably be the cholera.” “Note to self… get a desk job.”)

One-offs:

Groovy Greeks

The (Theoretically) Fighting Spartans — Despite their leader’s best attempt at Gerald Butler’s hair, the legendarily dedicated warriors notice a weak spot in their awesomely unified battle front.

Pausanius: A True Story (movie trailer) — The epic story of how a great Spartan general managed to severely underestimate the shrewdness and cunning of his own people… who were freaking Spartans, did we mention that? (“How dare they accuse me of siding with the Persians! Just for that… I’m gonna side with the Persians!”)

Awesome USA

Colonisation, Colonisation, Colonisation — “This is such a lovely spot! I wonder why the native Indians don’t live here!” “Well, it could be something to do with the swamp… Could be to do with the lack of drinkable water… Or it could be the *slap* mosquitoes…” “Yes, well, at least none of us have caught any nasty diseases!” “Erk…”)

Woeful Second World War

Don’t Wake the Fuehrer — Detailing how the German reaction to D-Day was delayed thanks to his guards’ reluctance to disturb ‘Mr. Grumpy Pants’ at his nap. (“But if we wake ze Fuhrer, he will… why, he will… get in such a paddy!” “Ooh, such a paddy he will get in!”)

Vile Victorians

I Scream — Back by probably-not-very-popular demand, the show’s fascination with Horrible things that happened to milk pre-pasteurization! Now with bonus cute innocent child!

Field Notes:

