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S05E04

These Romans think they’re minted
But they ain’t rich like me
You can’t call yourself loaded
Till you can buy an army…

Some more old standbys return for an offbeat, odds-and-ends romp in which the purely golden moments still manage to bridge the creative cracks… just barely. They were saved by the timely application of Roman grime rap, is basically what I am saying here.

In this episode:

Song:  Crassus: Minted — Simon as the forgotten third member of the First Roman Triumvirate explains via the traditional route for HH royalty — ie, party-intensive hip-hop — why he couldn’t care less about the fame, so long as he had the fortune. (Parody of: Dizzee Rascal, Bonkers)

Recurring sketches:

Dominic Duckworth: HHTV Investigates — Touching for the King’s Evil: A Viable Healthcare System? (Nope, even in HH reality, Charles II in maroon can’t actually cure what ails you.”This is Dom Duckworth, in Stuart England, covered in the remains of an Ancient Egyptian mummy… which is a sentence I never thought I’d hear myself say.”)

Thou Hast Been Framed — Roman royal blooper special

Words We Get From — Jeremy Bentham

Stupid Deaths — Sophie Blanchard (Ballooning pioneer who decided her dramatic public ascent could only be improved by: setting off fireworks. After said ascent. “Now, where were we?” *phhhbbbbbttttthhhhhh* “…that was the balloon.”)

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Magazine — The magazine everyone in Saxon England should read! “…well, as long as they’re monks.” “What happened to the vow of silence?!” “Oh, right. Starting now…”

Historical Apprentice — Team Monk vs. Team Johannes Gutenberg vie to demonstrate the most efficient printing technology… except not really, that’s a given, so we’re all just here for more ‘vow of silence’ jokes. Unfortunately. (“Just to recap: Team Gutenberg single-handedly started a revolution in communication… and Team Monk here gave us a few pretty letters? Team Monk, what d’you have to say for yourselves?!” “…?”)

HHTV Sport — Live as Emma Sharp completes her thousand-mile walk in one thousand hours, Bradford,1864 (“Somebody stop ‘er! I’ve ‘eard of men doing it, but whoever ‘eard of a woman doing something so physically demanding? It shouldn’t be possible! …also I bet ten quid that she couldn’t.”)

One-offs:

Woeful Second World War

Canine Covert Ops — In which the German attempt to train canine spies gets just a tad over-optimistic, even for the ‘delusional-egomaniacal-dictator-insists-on-total-control’ system of military strategy. (“Perhaps you will be more easily impressed by Private Rolf. He taps his paw in a different way for each letter… Is there anything you wish to say to ze General, Rolf? Ah: WOOF…”)

Corporal Wojtek — Well, no, the Polish army giving a brown bear a commission wasn’t strictly what you might call ‘normal operating procedure’ either. But definitely lots more badass.

Vicious Vikings

I Can’t Believe You’ve Got Me Eating Seal Blubber! — Dude, not to put too fine a point on it, but you’re living in ancient Scandinavia. How is this stranger (or less fishy-tasting) than the walrus?

Frostbite Follies — Erik the Red’s heated attempt to lure settlers to the ‘sun-drenched paradise’ of Greenland inevitably gets put on ice. (“P-p-p-pour me a drink, Magnus!” “I c-c-an’t — the beer is frozen, and the jug is st-stuck to my hand! I’ve g-got jug-hand!”)

Gorgeous Georgians

Jeremy Bentham, I Presume — Tea with one of Britain’s leading sociopolitical thinkers comes sweetened with a nice dose of eccentricity. (“We must demystify death, sir! Surround ourselves with it, and we will lose our fear of mortality!” “But… you can’t keep corpses in a garden!” “Yes, well.. perhaps you’re right, the weather would rot them. Maybe I’ll just display some preserved heads in a specially modified cabinet.”)

Vile Victorians   

The Original Media Darling — Captivating young heroine Grace D. and her dad negotiate the perils of pre-Internet celebrity… well not really, we’re mostly just here for Sarah H. in another bald cap. Which is at least an improvement over the muffled monks.

