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S05E02

We introduced some new words: husband, gasp, egg, awkward, nag, leg
More than fifty words to leave your lingo
To your liking, thank a Viking

The show settles down to establishing the parameters for the final series, and in the process we learn definitively that, in HH terms, closure’s just another word for nothing left to lose…

In this episode:

Song:  Vikingland (Vikings and Garfunkel) — Nordic invaders Jim and Mat explain how, on arrival in Britain, they gave up savagery for sweet harmony… and really stupid wigs.

Recurring sketches:

Dodgy War Inventions — No.92: The WWII Bat Bomb (Turns out attaching ordnance to something tiny with a tendency to escape into the hangar rafters is a bad idea, go figure.)

CD Set — Now That’s What They Called Greek Battle Music! (Beats to both unleash and strategically restrain your inner world-beater… “Buy now, while enemies last!”)

Historical Don’t Tell the Bride — Spartan (Transforming the bride into not only her husband’s dream but his double, for reasons… not more than demurely hinted at here. Which, given the existence of the Spartan School Musical, is hilarious all by itself.)

Stupid Deaths — Arthur John Priest (Actually escaped the Titanic… also, several other high-profile sinkings…. earning him the first ever one-way ticket back to the ‘long and boring’ Boring Deaths line. (“Listen mate, if you’ve only lost a couple of tootsies, you’re not going to impress anyone here, you follow?” *points to skeletons*)

Thou Hast Been Framed! — Botched Tudor execution special

Horrible Movie Pitch — The Mary Shelley Project (“Your story’s been made into a film already! There’s Frankenstein, Frankenstein, Frankenstein…” “…Young Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein…” “…Count Duckula…” “No, that’s the other guy.” “Oh, right.”)

One-offs:

Slimy Stuarts

The Happy Highwayman — Raffish rogue Claude Duval invents the inexplicable musical interlude a full two hundred years before Broadway. (“Stand and deliver!… by which I mean, stay seated and give me stuff.”)

Woeful Second World War

The Great Carrot Caper — The Allied cover story to hide their new radar systems translates to an unusual new diet for German pilots — and mealtime dismay for small children ever since.  (“Zhen zhere is only one thing for it: Ve must build a veapon to destroy ze vorld’s carrots!… and just to be safe, any other brightly-coloured root vegetable.”)

Troublesome Twentieth Century

A Titanic Disaster — The clueless crew of what’s about to become history’s  most famous marine tragedy gather for a cruelly revealing ‘safety check’.  (“Right then, I think I deserve a nightcap! Ooh, hey — anybody know where I can get some ice?”)

Vicious Vikings

Righteous Resolutions — Feuding warriors unveil their most fearsomely unexpected tactic ever: sober, reasoned… erm, negotiation? So being totally disappointed that it’s not  berserkers would make me a terrible person right about now? Right, figures.

Terrible Tudors

Ready for the Religious Switchover? — Henry VIII appoints himself Supreme Head of the Church: even more autocratic a monopoly than your cable company. Or at least, with more axes. “Just tick the box that says ‘I accept the supreme authority of the King’, and you’ll be able to carry on as normal. But if you refuse… then you can just talk to one of our special advisors about the other options available.”

Gorgeous Georgians

Twit Light — Brooding Lord Byron is forced to disillusion a breathless groupie: he’s not a vampire, merely an “incredibly pretentious poet”… so, basically, ye olde tyme teen girl’s  equivalent of a Stephanie Meyer vampire.

Field Notes: 