  • So yeah, we appear to have reached the point in Series Four where the remarkable is starting to show a distinct resemblance to remarkableness past. Which, as demonstrated last episode, is not by any means a bad thing; not only because it’s one way at least to ensure both audiences old and new will be equally delighted… but because when they do decide to get all innovative and clever, the results tend to involve things like Larry as a hip-hop Pilgrim with a shoe fetish.
  • Now, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that concept didn’t delight many, many people. What I am possibly saying is that these are the many of the same people who openly declare they have crushes on Bob Hale, so you can consider yourself fairly warned. Friends don’t let friends wander into an HH rap parody alone, y’know?
  • Actually, thanks to the smouldering he can fake the angsty posturing fairly acceptably, I’ll give him that at least — right up until he unfortunately abandons it at a key moment in favour of his inevitable Plan B: straight over the top and hope for the best. Yeah, so that doesn’t really work when living up to Jay-Z, Rickard… as you can tell when Ben’s calling you out. What the hell, was Jim off sick that day? (Paper-cut tongue from licking wedding invitations, maybe?)
  • The whole thing is an unusually un-self-confident mismash of satirical stylings — as if even up to the moment of filming they couldn’t decide whether to play it silly or straight, so just left it up to each individual performer, who in turn picked a really bad time (quite possibly out of embarrassment) to for once not tune into the others. Luckily for a genuinely decent concept, it’s eventually held together by Mat and Martha being brilliant along much more standard lines (and can we just take a moment to marvel once again at Mathew Baynton, ‘quality rapper’) besides some passably clever wordplay and Ben… wearing one of those wigs with the curls clustering round his face. Which definitely helps.
  • This apparently being official Let’s Mess With Willbond Day, musically speaking, we also get Mike Peabody learning that even the natural world is out to get him. Dear, dear Ben… quite honestly, I think this is about as far out of his comfort zone as HH has ever chucked him, and that would include both the time they required him to cope with a full-grown python round his neck and the one where he was forced to bathe in the North Atlantic in mid-October for a two-second throwaway bit.
  • Really you have to wonder if the producers don’t see pushing Benjamin’s buttons as sort of light entertainment… which sounds like an awesome idea, actually. I’d buy tickets. Still can’t help but feel a bit bad for him here, though. At least snake-wrangling makes for a decent story at the pub afterwards, and doesn’t involve getting shamelessly upstaged by a Farnaby to boot.
  • Dear, dear Simon. Also seen here overseeing easily the most epic SD ever — big week for epic military disasters altogether, come to that. Much love for how Death just lets these two stand there and dig themselves in deeper. Of course, on the evidence, this may be because the writers were suffering from punner’s block that week — no, the punny songwriters are different people, although I will concede Larry’s creativity works in mysterious ways. Generally speaking, though, when you have to resort to visual aids to get the wordplay across, you’re working too hard.
  • (Incidentally, I’ve been putting this off, but… does anyone else think the opening/closing SD titles could stand an upgrade? Not the song of course, but the visuals are starting to look decidedly… I dunno, early-series-ish.)
  • On the further subject of Simon’s adorableness… OK, so you remember how back last series they had the other Location, Location Location takeoff, and I was all “gee, too bad they didn’t take it any further, this would’ve been a great parody vehicle for settlers vs. Native Americans”? Yeah, so can we all just focus on the bit where I’m really prescient, there? Thanks.
  • Because, no kidding, I totally was.The Native POV is noticeably absent, but the Jamestown sketch gets the point across anyway — proof that valuable lessons have been learned from the Mesoamerican experiment. It’s as purely fun a romp as the series has ever produced, the result of a bunch of seasoned performers just having a great time with a series of surefire running gags — the signpost with the crossed-out ‘pop.’ is especially fun — as led by positive oodles of classic Proper Upper-Class Farnaby. The phrase ‘what’s not to love?’ was totally invented for this point in the show’s evolution. I am only disappointed that they didn’t give them actual arrows, albeit I can see where they’d have reason to worry about Ben’s aim.
  • Unlike, for instance, the Historical Apprentice writers, who have settled to their reality-TV-trashing task in much the familiar manner — which I picture as the writers sitting round a dartboard with the current parody target’s logo on it and assigning the quips based on where the darts land. (“Why not fire Grunt? He already dead!” being an example of a treble-twenty.)
  • The fact that the target for once seems reasonably shrewd, if not actually clever, himself — or at least, that the concept is based off that illusion — seems, interestingly, only to have roused team HH further to the challenge. And it has thus far paid off handsomely. The whole sketch resonates with the joy of  writers released back on familiar ground and loving every minute of it…
  • …plus, did I mention there was moar Simon? And that he has a shrew? And that Smug Caveman Ben inquiring “Sorry, what is wheel?” is well up the running for Most Incredibly Adorable HH Moment Ever? Oh, and while I’m on… erm, look, I know I don’t have a ton of credibility here, but is Lawry’s character supposed to be coming off as faintly sticky-palmed, or…? ‘Cos frankly he’s creeping me right the hell out — yes, even more than usual. I think it’s the glasses.
  • OK! In case you were wondering about the rest of the Most Adorable Moment finalists, there are, like, at least another two dozen here in my New Most Favourite HH Sketch Ever: Mat and Jim playing SS guards with much the same sweetly campy abandon as they play the Historical Paramedics. The little ‘ADOLF’S ROOM’ plaque on the door behind them is totally making the MAME shortlist.
  • Seriously, if you haven’t seen this thing, your ability to experience joy is woefully incomplete, even if you’ve already seen all the HParamedic bits. This one goes above and beyond, starting with Mat getting a chance to let his face run riot — no, new-and-enlarged audience, that’s not Silly Putty, that’s his actual face. Elsewhere… erm, if I say Larry makes a surprisingly competent hardcore SS officer — accent and all — does that count as a compliment?
  • Oh, and howdy Jalaal Hartley, sorry I’ve missed you up til now.  Jalaal, folks, will be the most prominent of this series’ new set of Random Character Guys, the result of the expanding number of roles for same I mentioned last review. Evidently the producers were concerned at the lack of ridiculously attractive brunet types. I can sympathise.
  • On that note, welcome back DI Bones, with bells on. The writers’ love affair with the relentlessly dour DI is back in full swing, and this time it comes along with their other love affair for Victorian poverty, with just a dash of their enthusiasm for Mat falling over. (The unexpectedly dissolving into doe eyes at key moments, however, that’s pure instinct. On the off-chance you haven’t seen the highwayman song vid before now, new and by now probably totally bemused audience, this sketch provides a handy microcosm of The Baynton Experience.)
  • Personally, the whole thing intersects my favourite media to the extent that I desperately wish DI Bones would appear more often. Like maybe in his own spinoff series. With Larry playing a different hapless bozo nemesis each week… although not Liverpudlian ones. Seriously, how does a man go from a note-perfect ripoff of Ringo Starr to whatever he fondly thinks that accent is? And we’re not even going to get into Martha’s attempts. I think they encourage each other.
  • Which brings us well enough around to the Pausanius bit. Inspired officially by the Stupid Death from S01E12 (which reminds me, I never did get the ‘Viking bitten by the severed head of his enemy’ opus, also based on an S1 SD. *tiny sigh*). Unofficially, by the show’s ongoing insistence that Mat somehow remotely resembles a ferocious warrior battle-hardened from birth. And no, show, the improved makeup budget doesn’t help your credibility any. ‘Fess up now, you just fell in love with the idea of that cliched ‘golden’ lighting washing across all the heroically-furred chin thrusting, didn’t you?
  • Hey, y’know, also very impressively masculine — dare I say 300-esque — facial hair on Spartan General Jim there! Also, nice use of camera angles to disguise the physical discrepancies with the original! Could it possibly be that the show has finally learned its lesson about… *checks Jim in next episode’s sketches*… nahhhh. I do anyway enjoy how they cut from his inspiring speech to the standard, like, eight warriors, indicating that they may at least be developing a sense of humour about their lack of an extras budget. It all adds a bit of interest to what’s otherwise, yeah, Lawry being Lawry, whatever. Can we just have a sketch where he murders something soon please?
  • Finally, random bit of trivia that may amuse only me: this is the second time in as many series that a rampaging Larry’s been soothed by seafood. I have… no idea whatsoever what this means honestly, but fanfic authors may have it for free.