Field Notes:

  • Forgotten credit weirdness, update: Someone… I’m gonna say Lawry?… totally making chipmunk face behind (naturally enough) ‘Your host, a talking rat’. Yes, with appropriate makeup and everything. You can see why I’m getting more sceptical about this experimental business by the review, here. At the least, I now definitively feel much better about the non-existence of a Series Six, because if we are already channeling Chip’n’Dale in this series I am reasonably certain they would’ve resorted to Transformers-based satire in the next. Or maybe Historical Government, featuring Rob Ford jokes…
  • …Actually, while typing all this I did have an idea for a Kafka-inspired song, featuring Lawry as the cockroach guy, and maybe a Freudian cameo from Simon. I’m a little sad about missing that, now.
  • However I am getting over it fast, because this week’s real experiment in musical originality involves a full-on attempt to top Charles II, the Eminem-inspired King of Bling. It fails, of course, if for no other reason than the attempt to compensate for Ben’s juggling with Ben making what he fondly assumes are happening hand gestures… gesture, really. (I think it may actually be the same one he’s making in the iconic stock photo of Charlie and cronies.) Just had another missed-opportunity-based mental image, of Caesar drunkenly tossing Crassus’ minor room ornaments around in the background, and am even sadder. I don’t even get Pompey showing off his Electric Slide. Larry Rickard, you have let me down.
  • Right, yes, nominally at least still a kiddy show, I do get that. And even for the adults, casting Farnaby as legendary mega-zillionaire Marcus Licinus Crassus, Grime God among mere partying mortals, is still pushing the boundaries of regal rap out to deeply pleasing new levels of ridiculousness. First reaction is ‘Really? Simon?’ and the second, approx ten seconds in, is ‘Of course, Simon!” After all, when you recall how convincingly his Caligula boogied down in S3, this begins to seem no more than the solidly logical followup.
  • The overall effect, coming directly after Dickens the definitive musical celebration of erudition, is of the wild post-exam bash in the frat house, and equally exhilarating… the return of Grandmaster Funk Willbond and all… up to and including Mat tonguing the camera. Y’know, guys, I might have a bit less difficulty remembering the demographic boundaries if you’d quit randomly forgetting them yourselves.
  • Incidentally, everyone’s also evidently forgotten that they’d firmly established that same Baynton as General Pompey way back in S1; or possibly are merely trying to forget that at that stage they still weren’t above ripping off Python scenes wholesale. Kind of pleasingly ironic really, given that back then it was ol’ Pom who got the credit–correctly reassigned here, interestingly enough–for Crassus’ reviving the Decimation punishment.
  • Anyway, Mat gets something of his own back–accent, even more so than usual, on the ‘something’–when Charles II flits in for his annual go at driving more rational characters absolutely nuts. That the rationality in this case is represented by Dom “Stone-Face” Duckworth is a great idea, absolutely inspired… but in practice, it ends up hilighting just how far Charlie has veered from the genuinely intriguing original, in much the same way as Henry VIII. (It may-or-may not be a coincidence that this comparative indifference kicked in around the same time Mat also started getting vocal about the show’s failure to hilight the Merry Monarch’s less fun, more autocratic qualities.)
  • Which doesn’t really spoil this party in the slightest, because: Dom! Most excellent choice of recurring bit to bring back for further development, show… even if you might want to quit developing the hair, at least, while you’re ahead. Also, Jim, it wouldn’t hurt to back off the ‘crusading reporter’ voice just an itty-bitty smidge, there.
  • I am also a bit concerned, given that this is a character best-remembered for getting clocked in the face by a fish-wielding knight, by his failure to pass the stuck-in-the-HH universe spot check here. Duckworth ol’buddy, if your bar for implausible statements is still set that low you are setting yourself up for for a world of hurt… or at least, an encounter with the chipmunk-face guy. As it is, we’re clearly now just fine with the blatant fat jokes in Howick’s direction, which let me be the first to say: Huh. O…kay, then. I guess.