  • So I was re-reading my S4 reviews, just as a way of getting back into the groove, and was struck by the difference in tone between S04E01 and now. The different level of seriousness it demanded. Back then, and throughout that series as a whole, I was tossing around words like “elegant”, “subtle” and “complex” as if they were popcorn. By contrast, it’s only the second episode of S5, and I’m already writing things like “Texas Larry is channeling Mr T alongside Jim as a meditative Spartan in a Katy Perry wig”, then glancing into my lemonade with real concern. I mean, yes, I was the one last review fully applauding the decision to let the cast loose as a coping mechanism, but there are limits.
  • Clearly, there also needs to be a reassessment of my assumptions, last seen in S04E12, re: series progression. I had been under the impression that it was simple enough: even-numbered series were the creative leaps, after which the odd-numbered ones represented the perfectly stuck landings. So that S2 was a flat-out romp through possibilities unleashed, while S3 did in fact consolidate that. It solidified the show’s ambitions, and gave the creative team the ferocious confidence in their own sophistication that then, despite the rapidly encroaching issues with content, propelled S4 to new heights of purely elegant comedy…
  • …and now here we are in S5, and that sophistication train is still moving forward, but somewhere in the process (I would guess, right after they realised they’d be tossing out half their material even before production began) fluctuating confidence levels have turned it into a roller-coaster ride. Occasional positively  breathtaking arabesques of elegant complexity are underlaid by a sort of skittishness, as if all involved had only just looked down from the creative limb they’d crawled out on and realised the safety net–not only in terms of the books’ content, but equally surefire tone and delivery–was finally, irrevocably gone.
  • Meaning that the various attempts to deal with this on-the-fly identity crisis result in Series Five often coming across more as a replay of Series One. With a bigger budget, (much) better music and several more intriguing characters and concepts accumulated to experiment with… but also with the ever-present danger of Larry’s freeform redneck stylings.
  • Which is one of many reasons why it’s hilarious that Jim’s the one in the credits again under “horrors that defy description”… well, there is the Katy Perry wig, but oddly enough that’s not the clip in question. This one has somehow escaped my memory, despite the enormous top hat. I await developments with great interest.
  • Otherwise, the production upgrades have done that keep-up-with-the-budget-increase thing they do most excellently every year, to the point that by now there’s not a whole lot of interest here to note… except perhaps that Rattus has swopped out the homey portrait of the ‘rents for a more upscale Victorian ancestor complete with top hat. Which if you think too deeply about the circs under which that was painted you… have a pretty good idea for a children’s story, that I am now copyrighting, by the way.
  • Evidently the little guy has been seduced further (another teeny raise?) into semi-respectability this year, and has adjusted his demeanour accordingly. Understandable, but if he pulls out a teeny coffee mug at any point, I’m gonna be cranky.
  • Meanwhile, I am already deeply irked at the return of Henry VIII’s frankly stupid college-sweatshirt-and-strawberry-curls combo from S3. The sheer inexplicability of this outfit actually becomes something of an unintentionally hilarious punchline here, as Henry the Ratty-Ikea-Throw-Clad is required to hold up the famous portrait depicting what he really looked like at this point. Which is not nearly as fetching as strawberry-blond Willbond, I am willing to concede, but still. Geez, show, you go to the trouble of giving Cartoon Tudor Lady a whole new accent, but can’t give the King even a bit of bling?
  • (Along the same lines, we will not even get into how much that isn’t Sir Thomas More… and I’m not best pleased with Anne Boleyn, either, frankly. Warning: standard Tudor nerd rant oncoming below.)
  • Oh, and speaking of production peculiarities, there is also the debut of the Hadland in a Bald Cap saga: the single most surreally weird running gag in HH series history… and can I just mention one more time that the competition included Larry’s Texan accent? Thank you.
  • At that, it’s about the only possible thing Sarah H. could’ve done to have topped her run as Mandy the Historical Dental Assistant from last series, so, y’know, my respect for her dedication to the strange takes another significant step toward overcoming my disdain for her shrill little voice. I am fascinated by this particular manifestation because given the structure of the show’s production process, there is just no way that it wasn’t intentional.
  • It’s like it was one of those experiments I described above, where everybody sat down at a meeting and went “You know what would really help to distract from the ongoing slightness of our material? If we did this thing where the crazy-eyes lady constantly ends up bald.” That they were correct in no way distracts from the magnificent randomness of the thought process.
  • In this case, they may have been trying to distract from more than that. The convincingly rather sweet giggly little pre-wedding party vibe is cute and all, and bounces off the warrior stuff decently, but the really entertaining sketch possibilities are hidden in the more complex reasons behind the Spartan marriage customs. Unfortunately (or not, depending on your concept of parenthood) you’ll recall from the ‘love’s banned until you’re thirty’ fudge that even this production team occasionally develops cold feet… although the reference to “all me army buddies” does serve as a nicely subtle hint.
  • Another problem inherent in turning slight little footnotes into full-on what-the-hell hijinks: a tendency toward narrative overkill. Possibly I’ve been  reading too much Etiquette Hell, but frankly, guys, at least as you portray it: no,  the groom kidnapping the bride for some extra pre-wedding-night fun, not all that whacky.
  •  Of course, if there was ever an episode in which it’s possible to forgive the makeup team all the things (except maybe those wasp stings in S1) the one containing this song would be it. Mat and Jim as Hippie Viking Simon & Garfunkel is this season’s God Compare moment: it exists as its own, perfect quantum singularity of silly. Thus it’s frankly a good thing it’s not quite a perfect takeoff, or it would have torn a hole in the very fabric of creativity and we’d all have literally died laughing.
  • As it is, it comes dangerously close, thanks to HH’s most charmingly unpredictable comedy duo–and of course Larry their constant sidekick–doing it again. Technically, it’s a pure triumph; the vocals, esp the harmonies, soar beyond ‘loving tribute’ into the realm of the absolutely uncanny, and the little *trip* at the end is an almost achingly perfect act of mickey-taking. Plus, especially if you happen to have watched the Boast Battle just beforehand, Rickard’s enthusiastic petal-strewing is besides everything else the single funniest self-parody you will ever see.
  • All involved are, unsurprisingly, having just a tad too much fun to maintain S&G’s trademark  solemn, otherworldly intensity–albeit this may be unavoidably tied into sheer-wig-silliness levels, as Jim does the better job of it. Similarly, the focus on Richie Webb’s weaving in the musical cues is understandable given the new heights of brilliance achieved, but means the whole loses track of the contrast between the ethereally lovely melodies and sharp, often bleakly sarcastic lyrics that was the real heart of their style. A missed opportunity, really, given the subject matter…
  • …but by no means a fatal one. In fact, after several viewings’ practice at keeping a straight face, it’s possible to appreciate both song and preceding skit for the novelty interest alone. (Fun mirth-enhancing side project: imagine that’s the same thoroughly domesticated Wilbondian warrior from the Viking Wife Swap. For extra credit, go on to picture the whole thing as a Hanna-Barbera-esque anachronistic sitcom.) I’ve always enjoyed the show’s brief deviations into not-axe-intensive Viking culture… although, erm, about that whole thing with the feuding and the berserkers and whatnot in S2…? Wait, that actually ended with reasoned negotiation too, didn’t it. Shoot.
  • On the further subject of novelty and Willbond: Ben gets most of the credit for the latest oddball highwayman sketch, and rightly so, but for me there’s even more fun to be had in Simon the impatient holdup victim: he gets a rare (come to think of it, possibly unique) moment as the voice of reason, and they still manage to make it completely surreal.
  • Ben does make a ridiculously charming job of the kind of insouciance more usually reserved for Mat; it’s worth remembering he can do a killer French accent too… not to mention that sweetly low-key mode, a la George I. I’ll take any of that I can get, even an undertone. As usual, whenever he and Farnaby merge their comedic confidence–not forgetting Martha as their increasingly adept foil–the show gets effects that can legitimately be called enchanting.
  • No, I have absolutely no idea how everyone missed the carrot/radar business up to now either, but it”s easily one of the best obscure oddball nuggets the show ever turned up. The loopiness writes itself from there; all the performers have to do is take it even remotely seriously and they’re home free. Which… well, yeah, again, that’s the advantage of giving them free rein after all, they know how to maximise loopiness if nothing else. Thus the viewer need merely sit back and revel in both Ben and Larry’s particular uber-Teutonic stylings… and Mat’s epic melodramatic idiocy! Sheer comic luxury.
  • Interesting side effect of the new temporal format: the chance to finally dig into the between-wars stuff that’s technically always been within the show’s timeline but has fallen into a sort of semantic black hole before now. We really should’ve seen the Titanic in some context long since… albeit from a creative standpoint this particular context is so clunkily obvious that my first reaction on watching it was to snerk that maybe the guy who wrote the ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ bit last series needs his Prozac dosage upped. As comes in handy on many media occasions, I blame James Cameron.
  • At any rate, my comeuppance came immediately upon watching–and I can tell the universe was homing in on me personally, because it’s Lawry who makes the surprisingly sane, decent, even touching straight man of the piece. Overall this is about as tactful and tasteful a take on comparatively recent tragedy as this show is capable of, even given Simon’s bizarrely no-holds-barred cross between a ship’s captain and a drunk suburban mall Santa Claus. It’s the latter who ends up selling the most excellent bit of slyly noir fun–the ‘ice for the nightcap’ business–thrown in at the end (a callback to real-life incidents that night).
  • I do keep forgetting that it’s ultimately about the kiddies, for whom obvious and laboured exposition in this case is most likely providing a real educational service. And meanwhile, any really bored adults can be staring at the snappy naval uniforms… not to mention Ben experimenting with a squeaky Cockney accent. They flipped the casting between him and Lewin deliberately just to see how Willbond would react, didn’t they?
  • Introducing one other intriguing minor side effect of the new 20th-century focus: a fascination with American achievements… and, inevitably, accents. Strap in, kids, it’s about to become a bumpy ride. Still, it’s good to have the Dodgy War Inventions back. Awwww, cute little bat bomb is…
  • <BOOM!>
  • …oh, damn you, producers. And your Russian anti-tank dogs, too.
  • Speaking of random animal-based factoids, I am entirely too entertained by the quiz preceding the Twilight parody sketch about Lord Byron’s exotic pets… yes, show, but did he have a team of zebras and dine with chimps, hmmm?
  • Otherwise, well, this particular parody certainly didn’t go the way I began  envisioning immediately it was announced early in the off-season. Let us just say my version involved considerably more Mat, a curling iron and red silk… also, sparkles. I can deal with the rest as a good joke on my own expectations, but I really do miss the sparkles.
  • Overall I am torn generally between being ready to applaud the show for managing to work the parody so cleverly and–in conjunction with the Avengers thing last episode–being uneasy about this budding willingness to pile on such obvious targets. Mind you, when I am watching it, the former mood always wins handily. Besides, they continue to have the wit to cast Sarah in the emo female parts, and juxtapose same with the bald-cap-wearing. So I guess we can call success, here.
  • *ahem* So anyway, it’s past time to check back in with Death and his ongoing bourgeois dream of purgatory. Though unsure as to why they’d spring it now instead of the finale, I thoroughly approve of the well-handled meta-plot twist. Not least because it proves that our Reaper did strike off to establish his own self-indulgent corner of the afterlife, exactly as suggested in S1. That the SD sketches have this level of detailed continuity makes me quite unreasonably happy.
  • Oh, speaking of which–except the happiness part–the mummy’s gone. Forced out unjustly after the afterlife equivalent of Perez Hilton broke the story of the affair with the skeleton, I will be assuming. Anyway, clever reverse-juxtaposition of the unusually upbeat SD with the earlier unusually bleak sketch — complete with nice (awesome, if intentional) creepy frisson in the form of Captain Smith having apparently seamlessly morphed into Death.
  • And awww, cute plucky working-class pajama-wearing Jim, squeeee! First item in my Howick plushie’s new optional wardrobe. Could’ve done without the overt ‘first time for everything’ bit, tho.
  • Hey, the Movie Pitch is back!… yaaaaayyyy. Right, for those of you just tuning in, yes I’m both an unabashed fan of these bits and well aware that that places me in the severe minority among the fandom. Still, I don’t see why both camps can’t appreciate how the LoG are making an unexpectedly nice smooth transition from brittle novelty to comfortably ongoing world-building. It’s clear they’re genuinely invested in making something three-dimensionally clever out of the kiddie series cameo, and I think that’s really damn cool of them. I think Martha’s affected aristocratic lisp is slightly less cool, but the sheer sympathy for her having to wear that costume more or less balances it out.
  • Anyhoo, you might as well settle in and enjoy, kiddies, because this and (spoiler alert) Historical Apprentice are about all that’s left of the richly detailed S3/4 reality-TV parody vibe. By contrast, you know how the tabloid parodies have always served as repositories for those little scraps of anecdote that won’t stretch as far as a full-length sketch? And how most of the time, that’s for a good reason? Welp, meet ‘Thou Hast Been Framed’, besides (spoiler alert) a boatload more tabloid parodies to come, because of course there’s a lot more of those anecdotal shreds floating around this series. Sigh.
  • Which doesn’t stop me from being rather unnecessarily pleased with myself over the bit with Margaret Pole’s execution, that I first mentioned as an intriguing story back in S02E11. Go me. Of course, they went for the “less well-documented” half of the anecdote, and thus transformed the whole thing with the “dignified and completely innocent elder stateswoman dies in a heartrendingly grotesque fashion on the whim of an increasingly paranoid despot” into an awful mini-mess of cheezy comedic desperation. Really, it…
  • *thinks back to Mat making saucer eyes under that Garfunkel wig while Larry prances in the background*…
  • …Ahhh, never mind, show, s’ok. I forgive you.