95% Accu-rat:

  • So the spider-bite dance turns out to be the tarantella — yep, that fun’n’snappy Italian folk dance. Something to ponder, next time you’re considering the practical value of dance lessons: About the mid-fifteenth century, the people of Taranto, Italy, decided (…somehow) that dancing really really fast was the cure for the bite of the local species of wolf spider. Which they had previously dubbed the ‘tarantula’. Special bonus lesson for the day, kids: when once medieval Italians got hold of a good name for something, they didn’t fool around.
  • No, of course it didn’t actually work. But it was a lot more fun than anything else you might be doing to deal with the “swelling, mild pain and itching” that actually results when the local ‘tarantula’ takes a fancy to your ankles. (To be fair to Robert and crew, it’s suggested they possibly ran into a more virulent variant.) However the bit here seems to be conflating the much later, more serious tarantella craze with the biohazard during the siege, that in reality were usually treated much more boringly by ‘hot compresses’.
  • Poor William Mullins, shoemaker: forever enshrined in HH lore as the vain, impractical, over-civilized Mayflower colonist who brought along nothing but 126 pairs of his product… plus 13 pairs of boots, thank you Bobsy… to a rough and ready new American colony that wound up struggling just to survive. Hah! Typical Euro-hubris, amirite? What a maroon!
  • …Except not really. Yes of course, as the song says, ‘a fishing rod, a plough, a pig or a cow would’ve been a much better idea,’ but just a few seconds’ further reflection (perhaps aided by this admirably sensible blog post) will attest that in a situation like this — notably devoid, as the song itself goes on to emphasise, of any type of manufacturing infrastructure let alone knowledge — lots of nice sturdy shoes, also boots wouldn’t exactly be hay either. So to speak.
  • As a bonus, under eighteenth century conditions, they’d also be much easier and more reliable to transport. Remember, these were people who could barely get themselves across the ocean in one piece; frankly I’d rather trust the guy who didn’t think bringing in the leather on the hoof was the better idea.
  • In essence, Mullins was no more shortsighted than anyone else on the Mayflower, and quite possibly a lot less so than most. Basically just a reasonably shrewd businessman who saw the whole thing not as an adventure but as a sales opportunity; his way of recouping some of his original investment in the venture. And he ended up giving his life for it, that first winter in Plymouth colony. In his will — which is how we know about the footwear in the first place — he requests that they be sold to the colony for the then-astronomical sum of forty pounds total. Snigger all you like, but that there is dedication.
 
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Posted by on July 8, 2013 in Series Four

 

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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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S02E12

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

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

In this episode:

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

Recurring sketches:

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

Caveman Art Show — Cave Painting

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

Words We Get From the — Saxons

One-offs:

Woeful Second World War

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

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

Rotten Romans

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

Smashing Saxons

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

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

Terrible Tudors

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

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

Incredible Incas

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

Field Notes:

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

95% Accu-rat:

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

 

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