  • On the other hand, much decisive excitement re: the return of Steve “Not Actually Eric Idle, But…” Punt. In fact, tell me why we didn’t develop him as the de facto seventh member of the troupe instead of Lawry, again? He was there first, and as far as I can tell, wouldn’t have had much of a problem handling the neurotic. Meanwhile, check the impressive lineup of fully-made-up extras behind him! …Most of whom don’t actually look all that ill, and certainly don’t appear to comprise any sort of viable ‘crush’, but I am certainly not complaining, because in HH terms it’s ruddy Downton Abbey.
  • I think I would be a bit more sympathetic toward Jim the target if Hannibal: The Return wasn’t also the star of this week’s ‘Thou Hast Been Framed’. Which bit has already been established as highly problematic re: performer dignity, and here… Oh God, Howick, please can you just knock off the Colonel Sanders impersonation before they make you give back the BAFTA, OK? (On the plus side, last series elephants made out of stagehands and flannel, this series papier-mache. Result!… no, I don’t know what it would be, exactly, only that it’s encouraging.)
  • Oh, and also: Fine, show, we’ve definitively established liking the bagpipes puts me on par with Emperor Nero. Thanks to you lot I am strangely OK with this, so there.
  • Let’s get back on the happiness train alongside Jim as Jeremy Bentham, revelling in the chance to spend quality time being, essentially, a Doctor Who character, which from all appearances turns out to be fully as delightful an experience as I’ve always envisioned.
  • It’s a delightful experience altogether, this sketch; the show hasn’t made my brain feel smiley all over like this since the HParamedics fled the scene for good. Add Bentham to the list of Concepts They Really Should’ve Found Long Since; now they have to cram in all the rich comic goodness at once, and still wind up sticking the really excellent bit into the quiz for afters. All of which isn’t necessarily a bad thing–except when I start thinking about how I could’ve been watching Bentham’s precious eccentricity unfold instead of, say, the Historical Pet Shop, or for that matter any given iteration of the Baron Rothschild and his chimps…
  • Ah well, at least I can cross the return of Lawry the magnificently snarky butler from last series’ Victorian bits, and Ben doing what he totally should’ve been back when Martin Luther was involved, off my wish list before it’s too late. And this time there’s no toilet jokes involved, either–quite the reverse, in fact. (Protip: accidentally pausing on video of Jim cooing at a teapot really should come with insulin warnings.)
  • It’s all part of an interesting new trend I’ve noticed as the material moves further and further away from the books. In general, it appears to be getting… well… nicer, is the best way I can put it. Still gleefully scatological, and violent where needed, but not nearly as dedicated to the anarchistic ‘stuff they don’t teach you at school’ undertone. I can’t speak to the precise motives or priorities of the new crew of fact-gatherers, but it’s obvious that the kiddies are being challenged to develop their understanding of human nature on a whole ‘nother level. Taken together with the ongoing gains in creative complexity, entering S6 it likely would’ve been nigh-unrecognizable as HH at all. One wonders if T.Deary was impressed or otherwise by the prospect.
  • Having unveiled said thesis, damned if they haven’t found one last surefire vein of anarchic stupidity to mine, and it began with the “Don’t Wake the Fuehrer” bit last series. Yes, I know delusional megalomania that leads to innocent deaths isn’t at all funny, and I also know the show knows that–see: Titanic sketch. Still, man, the possibilities in the Reich’s increasing detachment from reality as the war waned have got me all bouncy on the edge of my seat here, going “Ooh, ooh! Next, can we have the story about how Goebbels diverted entire desperately-needed divisions from the front to be extras in a major propaganda film, so that by the time it was finished they had to cancel the Berlin premiere because the theatre had been bombed out?”
  • … Right, this show has turned me into a terrible, terrible person. But for the moment at least I do not care, because it is pure gold, this intricate and clever canine bit, even if Martha & Mat’s accents aren’t any of the above. Frankly, I’m a bit torn here, casting-wise; I wouldn’t trade Mat’s slow realisation that he’s slipping down the rabbit hole for anything — except maybe the equally glorious set of possibilities that would be Ben, filling out the uniform properly, with That German Accent. Man, the kind of problems you want to have, huh?