95% Accu-rat:

  • So yes, Spartan marriage customs, routinely popping up on lists of ‘Weirdest Wedding Rituals’ since pretty much ever. The thing is, the sketch here gets it right while somehow rearranging the details so as to avoid all the actual memorably awkward stuff. Which I can actually understand, because, according to contemporary historian Plutarch, the kidnapping bit in reality happened first, and then:
  • The so-called ‘bridesmaid’ took charge of the captured girl. She first shaved her head to the scalp, then dressed her in a man’s cloak and sandals, and laid her down alone on a mattress in the dark. The bridegroom – who was not drunk and thus not impotent, but was sober as always – first had dinner in the messes, then would slip in, undo her belt, lift her and carry her to the bed.
  • …OK, some backstory is in order. Spartans weren’t any more convinced of the inherent value of the female than any other Greek society; but–as addressed in that S1 Wife Swap–as long as the ladies held the keys to population growth, which in turn was the key to Spartan security, the state was sure as hell going to make sure they were capable of birthing and raising real warriors.
  • Thus, unlike any others in Greece, Spartan girls were educated, participated in sport and just generally hardened from early childhood right alongside the boys. There’s evidence that young women even trained in the nude, right alongside those same young men. (If you’ve ever wondered what would really shock an ancient Greek historian, well, there’s your answer.) Given all of which, marriage didn’t happen until they were eighteen or so–in contrast to the Athenian custom of equating marriage availability to a girl’s first period.
  • Meantime, the men had gone off to military training, as, erm, detailed in the S2 song. That is, they spent years in close companionship with other young males, whom they were taught to rely on absolutely as brothers-in-arms… but there was still that pesky question of ensuring State security, and that was the one thing his brothers just couldn’t help with.
  • So marriage was mandatory for all Spartan males at age thirty (although in practice the age limit was frequently handwaved, so long as nobody caught the underage groom slipping out of the barracks at night to visit his bride). And it’s not hugely surprising that, when convincing said adult male to voluntarily get it on with an (eeew!) girl, it was thought prudent to turn her into basically a facsimile of one of his ‘army buddies’, bung her into a dark room, and hope for the best. Interestingly, some scholars point out that this strictly regulatory attitude to procreation also acted as a curb on any heterosexual hormonal hooplah induced by the aforementioned co-ed nudity. Spartans: no matter how you slice it, still and always utterly unique.
  • Right-ho, past time for your scheduled Reasons Why the Show’s Handling of the Tudors Drives Me Nuts Rant, number… oh, gosh, must be a whole lot, because getting even the little details of Tudor history wrong is by now the historical-scholarship equivalent of misidentifying the occupant of Grant’s Tomb, and yet the show just keeps on doing it. Even when, once again, reality is much the more interesting. For starters, this is what Thomas More actually looked like at the time; an older, learned man, a statesman and one of Henry VIII’s best friends. Sort of what you’d expect to happen when an academic gets forced into public life. Even a bit naiively fanatical on the whole Catholic issue, maybe–but frail little blond wuss, he was emphatically not.
  • Second… even setting aside the fact that slight, naturally brunette Alice L. would’ve been much the better choice to embody her, the whole damn switchover from the Pope to Henry had Anne Boleyn’s enthusiastic approval, given that it was all about finally legalising the King’s divorce and making her Queen. In fact, her entire relationship with Henry was about her power over him; she knew he was a middle-aged, balding, tubby tyrant when she got into this mess, and she frankly did not care, because he was the King, and also did I mention he was working very very hard to make her Queen? It helps.
  • Speaking of revealing portraiture: Here’s Victorian artist William Powell Frith’s take on the highwayman sketch, or at least the anecdote that inspired it. You’ll notice quite a lot more cowering away from pistols and whatnot, but even so, a weirdly charming scene. Just generally, Claude Duvall (technically Du Vall, but really now) is a much more appealing candidate for inappropriate romanticisation than either Dick Turpin or James Hind. Certainly his legendary way with the ladies goes a long way towards explaining his popularity with Charles II in particular. And if Duvall’s epitaph is any indication at all, he kept it up to the very end:  Here lies Du Vall: Reader, if male thou art, Look to thy purse: if female to thy heart.
  • OK, I do know the misguided sensationalisation is part of the… fun… of the tabloid parodies. As a public service, though, I’d just like to point out that Mary QofS wasn’t actually a twelve-year-old waif at her execution — she was 45 (hence the wig, get it?), a middle-aged, corpulent figure wracked with rheumatism thanks to all those years shut up in Northern castles. Oh, and she went to the block wearing a bright red dress, as a final sign of Catholic defiance, and with her favourite little lapdog tucked somewhere among her voluminous skirts, because… damn it got dusty in here all of a sudden.
  • The Titanic sketch does as noted do a very nice job of getting the facts straight–as well it might, given that the disaster is rivalled only by the Tudors in exhaustive scholarly analysis. Yes, contrary to rather over-excited modern revisionists the ship was in fact touted as ‘unsinkable’ pre-maiden voyage, prompting impressive displays of passenger stiff-upper-lipped-ness that totally included guys wandering around with cocktails post-collision coolly snarking that they needed some ice, anyway.
  • All this confidence was fueled in part by the ship’s unique construction, featuring a specially-partitioned lower hull (the area our old pal Arthur Priest would’ve been working in) that was designed to prevent further flooding in the event one section of the hull was breached, rather like modern fire doors. Unfortunately, nobody pictured an impact that would rip open several sections all at once…
  • One other thing: Overconfident Captain Smith may have been, magnificently bearded he certainly was… but, by God, he went down with his ship just as the finest traditions of his day prescribed. (So, incidentally, did Lawry’s character, thus vaulting my usual sympathy for his pathetic types to heights I don’t think either of us ever considered possible.)
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Posted by on May 25, 2014 in Series Five

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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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S02E11

So he asks the Pope for a divorce, and the Pope says ‘no way, Jose!’… which is weird, because his name is Henry.

The inevitable late-series lull is beguiled along pleasantly enough by the application of funky monks, a narcoleptic General and mondo Rickard… also, the understanding that it’s only going to be one episode long.

In this episode:

Song: The Monks’ Song — Ben, Jim & Mat as more-or-less-men of God, and Terry Deary as their Bishop

Recurring sketches:

Ready, Steady Feast — Egyptian peasant & pyramid builder (hope you have good strong teeth! Oh, plus a real affection for dates and baboons…)

Pyramid Weekly — “Free Gift: a large stone weighing two-and-a-half-tonnes! Buy Pyramid Weekly every week, and in just 442,000 years, you’ll have enough stones to build your own pyramid!… 70,000 labourers not included.”

Dodgy War Inventions — No.21: Union Ironclad Battles Confederate Ironclad… prior to the invention of armour-piercing artillery… for a long, long time.

Stupid Deaths — Draco, statesman of Athens (suffocated by the tributes of an adoring crowd — then faces an adoring Death. “Not the Draco! Ooh, can I have an autograph?… Two kissies! Yay!”)

Bob Hale — The Catholic Report

HHTV News — Anne Boleyn’s execution: Henry VIII’s reaction

One-offs:

Rotten Romans

Caligula vs. Poseidon, pt 2: In which the legendary (also, newly blond and fey) Emperor of Loopy decides that if you want crazy done right, you just have to do it yourself… if mostly on account of you forgot to tell your troops about it.

Be the Best… or They’ll Kill You — In an inset to the above, a legionary (foot soldier) explains how the Roman forces were trained to unquestioning obedience, dedication, loyalty and of course fear of being thrown off cliffs.

Measly Middle Ages

The Plague Report — Lots of it. All over Europe. Next! (Seriously, what’s with the persistence of this format? Are weather reports some sort of revered feature of the UK television… wait, I think I may have just answered my own question.)

The Plague Comes North — Proudly-plaid-wearing raiders from plague-free Scotland head out to ransack the plague-weakened English. There’s just one eensy little problem… and for once it’s not the accents.