  • On the other hand of surreal glories past: we have reached the point in the history of Stupid Deaths when even skeletons in shiny party hats cannot shake me from faintly melancholy nostalgia … and then suddenly it’s all whoa, callbacks to Death the despiser of foreigners from Moliere’s SD! Helium voice! Balloon-fart gags! Martha doing a neatly and appealingly toned-down version of her Madame Tussaud from S3! Perhaps still not the most sublime comic heights you’ve ever achieved with this bit, show, but I do really appreciate the thoroughness of the effort to cheer me up.
  • So, based on the accent, Gutenberg turns out to have been a direct descendant of Vercingetorix? And is possibly an ancestor of the Fashion Fix host? Well hey, Mat, I’d be upset with you for thus pointlessly trivialising one of the great figures of intellectual history (and a personal hero of mine), but that and Jim’s sweet new neckbeard are about all that’s keeping me going through the latest Historical Apprentice sketch–which is saying something when not only S.Punt but Greg J. are also sitting nearby–so carry on.
  • And we will not even get into your line in ‘trying to pretend it’s summer on an ice floe’ gags, because whew, at least the vow of silence ditto apparently had some sort of satirical purpose. Here… well, even given the sheer obviousness of it all understandably weighing you down, you still had Nordic Larry available front and centre and… y’know, maybe that was the problem, actually. I kept waiting for the weird to really take off and break loose, and all I got were a couple of broken thumbs; too little, too late. If you ever wondered what an actual earnest children’s show version of HH would look like, this would probably be it… complete with crappy dollar-store cardboard snowman.
  • This illusion was not hurt at all by the preceding ode to seal blubber, which of all the whacky food trivia this show has brought forth (two words: Whale. Phlegm.) it doesn’t even rate as remotely quirky. I mean, yeah, they got Lawry to do the kvetching in his dependably impressive Victorian Cockney mode, which it says a lot about this bit that that actually helps rather than merely increases the odd–but still.
  • Much more interestingly, at least for the non-UK viewer: you lot still advertise that not-butter stuff over there? I mean, not judging or anything, whatever provides your cheap-breakfast-spread needs. Just saying that, at this point, most North Americans would rather go for the blubber.
  • Contrariwise to all of the above, and to my intense personal gratification to boot, the show for once manages to turns up an entirely unexpected yet utterly awesome everyday heroine, thus continuing the tradition of my having to forgive them everything at the last minute. Especially because, total unexpected bonus alert, Larry as the sport reporter! I don’t know why I like him so much in this guise, exactly; possibly it has something to do with watching him play blandly cheerful while all the while knowing what he’s really capable of… exactly as per the last punchline.
  • We are also treated to a great plot twist in the ongoing series of wartime animal heroes: the animal survives the experience! Well, at least you can finally cross PETA off the list of potentially annoyed special interest groups, show!
  • More seriously, thwe whole thing is a much better use of the animation than is typical in the final few series, and a very welcome expansion into other nations’ wartime experiences to boot. It’s a bit surprising we haven’t seen more of those, actually; you’d have to believe that, in the search for new and novel Horrible material, this would’ve  developed into a really fertile field. Not to mention, you’ve got Ben and his knack for Eastern European accents, besides the others and their…
  • …*pictures Larry attempting a Bohemian lilt*…
  • …Y’know, maybe it’s all for the best as-is.
  • Anyway, there will always be the Victorian sketches, maintaining their unusual thoughfulness and lush detail to the end. I may have been unduly influenced in this by a recent viewing of North and South, but am convinced that the saga of Grace Darling, whatever its shortcomings as fascinating historical folly, is nevertheless about as close and precise as we’re ever likely to get to a pure satire of the BBC’s historical-drama vibe.
  • I may also have been influenced by Mat, doing his fully charming bit in the noble cause of keeping up with the bald cap–no, not by attempting that accent, or at least not just that accent–and no, not by being Sarah H.’s dad, that actually works out quite well, or at least better than it did when Martha tried the same stunt. It’s just… if there’s one thing completely and consistently effortless about this series, it’s the cast’s ability to bring the weird. And frankly it is a damn good thing there is Yonderland and Bill, otherwise I might have found myself really… sniffly about that, right now.

95% Accu-rat:

  • You think I’m kidding, about the sheer volume of eccentric goodness Jeremy Bentham had yet to give? Look on his QI Infocloud page, ye skeptic, and despair. Not that I am bitter or anything, but I will just point out again that very nearly all the info in that cloud was ignored by the entire HH creative community for years, while they conducted an inexplicable love affair with a guy who merely dined with chimps. Bentham, on the other hand, turns out to have actively changed the world not only for the cuter, but for the better:
  • Odd though he was, Bentham is an important thinker. His idea that ordinary people were entitled to happiness struck at the heart of the entrenched rights of the aristocracy, the Crown and the judicial system. He opposed slavery, capital and corporal punishment; he believed in equal rights for women, and for animals; and called for the decriminalising of homosexuality; he praised free trade and freedom of the press; he supported the right to divorce and urged the separation of the church and state. Most of what we now call liberalism can be traced back to Bentham and his protégé, John Stuart Mill (1806-1873).
  • About the only crazy market Bentham didn’t have cornered was the effect of great wealth; he was content to putter around writing and snoring and naming teapots and whatnot. Marcus Licinius Crassus, on the other hand, took no prisoners–quite literally–on his way to becoming the wealthiest single private individual in history. It’s always a bit tricky to sort fiscal historical reality from the exaggerations, but in modern terms, adjusted for inflation etc, some estimate that the man had a net worth of nearly two trillion US dollars. Here, I’ll write that out for you (in the British notation): $2,000,000,000,000.
  • And this after the previous generation had managed to lose the entire already-impressive family fortune playing politics. Having once got a tiny shred of influence back, Crassus proceeded to methodically rebuild said fortune to Scrooge McDuck-like levels by the time-honoured method of having absolutely no moral or ethical scruples whatsoever. By ‘Took the land off enemies to flog it’ the song means running the government’s list of “proscriptions”, ie. those declared enemies of the state. The listees’ possessions would then be confiscated and auctioned off–basically, modern-day estate auctions, only with a lot more elaborate family shame and disgrace and stuff. It’s said that Crassus added at least one wealthy enemy to the proscription list outright.
  • Once hip to the possibilities of screwing other people out of their funds, and steadily regaining influence because of it, Crassus got more and more brazen. Alongside the fire-brigade scam hilighted in the song, there is also the story (via Plutarch) of his seduction of a young relative of his, Licinia, wholly in order to get his gold-plated paws on her “pleasant villa in the suburbs… at a good price”.
  • Sure, standard operating procedure in Ancient Rome–except that Licinia was a Vestal Virgin, bound to a State-sponsored vow of chastity. Thus forcing even the most jaded public officials to go “Tut, tut” in the zillionaire’s general direction, although of course money–aided by his politician’s tongue–easily talked Crassus out of any official immortality charges. History doesn’t record what happened to Licinia, except that it was definitely minus one pleasant villa.
  • And then there’s poor old Erik “the Red” Thorvaldsson, hoist by his own petard into an icy hell-hole. As it turns out, he wasn’t even able to claim the honours of discovery; according to Wiki, Tradition credits  Gunnbjörn Ulfsson (also known as Gunnbjörn Ulf-Krakuson) with the first sighting of the land-mass….nearly a century before Erik… After Gunnbjörn, Snaebjörn Galti had also visited Greenland.  Apparently neither of these guys had Erik’s PR expertise (as many an MMORPG player has discovered, having a flaming ginger beard will do wonders for your warrior cred) and, more to the point, they didn’t manage to establish permanent settlements.
  • Yep, outlandish as it sounds, Erik’s little etymological scam in reality worked a treat. Granted, mostly with poor Icelandic famine victims, but, y’know, details. It’s anyway generally believed that the new settlement would have been significantly more ‘green’ back then, the island historically being notoriously subject to rapid climate shifts:  Interpretation of ice core and clam shell data suggests that between 800 and 1300 AD, the regions around the fjords of southern Greenland experienced a relatively mild climate several degrees Celsius higher than usual in the North Atlantic, with trees and herbaceous plants growing and livestock being farmed. Barley was grown as a crop up to the 70th parallel.
  • At any rate, within just a few years after his return from exile in 982, Erik had managed to attract a fair few thousand settlers to the imaginatively named Eastern and Western Settlements respectively. Whereupon he promptly named himself paramount chieftain of the whole schmear, built himself a grand estate and became both “greatly respected and wealthy”. Thus everybody lived happily ever after… or at least until the fifteenth century, when another ice age kicked in and farming became impossible once again.
  • It’s not made clear in the sketch itself, but the reason everyone therein is so het up about Emma Sharp’s attempt (or for that matter, is giving her any attention at all) is because covering 1000 miles in the shortest possible time turns out to be historically a pretty big deal, it being the longest recognised standard distance. For awhile there at the turn of the 19th century, quite a few intrepid (also, male) sporty types earned a handsome living taking bets that they could walk it in x hours. Emma’s definitely a worthy candidate for feature treatment, but I have a soft spot for George Wilson, dauntless dare-taker extraordinaire:
  • …[He] became involved in great controversy when in the middle of one of his 20 day 1000 mile wagers he was stopped by the authorities and charged with causing a breach of the peace. He lost the wager and ended up in debtor’s prison. Unbowed, he then proceeded to walk 50 miles in 12 hours in a tiny prison yard, a mere 11 yards by 8, making 9.026 turns!
 