My Big Fat (Medieval Scottish) Wedding — And if this show has taught us anything, it’s that if your prospective father-in-law has a yellow ‘fro and a mad gleam in his eye, the wedding planning’s gonna be an uphill slog. (“Aye, that’s how we like to do things, in medieval Scotland!”)

Awesome USA

Stonewall Jackson — Now, this is how you pull off crazy and militarily competent at the same time!… possibly could do without the narcolepsy though. (“Yes, I suppose he does have his moments… Sir, he is dribbling on my tunic…?”)

Groovy Greeks

Spartan Parent/Teacher Night — The best bit is, you get to picture Larry here as father to jheri-curled Larry from the song… OK, not much, but at least it’s something. (“Alright… it is a Spartan school, so don’t, erm, cry…”)

Field Notes:

  • Yep, as discussed last time (see S01E10) into every HH series some less-than-inspiring material must eventually fall. Albeit the gentle inconsequence and/or lack of confidence on display this time isn’t anywhere close to the flat-out gasping and flopping characteristic of S1’s last moments, thanks largely to the producers having taken the decision to make S2E13 a clip show, in lieu of stringing out the originality any further than strictly necessary.
  • (The ‘best’ of the subsequently missing material is available on the DVD. Given that it involves yet another Scary Story [later reused for the Halloween special], a long meandering monologue on Roman military retirement and a recurring medieval medical bit that manages to completely ignore the perfectly serviceable existence of both Stupid Deaths and Historical Hospital, I’d say we dodged a rather impressive bullet here, frankly.)
  • As another side benefit to these mostly not being specific character pieces, we have lotsa Larry. We got your Larry the medieval warrior, Larry the shirtless Egyptian, Larry the long-haired Spartan, and of course Larry the, um, Bob Hale. My personal favourite is the wild-n-crazy Scotsman, although Bobsy shows off a nice tactfulness — if also a few minor inaccuracies (see below) — under all the bluster, and besides which the Religion-O-Meter is freakin’ hilarious.
  • Still, only the plague sketch gives us pants-under-the-kilt gags. Besides which, more entertainingly quasi-Scots bellowing (also featured prominently in the wedding sketch). Not to mention bonus comedy routines from the host rodent, who’s really been warming up to the possibilities of this emcee gig lately. “Me husband went to England, and all he brought me back was this lousy plague!” — yeah, what can I say? I’m a sucker for the excited little paws.
  • I’m also something of a sucker for the song, since clearly, I had severely underestimated the effect of a driving beat on the average cricket-loving Oxfordian. ‘Course, it’s not surprising that bright young males would react well on evidently being directed to ‘Make like your last great college party, only when you hit the floor start praying instead of puking’… but dang. Grandmaster Funk Willbond here gets so carried away he doesn’t even start watching his feet until he’s boogied half-way down.
  • So yeah, thank you very much dim lighting and oblique camera angles, but it’s impossible not to be charmed anyway by one of the more genuinely witty songs the show has ever produced. Like the Shouty Man bit last episode, this is a very adult historical concept that somebody noticed could be neatly justified under kiddy slapstick, and it’s a further demonstration of just how adept they’re getting at layering the satire to suit themselves.
  • Not to mention bringing out the best in one T. Deary, who would thus by now be enshrined in the pop-cult pantheon as a Really Cool Old Guy if he’d just please shut up himself already. It’s an honest shame that comments elsewhere have proven his HH stint has at this point much more to do with getting attention for himself than any sincere desire to please (or for that matter enjoy) his young readership.
  • For a look at what happens when the layering misfires…OK look, I ordinarily try hard to pretend they never even made a followup to one of the most neatly and completely brilliant sketches of Series One. However, they did, and I have contracted to be fair and just. *ahem* Here’s Mat as Caligula, trying to pull off a cross between Simon’s familiar mannerisms and Malcolm McDowell’s sheer hamminess, because… who the hell knows, really.
  • There’s no reason why Lawry couldn’t have twitched and squeaked here at least as effectively as he did for George III; more so, because, y’know, homicidal mania. I suppose Mat’s more visually in line with the McDowell film, but he doesn’t have anywhere near the weight of experience needed to anchor that level of camp — which yes, might be a good thing in a kid’s show, but for adults, the resulting aimless flouncing is annoying enough to make Lawry come across as likeably sane and grounded.
  • All the more so, because this also happens to be the ep the local Master of Ham himself reveals not only an affinity for kilts but that they have fluffy pink pens in the afterlife. (Wonder if this was the point at which the props master started looking thoughtfully at the blonde wigs?) Death the dictator fanboi — “Ah, cruel but popular. Me, too.” — is just completely awesomely fabulous, one of those things that really drive home the value performer individuality brings to the HH concept. It also incorporates a nifty callback to last series’ ‘Historical Law’ sketch.
  • Likewise Larry, clearly aware that all bets are off, happily grabs for whatever bits of leftover scenery he can. Then both he and Mat, wearing not much more than their perfect deadpans, team up as Egyptian peasants for a fine display of their own distinctively surreal chemistry. A bit distractingly random in this particular case — and the Rickardian physique turns out to rather obviously belong to a writer, if the drift is clear — but again, always hysterical. And all is right with the HH universe once again.
  • Which brings us round to the Stonewall Jackson sketch: literally when I woke to the realisation that this show had a lot more on the ball than your average kiddy edutainment, both in terms of comedy and facial hair. Once I stopped snickering madly, that is — which took up most of the sketch — but I went rushing off to Google “whether it was just me…?” immediately after the ‘arm longer than the other’ bit, I do recall that.
  • It’s kind of weird to realise I had absolutely no idea, back then; not even any names Just that the little plump dude was having an infectiously great time holding the Crazy Ball (for once, I can now add); so that even the way his accent kept fading in-and-out was funny. The big handsome one had a much better command of nineteenth-century American cadence… but I must now note with some alarm that it hasn’t changed much since moving south.
  • Overall, though, this is what the Nelson sketch should’ve been, given that General Jackson gets to effectively demonstrate his competence while being rather more gently ribbed. Even so, it will never earn the show many fans in the good ol’Awesome USA, where messing with heroes — particularly ones that routinely star in expensive hobby re-enactments — is looked upon as… well, with great confusion as to the point, basically. And probably Obama’s fault.
  • It might also be helpful to apply evil government conspiracy theories — possibly the ones involving the moon landing — to the theoretically multi-tonne pyramid stone that bounces happily into shot. But I don’t think it’d help the embarrassment much, especially with all those suspiciously styrofoam-shaped chips flying around. Kid then does a decent job of pretending it’s super heavy, though, I’ll give them that.
  • There’s much more attention to detail  in the HHTV News sketch, but unfortunately it’s mostly going the wrong way. Alice’s character is entirely too generic a blonde newsbimbo for my taste, and she’s cozying up to a much younger, slimmer and hairier Henry VIII than actually would’ve been the case at the time of Anne Boleyn’s demise — he already being 45 by then, only 10 years off his death.
  • That said, I’m willing to forgive a lot for Henry’s little happy dance of athletic heartiness — big episode this altogether, for Ben’s willingness to sacrifice dignity for the cause. I’d also hate to discourage any comparatively subtle way of getting Tudor horribleness across (including the fact that Henry was at Jane’s side immediately after Anne’s execution).