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Posted by on June 15, 2014 in Series Five

 

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S04E09

Shut up! Just shut up SO MUCH!!

Some unusually dark, ominous corners of history — and the apparently equally pressing question of shifting wig fashions — are explored in the course of conducting an episode-length experiment in style over substance…

In this episode:

Song: The Borgia Family — Jim [Rodrigo], Ben [Giovanni], Mat [Cesare] and Martha [Lucrezia] as the creepy, kooky, altogether ooky Renaissance clan. [Parody of: The Addams Family (TV Theme)]

Recurring sketches:

The Real Victorian Hustle — Road-show Fagin and the Artful Dodger’s demos notwithstanding, actual Victorian juvenile delinquency tended to involve more merciless exploitation and (much) less multi-part harmony.

Bob Hale — The Roman Britain Report (“Well, it’s around 100 years BC, and that right there, unless I’m very much mistaken, is my Britain-shaped birthmark! And so — oh, er, no, that’s actually Britain…”)

Historical Dentist — Georgian (“Not to worry; we are very advanced in this area. False teeth, fillings, the ill effects of too much sugar, all these things are known to us…” “Well, that’s very reassuring –” “…as is the use of sticks, wee and gunpowder in cleaning teeth!”)

Words We Get From the — Greeks: Medical

Dominic Duckworth: HHTV Investigates — Aesclepian Doctor-Priests, Dedicated Healers or Daring Frauds? (“If anyone does die while they’re in the temple, we have to dump their bodies in the nearby woods… Actually, there’s a huge pile of rotting dead corpses in a fetid rancid heap! I could show you if you like?” “…No, you’re alright, mate.”)

One-offs:

Measly Middle Ages

A Royal (Pain in the) Wedding — Wherein we learn why, when planning your perfect fairy-tale nuptials, it’s important to confirm with your venue booking months in advance… even if you actually are the King… and even if you’re pretty sure it’ll have a roof.

Agincourt (movie trailer) — Coming soon to a field in Northern France… the most memorable battle of the age... Maybe even more so for the French, as it turns out. “Okay… heavy armour, too many knights, too little room, lots of arrows and lots of mud…” “We probably should have thought this through a little better…”

Vile Victorians

Criminal Slang — …Yep, still not just made up by Dickens. Which is still frankly surprising. “Do you want the raw lobsters on our tail?!” “Sorry… are you afraid we’ll be pursued by uncooked seafood?”

Rotten Romans

Julius Caesar’s New! Romeover — Maintaining a truly Imperial presence took some creative hairstyling… also, some strategic laurel wreaths… and, of course, being Emperor in the first place. (“Warning: the Romeover only works with people too scared to tell you the truth. And is not designed to work in a strong wind.”)

Radical Renaissance

Borgia Family Business — Patriarch Rodrigo, aka Pope Alexander VI, makes a disapproving Church emissary an offer he can’t refuse. (“Family? Bribery? Corruption? Everything I head about you was true! It is disgusting! Is there anything you wish to add to your list of crimes against this most holy of offices before I tell the world?!” “Yeah… Sometimes I arrange the murder of men who stir up trouble for me.”)

Gorgeous Georgians

To Wig or Not to Wig — Seventeenth-century mean girls give the geeky one a schooling in fashion faux pas… for men. Because they’re male. This isn’t so much a sketch as a sop to the fanfic authors, is what I am saying here. (“Yes, well, I’m a bigwig, and I like to look like one by having a big wig! Heh…?” “Hum, yes, but it’s soooo last reign, isn’t it?”)

Field Notes:

  • Yep, we’re back on the sophistication train once again… sort of. Herein at any rate are collected some of the show’s more elaborately flashy efforts to cope with the shortage of easy punchlines by dazzling with… well, it’s not by any means a science, but it’s definitely something.
  • It also means we’re back to featuring people and things we really should’ve heard from long since, but haven’t essentially because their particular Horribleness wasn’t snappy-bodily-fluid-gag related. Horrible Histories: the only children’s edutainment show ever wherein an increasingly subtle grasp of evil counts as positive creative development…
  • …Primarily because they’re also the only children’s show ever that would attempt to present the Borgias as an Addams Family parody, only with Renaissance costuming in place of cobwebs. Thus hitting a level of hilariously logical musical inspiration that even for this series I didn’t think was possible. In any sense. In fact, I can about guarantee that the best way to watch this video is as a BBC-costume-drama-loving North American who had absolutely no idea that the Addamses were even a thing in the UK.
  • Viewed thus, it reaches heights of novelty such that it takes upwards of two-three viewings to notice that, in the actual execution, the troupe — with the interesting exception, for a rose-snipping moment, of Martha — are being effortlessly upstaged by the anonymous kid just sitting there playing Gioffre/Wednesday. (Well, it’s either a great performance or he’s bored out of his mind, a bit hard to tell. About halfway through you start getting the urge to poke him with something, to find out.)
  • Evidently the grownups decided maintaining the sublime hauteur of either original wasn’t worth totally freaking out their younger viewers… and also would’ve involved upgrading their Italian accents from ‘cut-rate Pizza Hut mascot’, so. Which is not to wholly discount Mat’s shameless plotty-fingers mugging, because after all Mat. Not to mention the sort of ” *sigh* Little brothers…”  thing Ben does at him when he suggests murdering Lucretia’s husband — and, I can’t help thinking, re: the shameless mugging as well.
  • There’s also Jim as Rodrigo… and the reason I didn’t bother wondering how the show could possibly ever top the song concept: because he, and they, already had, definitively in the Borgia sketch just prior. In fact, weirdly enough under the circs, the two versions of the character switch tones completely — so that we literally go from the sublime to the ridiculous.
  • It’s not so much that the idea of Alexander VI as papal Godfather is a major flight of inspiration; in fact, if it wasn’t the first thing that popped to mind when deciding how to handle him, I’d be demanding a look at the writers’ comedy credentials. It’s not even Jim pulling off, at the least, a far better Brando than a children’s series deserves… although, if he really wanted to put that on his tombstone, I wouldn’t have the heart to object.
  • It’s the absolute rightness of the whole that pushes it over the top into Frequently My Most Favourite HH Sketch Ever territory. This is every element of everything the show has learned to do, basking in the glow of having just won the creative lottery. Writing is perfect, casting is perfect, visuals are amazing, Mat’s prissily-offended-naivety schtick is almost unbearably precious. Every detail is exquisitely faithful — and all without ever going over the top. Which is really saying something, on both ends of the parody.
  • The only minor off note is the insistence on fudging ‘mistress’ into ‘girlfriend’. Honestly, the things this show balks at sometimes. It’s nice of you to want to spare the parents from having to define the adult concepts, guys, but a bit late in the day, no?
  • At any rate, it all can’t help but make the rest of the episode seem a little anti-climactic. Although the Agincourt sketch does manage to provide Ben and Larry on (truly gorgeous) horseback — or more accurately, their characters on horseback, while Ben and Larry are more ‘sitting very still and hoping their noble steeds don’t get any ideas or anything’.
  • For this dichotomy I am deeply grateful. Especially inasmuch as it meshes neatly with Simon and Jalaal on the other side, by now not so much having comic chemistry as operating out of the same comic brain, facing their dramatically shifting fortunes with engagingly Python-esque equanimity. Quite a lot of genuine comedic sophistication went into this whole thing, really… you can tell, because Larry’s little ‘um, giddyup horsey?’ thing there at the end. Kills me every time.