95% Accu-rat:

  • Actually, Bobsy, burning heretics at the stake was ‘being Catholic’ — or at least, had religious significance. As whacked-out as it sounds, those (like ‘Bloody’ Mary I) who embraced the idea of heretic-burning could also be extremely moral, upright people. The idea was that these poor deluded fools were going to hell anyway, so might as well give them a taste as a last-ditch effort to induce them back to the True Church — or, if they refused even then, a signpost to light the way.
  • So make up your mind, show: did King James take a dislike to Catholics before (as per the earlier Fawkes’ 13 bit) or after (as per Bob here) Guy Fawkes et al. nearly blew him up? A bit of research suggests the earlier sketch had it right: During the late 16th century, Catholics made several assassination attempts against Protestant rulers… until the 1620s, some English Catholics believed that regicide was justifiable to remove tyrants from power. Much of James I’s political writing was “concerned with the threat of Catholic assassination and refutation of the [Catholic] argument that ‘faith did not need to be kept with heretics'”.
  • The song, meanwhile, is as noted absolutely accurate. Being a Man or Woman of God in medieval Europe most often meant you didn’t have to alter your lifestyle one iota — given that back then nobody would ever think of questioning a servant of the Lord (the same one, you’ll recall, that was totally OK with turning you into a flamesicle). Also given that many, esp. those higher up so to speak, were from aristocratic families, leading to monastic life being considered more or less something to do when you weren’t in line for the money or an advantageous marriage.
  • As one of the more hilarious unforeseen consequences of this setup, Henry VIII was forced to turn down then-girlfriend Anne Boleyn’s request that her relative Eleanor Carey be appointed Prioress of an influential abbey. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to help out, Henry hastened to assure his sweetheart; only that it’d look bad for both of them if Dame Eleanor, who among other things had two children by two different priests, was preferred by the Crown.
  • It’s a bit difficult to sort the historical Draco out from the fictional, in more ways than one — seriously, Rowling, you couldn’t have named your villain Aloysius or something? — at any rate, there’s not much to tell about the man who gave us one of the more satisfyingly melodramatic adjectives in history, except that he did indeed have a concept of absolute obedience to authority that involved the death penalty for anything but exemplary citizenship.
  • Oh, and the cloak thing… well, you know what I’m about to say re: sourcing, don’t you? Personally I’m a bit sceptical, given the number of cloaks etc needed to do the deed — the sort of thing that would be fairly easy to sidestep once it became clear that it was getting out of hand. However it does lead to lots of fun speculation on whether this ancient flash mob in reality accidentally killed him with kindness… or were *ahem* cloaking their more sinister motives.
  • Meanwhile, the moral implications of casting General Thomas J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson as a buffoonish doofus aside — except on the YouTube page, where masochists are fully invited to take their fill — it can’t be denied that the man really was that, uh, picturesque. Writing in A Walk In the Woods, Bill Bryson (himself an American) confirms, then elaborates at length on, the idiosyncracies shown here:
  • He was hopelessly, but inventively, hypochondriacal… at the Battle of White Oak Swamp, his lieutenants found it all bit impossible to rouse him and lifted him, insensible, onto his horse, where he continued to slumber while shells exploded all around him. He was unquestionably brave, but in fact it is altogether possible that he was given that nickname not for gallantry and daring but for standing inert, like a stone wall, when a charge was called for.
  • Fans of watching Jim suffer with extreme adorableness — which apparently includes his current employers — will be cheered to realise that the Highlander notion of marital martyrdom was even more thorough than shown: [Creeling] required the bridegroom to carry a large basket (a creel) filled with stones on his back. He had to carry this weight from one end of the village to the next and continue carrying it around the town until his intended bride came out of her house and kissed him.
 
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Posted by on March 31, 2013 in Series Two

 

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S02E07

Get back! I have a butter knife and I’m not afraid to use it… You! Get back, or I will spread you, I am not joking~!

The show returns to what it indisputably does best: being hilarious about Western European history. And there was much rejoicing. (yaaaaay.)

In this episode:

Song: Victorian Inventions — Ben and Alice as a music-hall act

Recurring sketches:

Ready, Steady Feast — Captain Ned Low’s taste for cruelty

Historical Dragon’s Den — Victorian Britain

Words We Get From the — Saxons

Bob Hale — The [English] Civil War Report (OK, that’s definitively established then, timey-wimey scholars: Rattus and the HHTV crew are operating in the same timeline.)

HHTV News: Mike Peabody Live — from the Battle of Marston Moor (“Yes, I’m afraid I’m going to die — OF THIRST! Hahahah!”)

Dodgy War Inventions — No.79: Romans Invade East Anglia on Stilts

Historical Wife Swap — Celts vs. Romans (All you really need to know: Simon as the primitive Celtic husband, Mat as the sophisticated Roman)

One-offs:

Measly Middle Ages

Feudal Family Feud — Back before authoritarian fathers had prize Cadillacs to trash… their angsty sons still had swords. (“No! Zat is my peas-ant!”)

Joan and the Angel (imagine spot) — “Sweeping up and darning socks I can do — military leadership, not so much!” “Well, He definitely said… I mean, I wrote it on my hand and everything…”

Putrid Pirates

Captain Cutiebeard — As it turns out, pirate tactics for luring ships in close involved frilly lingerie. In related news, the ongoing ‘pirate -vs- ninja’ Net debate just got REALLY interesting.

Smashing Saxons

New! Saxon Sign of the Cross — Sanitation via genuflection: sometimes, history is frankly about being impressed that the human race made it out alive…

Dance ‘Til Something Drops — … Case in point. Social life in the Middle Ages: being unable to tell whether your friends were happily boogying down or flailing around in the throes of ergotism-induced gangrene.

Field Notes:

  • If you’ll excuse a moment’s nostalgic digression… My first encounter with HH the TV-verse was in late 2010, via BBC Kids, a Canadian cable channel that picks up much of CBBC/CBeebies’ programming. So this was the very first full-length episode I ever watched, and — being at that time, for various reasons, in dire need of a wholly uncomplicated laugh — where I began to watch the show with real interest. I’ve obviously learned to appreciate the rest since, but in some important ways the back half of S2 will always be the definitive Horrible Histories for me…
  • … *blinks as mists clear* …And thus here I am, lo these years later, speculating on just exactly how a stick insect might get so closely — not to say spectacularly — in touch with his inner homicidal cannibal. Seriously, either they sent Lawry on a three-day bender, gave him a 5AM filming call and filmed the result (definitely without telling Dominique)… or I suddenly really feel the need to apologise for any and all snarky Lewin-related remarks to even date. Um, including that one I just now made. Shoot. I’m willing to upgrade him to praying mantis, would that help?
  • In a way, I’ve been setting up for these reviews from the start. BBC Kids has always been careful to air the show after 6pm — as was also traditional for the Muppet Show when I was a kid — with a ‘content may be disturbing to some’ disclaimer. So I’ve never assumed HH was designed for anything but an all-ages family audience, as defined by the Henson troupe, and so have watched with the same assured expectation of adult reward… and the show, it must be said, has rarely failed to deliver.
  • Hence, when confronted here with Cap’n Mat the Fabulous, all decked out in bustle and rouge and basically way more detail than needed to pull his ruse off from a distance, my natural instinct is not to giggle at the over-the-top clowning, but at the possible connection to his breakdown from the previous sketch. Not that I’m here to judge, mind; those long voyages, the freely available rum, the underlings who’re really into their poncy little sword routines… I understand.
  • What I’m really saying is, I kid because I loved this tiny perfect collection of all the (male) troupe’s signature schticks at first sight. In fact, if I do have a major complaint from this point forward, it’s that the pirate sketches will pretty much fall off the radar. Given that ninjas — and indeed robots — are non-starters as sketch ideas, also that only a few, clean outtakes make it onto each DVD, we’re losing a valuable source of pure playfulness here. (Yeah, there are still cowboys, but those accents… somehow it’s just not the same.)
  • Still, we’ll always have knights. Here, specifically, Ben and Mat turning out to be entirely adorable — and rather interestingly convincing — as father-son squires. And there is always the possibility they will be French, which accent will never get off the collision course with HH whackiness. Especially not when you haul Willbond the ‘accspert’ into the mix … also, suspiciously familiar staging over the castle ramparts. Quick, dad, distract him with an argument about swallow velocity! Fetchez la vache! 
  • Right, sorry, focussing — Oh look, Mat’s disarming Larry! Repeatedly! (“Arm or leg?” “Well, arm, I guess…” — slays me every time.) Not even trying to pretend anymore that normal is the expected result when these two collide, are they? Besides which, fun bonus material in comparing/contrasting Mat’s more formal command of pantomime twitchiness with Larry’s intuitive take — he does have a couple season’s worth of Bob Hale under his belt, after all.
  • So the ergotism sketch is the most openly goofy, ie. kid-friendly, of the lot. But if we’re talking the place where contextual subtlety definitively goes to die, I’m all about Mat as the Roman husband in the Wife Swap sketch – being so ridiculously sweet and charming and obviously green-lighted with the sadistic notion of finding out exactly how far they could mess with adult hormones while still claiming innocence… Pretty damn far, as it turns out, on account of you’re reading this.
  • Incidentally, now that it’s officially OK to believe anything of the production team, is anyone else getting the idea that the inevitable ‘fainting wife’ role in the WS bits was being used as a sort of ‘”let’s see what they’re made of” initiation for the female cast? Just me then? Yeah, figured. Still, it led to a very pleasant line of thought re: more possible HH hazing rites, up to and including the ultimate test: sharing a sketch with Simon for thirty full seconds without cracking.
  • His turn here as the Celtic ‘furball’ (hee!) would’ve been ideal; just when the pledge thinks they’re ready for anything enigmatically menacing, not to say unpredictably crazy… he abruptly shifts over to bluntly loveable straight man, and turns that into a full-on festival of irresistible giggles. All kidding about cast feels aside, when he goes to whistle up the finest in canine medical care, I really, sincerely just want to give him a huge hug.
  • Then, I will give another to Larry, for a generally wonderful B.Hale Report and for specifically describing Richard Cromwell as ”About as much use as a jelly pickaxe”. And finally, I will award one to the Angel Jim. I have a private theory that he is the sole BAFTA winner of the troupe out of three tries simply because — regardless of natural voter sympathy towards the younger nominees — it proved impossible to disregard Howick playing a celestial messenger who’s written the Holy Message on his hand “and everything”. (Although they were probably just a touch disappointed that the writing isn’t actually glowing. I know I was.)
  • The whole Joan of Arc sketch is remarkable much more for its casting than its hackneyed construction — of all the angles to approach one of the most impossibly romantic, implausibly literal melodramas in all of history, the feminist was easily the most limiting (if, yes, also the most accessible to the small fry). Still, Alice is her usual appealingly convincing presence, while Ben — amusingly, still wearing the armour from the previous French sketch — just about manages to rescue the obvious from itself. Well, him, and the hilarious ‘heavenly’ music playing over his darning.
  • Basically, the above re: casting applies more or less intact to the song — albeit of course with less heavenly Howicks. Which frankly is kind of a shame. I’m not a huge fan of these nationalistic ‘we invented!’ lists, for reasons discussed under S01E12 (and even less lucidly, if possibly more entertainingly, in the relevant YouTube comment sections.) To cite a specific problem here, I’m thinking Swedish subject Alfred Nobel, for one, would be a bit startled to discover he invented dynamite under the auspices of the British monarch.
  • It does have value as one of the few chances for direct comparison with Series One, ie. the song ‘We Are Greek’ — except of course, it’s no real comparison at all. There’s more care lavished on a single costume here than there was in nearly the entirety of S1’s musical efforts. Ben’s voice hasn’t improved much since then, but damned if he hasn’t got that Harrison-esque talk-singing thing nailed. He’s more inclined to generic smug than real showmanship, but that’s a small nitpick in comparison to the authenticity of the whole production.
  • My affection for our Willbond has always had a touch of academic awe mixed in; he is so exactly what North Americans have been trained (at least, in visual media; music’s something else entirely) to think of as ‘British’, and is so effortlessly able to lever his self-awareness of same through an entire PD James novel’s-worth of stock types. Also, every now and again he is able to bounce something like the ‘butter knife’ bit here off the cliches, and for a fleeting moment… no, still not quite huggable. But impressive, very.
  • OK… who named Mat ‘Sir Widebelly’? (‘Nathaniel Twonk’, on the other hand, I am so going to borrow if I ever get another hamster.) Seriously, I very much like the Dragon’s Den both as a concept, and a creative way to refresh the *ahem* overworked child-labour theme. It’s another pleasing sign of how far thought and care has advanced since S1.
  • In particular, I love how it’s the same Oliver-esque fantasy kid every time; really, the child actors on this show are something special. So… in amid all the nice authentic touches… why would you leave in such a distractingly modern broom?

95% Accu-rat:

  • So, Jeanne d’Arc. Yes, she really was an illiterate peasant girl, whose claimed first ‘vision’ (speculated to have actually been a result of migraine, epilepsy or similar) did indeed happen when she was somewhere between twelve and fourteen — again, it didn’t occur to anyone to record her birthdate at the time, so accounts vary, but fourteen is the traditionally accepted age — and whose first sally forth into the history books happened when she was around 16.
  • As the entire relevant portion of the Net has not failed to mention, the circs surrounding her death are a lot more… complicated, let’s say, than a kids’ show could possibly squeeze into one thirty-second visit with a puppet rat. She was initially captured by the technically French but then-independent Burgundian dukedom, who in turn sold her to the English Duke of Lancaster — the new French King Charles VII meanwhile ostentatiously twiddling his thumbs and hoping that if he kept quiet everybody’d just forget the whole ‘totally owed his throne to a peasant girl’ thingy.
  • Thus Joan was hauled off to a prison tower in English-occupied Rouen, where — despite several determined escape attempts — she fell into the hands of the French Bishop Cauchon of Beauvais, who was all about appeasing his current masters the Brits, so just sort of went ‘Ehhh, I have jurisdiction here, I think. Probably,’ and proceeded to show-trial the nineteen-year-old girl’s butt to the stake — but not before she had totally owned him under interrogation.
  • Per Wiki: “Asked if she knew she was in God’s grace, she answered: ‘If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.”…Church doctrine held that no one could be certain of being in God’s grace. If she had answered yes, then she would have convicted herself of heresy. If she had answered no, then she would have confessed her own guilt… George Bernard Shaw found this dialogue so compelling that sections of his play Saint Joan are literal translations of the trial record.
  • Hey, you know Captain Ned Low? The psychotic bastard renowned for getting into piracy mostly because land-based crime didn’t give him enough of an outlet for his sadistic urges? His flagship, the pride of whatever remained of his heart, was named the Rose Pink. Seriously. Also, I forgot to mention last ep, Blackbeard’s flag did indeed include hearts. Granted, they were being stabbed by a skeleton, who — the show rather interestingly doesn’t mention — is holding a wineglass in his other hand, raising a toast to the Devil.
  • OK  look, I don’t really have to explain that the stinging nettles would’ve been soaked and beaten to their component fibres, thus removing any stings, before actually being made into underwear, right? You in the back? Right, just checking. While I’m on, it’s worth noting that ergotism — otherwise popularly known as St Anthony’s fire — has been suggested as the possible cause of every convulsion, tic or twitch-based phenomenon throughout much of Western history, including witchcraft as mentioned last series and dancing mania as mentioned in the next.
  • When you come to think of it, in real life stilt-wearing never seems to go well outside Founders’ Day parades. Some things you figure would be obvious from the start…  At any rate, the concept of centurions tottering through the fens while the natives snickered all but compelled me to try and find more info — which didn’t go all that well. I’m willing to take the show’s word for it, but would not be entirely shocked if it’s based mostly off legend and inference.
 
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Posted by on March 17, 2013 in Series Two

 

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S01E06

Now, remember what I told ya…
“Try not to die”?
Yeah, that’s the spirit!

A gently nondescript little midseason interlude… mostly.

In this episode:

Song: A Gorgeous Georgian Lady (Martha as Random Noblewoman)

Recurring sketches:

Historical Wife Swap — Georgian Noble vs. Peasant (“Hello, we’re very, very rich.” “Hello, we’re very, very, very hungry!”)

Stupid Deaths — Franz Reichert (personally tested ‘coat-parachute’ from the 1st level of the Eiffel Tower — “Well, at least the ‘coat’ part worked! Ha!”)

Dodgy War Inventions — No.7: The Roman ‘Onager’ Catapult

Fractured Fairy Tales — The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, the WWI version (See, soldiers would wee on their boots to soften the leather, so…)

One-offs:

Measly Middle Ages

Flagellants — With Europe a mass of festering plague sores, a God who’d demand you whip yourself raw suddenly started making total sense…

The Made-Up Planet (animated) — You laugh, but frankly zoology was lots more fun before it started insisting on stuff like ‘eyewitness accounts’ and “reality”.

Vile Victorians

Victorian Claims Direct — Being a small, defenseless kid during the Industrial Revolution sucked. The end.

Chimney Sweepstakes — Because they had to get the inevitable “something stuck up the chimney, guv!” gags out of the way… and I honestly thought that was a joke, right up until Santa fell out of there.

Rotten Romans

Row, Row, Row Your Galley (Or We’ll Kill You) — Because they also urgently had to get shot of the ‘mess with the rowing rhythm’ gags. Trust me, we’ll all feel better later.

Frightful First World War

Good Luck Charms — You laugh, but they didn’t wear them to the recruiter’s office and just look what happened.(“…lucky penny… lucky rabbit’s foot…” “Where’d you get that?” “From the lucky regimental mascot. Got hit by a bomb.”)

Groovy Greeks

Greek Myth Talk: Cronus Eats His Own Children — The origin story of the Olympian pantheon. Remember that, next time someone claims the Greeks had all the really cool gods.

Field Notes:

  • Yeppers, just a quiet, peaceful little episode… not much to see here… right up until the unabashed infant cannibalism kicks in. Yes, I really should be used to this by now, but… but… everyone’s covered in mucus and/or has comically awful facial hair and/or sliced-off ‘dangly bits’… (Yet people still look at me funny when I tell them this show will never air in America.) Basically, the Cronus sketch is the last and most vivid reminder that at this point in the show’s history, devoting precious time and resources to the equivalent of the Brothers Grimm + genital mutilation + Jerry Springer seemed like a great idea.
  • To the point that this is the only “chat show” sketch to feature an actual studio audience, containing more members than were present for freaking Charles I’s execution a few eps ago. Granted, the former probably brought their own costumes, but still. It’s like looking at what would’ve happened had the show actually applied its growing cleverness to that juvenile grossout mentality they like to play up in the marketing — frankly unpleasant now to watch, and I don’t think would’ve earned them near the success. Of course, it should always be kept in mind that I’m not British, and neither am I an eight-year-old boy.
  • In happier news, the music’s back!… Sort of. At least I can usually remember this one, albeit largely because the score reminds me of the ‘Perfect Nanny’ number from Mary Poppins… assuming that movie to have been made on a BBC props budget recently gutted by mucus procurement. Seriously, they couldn’t even afford a painted backdrop? Basing historical comedy off fashion foibles anyway requires more delicate handling than the show is thus far capable of, even were they not still convinced that awkward makeup application = one-way ticket to Wackyland.
  • Ironically enough the song also unintentionally falls into the same trap as the scripted one Rattus elsewhere trips over, re: belief in medieval monsters vs. modern Loch Ness devotees. Similarly, leave it at “Har har! Mouse-skin eyebrows!” and the next thing you know some snotty Georgian is all snorting and going “Yeah, well you lot put metal spikes through your tongue!” (Granted, this tends to work out better when the potential snorter is long dead. Still, you get the drift.)
  • The Georgian Wife Swap installment teased at the end of the Restoration ditto also crops up here, and also is a distinct letdown, coming as it does right after sublime proof that the ‘reality show’ sketches work best when they involve clashes of culture and belief — below-surface stuff that really enables character comedy. Here, once they’ve established the ‘rich vs. hungry’ cliches, they’ve literally got nowhere else to go…
  • …save perhaps inspiring viewer sympathy for Jim, who is always being cast as the hopeless serf in these things (this is especially urgent, after hearing his pathetic screeches in the ‘Flagellants’ sketch). Oh, and to speculate re: just how Lord Posh managed to nab that wig second-hand from one Dr. Fuzzlepeck… You’re welcome, fanfic authors.
  • Ideas the HH Producers Fell in Love With Early On, vol.287: the horrors of Industrial Revolution-era child labour. This will eventually account for easily two-thirds of the Vile Victorian sketches (plus one actually lavishly produced song), most of which will work a whole lot better than this one. Yet another high-concept gag that goes not a whole lot of anywhere, along with the WWI good luck charms, and the Roman galley, and… yeah, worryingly big episode for those, come to think of it.
  • On the bright side, Simon having so recently, and firmly, established that anything is liable to happen when he’s onscreen — plus having a hugely charming native accent — helps greatly to rivet viewer attention. both as the aforementioned flagellant and the chimney sweep. (The latter of whom especially is forced to do a lot of the heavy lifting in his sketch, because protip: slapping flashing SANTA! signs on a gag older than Saint Nick himself does not, in fact, act as magical humour Febreze.) Even Death finally seems to be getting with the program, cheerfully twitting the Corpse du Jour in much the more familiar manner.
  • Minuses: weirdly miscast Mat as the butler. Dashing WWI officer Mat isn’t working either, somehow. Not just physically (they did at least give him a coat this time) — they’re trying to shoehorn him in as the stock effortlessly aristocratic type, and he’s not, exactly. None of the eventual core troupe is, although you give Ben a magnificent enough hairdressing job and he can fake it very acceptably. So I do have to give him that, also the ‘orchestra, play something sad’ bit, because he’s just having way too much fun with it at that point. And Jim… well, hey, Jim really does have a knack for those pathetic little woobie types, doesn’t he! Won him a BAFTA and everything. So, um, yeah, yay Jim.
  • Gotta hand it to the littlest cast members, too, and quite seriously. The show benefits greatly from an unusually solid core of child actors, able to switch convincingly from snark to pathos as needed — a skill never to be underestimated, in onscreen rugrats. To my shame I never have learned all their names; according to Twitter the blond one is Bertie Gilbert, who once almost made it into a Harry Potter movie, then eventually grew up to be a YouTube star. Thus becoming the only person ever named ‘Bertie’ to do that, so good for him.
  • Starting to feel like I should be saying something about the fairy tale bits, especially since from the debut press release forward, these were clearly intended as the crown jewel of recurring HH sketches. Death gets the cardboard desk, while Storytime Lady has a cozy chair and lavishly produced standalone tales to narrate, as a reminder that a) Meera Syal was a huge casting coup for the fledgling kiddy series and b) Shrek was still vaguely relevant in 2009.
  • The real trouble is it’s all basically the same tale, or at least the same punchline, and that of a kind the show was rapidly outgrowing even before these sketches first aired. They resemble nothing else about the finished series, or for that matter HH’s generally relentless insistence on the real story, so there was just nowhere for them to go. Ave aqua vale, Meera; you gave it your best shot in a situation where you really, really didn’t have to, and for that you have my respect. Just not my interest.

95% Accu-rat:

  • For all I rag on the animations — you must understand, I wasn’t raised on the HH books or anything — I do like the Medieval Bestiary very much, because, frankly, Dark Ages biology is just endlessly hilarious. As conclusive evidence I give you the beaver, pace Gerald of Wales: When he finds he cannot save himself from the pursuit of the dogs who follow him, that he may ransom his body by the sacrifice of a part, he throws away that, which by natural instinct he knows to be the object sought for, and in the sight of the hunter castrates himself, from which circumstance he has gained the name of Castor; and if by chance the dogs should chase an animal which had been previously castrated, he has the sagacity to run to an elevated spot, and there lifting up his leg, shews the hunter that the object of his pursuit is gone.
  • WHOA YOU GUYS, VIDEO OF FRANZ REICHELT’S FALL TOTALLY EXISTS. He invited the Press and everything. Now I feel even worse for the poor guy… although that’s still not very, because according to the full story this wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment leap to glory; his friends spent quite some time begging him not to try it himself, and he just blew them all right off. If the Grim Reaper ever decides to hold a Stupid Deaths Masters or somesuch, Reichelt’s a shoo-in.
  • So… Cronus. On top of everything else, not actually a god: he was a Titan, and yes this is an important distinction, because… well… I’m pretty sure the paper I wrote in grade nine Ancient History explains it all, just as soon as I get around to digging it out of storage. He was for certain a pretty bad dude, anyway, having already castrated his dad Uranus at the behest of his mum Gaia (the Furies, Giants and some nymphs rose where Uranus’ blood hit the ground). Greek mythology… overall, I’m kinda glad HH quit while they were ahead.
 
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Posted by on January 4, 2013 in Series One

 

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S01E04

I liked that arm! That was my favourite!

So there’s this sketch where Ben sniffs Mat’s hair, and some other stuff… helicopters.

In this episode:

Song: We’re Tudors (Martha as Elizabeth I, Ben as Henry VIII)

Recurring sketches:

Ready, Steady Feast – Dr. William Buckland: Famed eater of weird things

Stupid Deaths – Matthew Webb (tried to swim the rapids under Niagara Falls)

Dodgy War Inventions – No.16: Zeppelin Airships

Historical Hospital – Hippocrates, Father of Medicine

Bob Hale – The Roman Report

Oh Yea! Magazine – Tudor execution special

One-offs:

Smashing Saxons

Saxon Family Feud – “Like Eastenders, but with lots more blood!”… so apparently Eastenders makes a regular thing out of Saxon kings running around in poofy robes ineffectually demanding weregeld? I may need to start watching again.

Anglo-Saxon Ghost Hunt —  Essentially, if you’re in pre-Norman Britain, you’re living the Blair Witch Project 24/7. Except with Vikings.

Frightful First World War

TNT Hair Dye – Yep, how to become a literal blonde bombshell…

Groovy Greeks

Alexandria – In which Alexander the Great’s advisor Hephaestion learns that challenging the ego of a world-conquering tyrant and keeping your dignity is a distinctly either/or proposition.

Rotten Romans

Caligula’s Speechwriter – “So you’re saying, lose the whole chopping-necks thing completely…?” “I wouldn’t start with it.”

Terrible Tudors

Elizabeth the Nicknamer — Yeah, you know that one really, really non-PC co-worker who insists you’re all one big family and so keeps demanding $10 for random baby showers? Bess here was the royal equivalent.

Field Notes:

  • Aaaaaand welcome to the episode that launched a thousand fanfics — also, to be fair, quite a few other essential components of HH canon, including Bob Hale, Caligula and Elizabeth the First, albeit surprisingly petite-nosed compared to later appearances. Moot point now of course, but somebody may just want to explain to the makeup dept, the notion of people’s noses growing longer as they get older? Not really a thing.
  • Oh, and Lionel Walter, 2nd Baron Rothschild, known with varying degrees of fondness in HH lore as The Guy Who Drove Zebras Through London, Har Har Har. That is, I’m not particularly fond of him, and I haven’t really met anyone else who counts him as integral to their fandom, but damned if the producers aren`t head-over-heels for this mildly eccentric aristocratic zoologist. Or possibly just don`t keep track of the random mentions. I’ve counted four separate ones, which frankly would be about three past interesting even if they didn`t all reiterate the exact same details. (Along the same lines, get real used to Caligula’s story about killing the priest instead of the sacrificial beast…)
  • Speaking of benign eccentricity… time to meet Bob Hale, HHTV Special Correspondent and Larry Rickard`s very own shining comic achievement. Confined to a bad suit in front of what I think was originally supposed to be the weatherman’s map, forced to cover all the boring details the other sketches skip over, Bob`s legend will nevertheless grow into a wonderful Wonka-esque medley of catchphrases (“BUT NOT FOR LONG!”), whimsical asides, clever cartoons, Thing-O-Meters and of course helicopters. His enthusiastic cluelessness reaches Bob & Ray levels of endearing… yes, I know, but trust me, I’m paying Larry a huge compliment.
  • So… really expecting the kiddies to get the Eastenders reference, were we, children’s show?… Actually, y’know what, never mind, after last episode I’m thinking you might. Except that later on, Liz’s French suitor, the Duc d’Alencon, is fudged into a `friend’. So now I’m just totally confused.
  • Wildly inappropriate implications aside (most of them, according to himself, contributed on-the-spot by one B.Willbond) the Alexandria sketch is well-put-together, and — even given the need to accept Ben as ‘barely twenty-six’ — our lush leads a whole whackload more plausible than Colin Farrell. I especially like that the armour Alex is wearing ends up being the same Caligula digs up a few sketches later. All hail continuity!
  • I think my own fan instincts must be a bit cracked, because honestly my major Ben feels here come from the Ghost Hunt sketch. “The spirits like to have a little natter…” I dunno, I just love the way he says that. Really, rewound it a few times. If I ever had a chance to have him repeat a line just for me, that’d be the one.
  • Much love also for the Saxon Family Feud, the niftiest outcropping to date of the sophistication discussed last entry; the funny has an unusually complex internal logic, almost like a mini-sitcom episode. (”You’re, like, so much sweatier in person!” “Well, I’ve just run up a hill, haven’t I?”). I’ve never understood why it doesn’t get more appreciation among the fandom; containing as it does, besides Mat & Jim being Mat & Jim, the same sweetly ineffectual Ben from the Ghost Hunt. Not an archetype he pulls out very often, and again, call me daffy, but I like it better than Alexander. (Now, Hephaestion, we can discuss).
  • OK, held off the negative as long as I can, but… The Tudors song. Yes, fine, it’s catchy (despite some annoyingly juvenile and/or forced rhymes), the details are mostly accurate, Martha does a decent vocal job, and some of the staging is interesting. Still, the overall tone — if you need a refresher on my sensitivity where the Tudor clan is concerned, you may want to head back to S01E02 & mentally add ‘but even more so’ at the end of each sentence. Otherwise… *deep breath* NO THE HISTORY BOOKS DID NOT REVIEW THEM AS ‘ROTTERS AND BIG BRUISERS’! THIS SORT OF CARTOONISH PANDERING TO IDIOTIC SOAP OPERA STEREOTYPES IS COMPLETELY…
  • …*takes several more deep breaths*…
  • …OK, better now. Will air out my similar frustrations with the ‘Oh Yea!’ bit in the historical notes below. But really — I don’t even get the fig leaf of a charming Henry VIII in this song, on account of it’s all but been specifically designed to expose Ben’s vocal limitations (I’m assuming it was written prior to his, or at least Henry’s, being cast). There is nothing at all engaging about watching an actor you respect being hung out to dry in living colour. I haven’t done this much wincing since Mom brought home those Best of the Dean Martin Show DVDs.
  • Right, back to the positives…for instance, erm, Caligula. Whether or not ‘Little Bootikins’ (no really, look it up) was in reality all that bad is debatable, but in Simon’s hands he’s the definition of utterly random hilarity, less a characterisation than an outlet. Seriously, I’m willing to let a lot pass just because without something this juicy to play with, I’m not sure we’d still have a Farnaby round to enjoy, lo these several series later. Keeping that kind of crazy bottled up would’ve done some serious damage.

95% Accu-rat:

  • As a takeoff on the tabloid tendency to unfairly exaggerate details out of context, the “Oh Yea!” Tudor piece is fabulous. As a vehicle for getting the actual facts across… well. Yes, Elizabeth signed the death warrant for her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots. What’s not mentioned is that i) Mary had become not only a focus for disaffected Catholics, but a willing and eager participant in their schemes; and ii) despite all of which, Elizabeth agonised over signing that warrant, and eventually did so only because her closest advisors insisted. Not so much out of family feeling — they’d never actually met, after all — as deep-seated qualms, both ethical and practical, about executing royalty. After all, if the ‘divine right to rule’ could be breached in one case, what about all the others? Especially *ahem* the arguably-illegitimate daughter of a Protestant king whose marital history was murky at best…?
  • One other probably-just-me thing that’s always irked re: the song: yes, Liz adored her father — and she also cared deeply for her brother. They were more or less raised together, studied together, and were told of their father’s death at the same time, whereupon they sobbed inconsolably together. Even when I’m determined to get into the spirit of the thing, hearing this version of Elizabeth dismissively refer to ‘sickly little Eddie’ just bounces me right back out.
  • After all of which it’s only fair to note that the ‘Nicknamer’ sketch gets a lot of the small stuff exactly right. The Duc did in fact demand a nickname, albeit mostly because he was actually there to convince our Bess to marry him. Unavoidable casting limitations (ie, not hiring disabled people solely to snigger at them) prevent an accurate visual of ‘Pygmy’, but Robert Cecil — son and carefully-groomed successor to Sir William — did in reality fit the bill: “A slight, crooked, hump-backed young gentleman, dwarfish in stature, but with a face not irregular in feature, and thoughtful and subtle in expression, with reddish hair, a thin tawny beard, and large, pathetic, greenish-coloured eyes…”
  • So… Caligula. Right. As noted above, I’m a bit more forgiving here; frankly it’d be downright cruel to insist the show wholly overlook the motherlode of historical horror. Still, as one unusually sensible YouTube commenter put it, fair compromise with fact would merit at least a disclaimer from Rattus, re: the really outre stuff being based largely on one or two hostile sources with an axe to grind. (Luckily, there’s no way in even Viking hell most of that same stuff is usable for a family audience). The Wikipedia page does a good job of summarizing specific controversies.
  • OK, you’ve probably already looked this one up, but in the interests of promoting fanfic accuracy it’s worth reiterating: yes, Alexander and Hephaestion were very likely lovers, but in a very different context from the modern, arising naturally out of their lifelong friendship.
  • Meanwhile — he’s not nearly as adorable granted, but Dr. William Buckland: genuinely quite a guy. Absolutely willing to chow down on the heart of a king, too… albeit sources are a little unclear whether it actually was or not, which spoils the effect a little. I do strongly recommend looking him up, though; the full bat urine story alone is worth it.
 
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Posted by on December 29, 2012 in Series One

 

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