  • This brings us round to Mat’s creepily legitimate Fagin, and a rather relieving demonstration that he can underplay cartoonish menace even more effectively. This, along with the ever-sturdy contribution from Little Guy Who Isn’t Bertie, is the main reason why I’m not ragging this sketch for undermining its subject matter by being a total Oliver! ripoff…. uh, much, anyway. Between this and the ‘Work!’ song last series, I would just point out that somebody’s reliance on their high school English medal is starting to show.
  • For the York Minster bit, the f/x team has set up a likewise very appealing — not least because a welcome diversion from all this noir menace — pseudo-Perrault fairytale vibe. Not much to do here other than appreciate the clever completeness of it all, from Ben and Katherine Jakeways (last seen providing much the same Rackham-esque elegance in the Emicho sketch) dolled up in classic Disney-style bling, right down to Jim and Larry filling in for the helpful idiot peasants.
  • So yes, we’ve got Willbond back in most of his natural haunts… and we’ve also got him for some completely inexplicable reason bunged into the latest Criminal Slang sketch. Not that I am complaining exactly, only that I’ve discovered a corollary to the general rule that Ben’s characters work much better when they’ve attended at least one public school: they really do need to stick to being the anxious potential victims of crime, not the perpetrators thereof.
  • Larry and Mat, on the other hand, are really laying on the authentic menace — a dark and intriguingly legitimate variant on their usual unpredictable chemistry. Also, this is one of those Lawry roles where what he does well is exactly what’s needed, and in this case very well done indeed. Probably the most impressed I’ve ever been with him, honestly, up to and including the side-whiskers. All told, then, it’s another strikingly effective staging experiment.
  • Not least because elsewhere, Larry is having some uncharacteristically serious problems with finding the intriguing. Evidently finding himself a bit short of new and fascinating Report material, Bob Hale has instead taken to reading his own press releases, and thus is starting to un-nerve me in entirely new yet unexciting ways.
  • It all starts promisingly, with the birthmark business, and ends satisfyingly enough, but in between… mmph. Enthusiastic but totally clueless Bobsy = genuine comic creation; subdued Bobsy standing there deliberately trading on his catchphrases = …well, Larry’s obviously pretty good at being Bob by now regardless, but it’s not anywhere near as endearing, nor ultimately memorable.
  • I don’t think anyone’s going to be excitedly discussing the HDentist years from now, either; having already exhausted the topic back when it was set in the HHospital, which itself has long since been eclipsed by the HParamedics. By now the whacky medical hijinks are just barely holding their own against this episode’s ‘Words We Get From the’ (Larry’s face on “autopsy… Sympathy.” alone being worth the entire Hale report besides).
  • That said, the fan willing to exert some imagination here will be rewarded with a fairly Farnabond-worthy ‘desperate patient vs. psychotic doctor’ comic scenario; Ben always did make a very decent HHospital doctor, come to think of it. Not only does it all provoke pleasant conundrums re: the S1 bit that actually already featured Simon as a Georgian dentist with Ben as his patient, but Simon’s desperate voice turns out to sound interestingly like his Caligula voice.
  • Speaking of interesting, Jim, I have to give it to you: Dom Duckworth gets more entertainingly plausible every segment. Either that, or I’m being blinded by the ever-more authentic Crusading News Personality hair. At any rate, that I managed even to notice Dom in a sketch that contains…
  • …um, Mat? The temple priest there, still not the ‘silliest and biggest characterization’ you’ve ever done, huh? Right, just checking… *sets Baynton Performance Alert to Code Red*…
  • …*ahem*, so yeah, Dom’s doing really well regardless, one of the few later-series recurring bits to fully sustain both the hilarity and the historical relevance. Besides which I’m appreciative that Lawry’s carved a niche as the hapless stooge in these things. As long as they’re busy finding him stuff he’s perfectly suited for, he’s not going to be messing up my appreciation of anything else.
  • This is how happy I am to have Ben back properly: I can’t bring myself to be cranky over a sketch whose entire point is literally male-pattern baldness. And I wanted to, believe me. But it turns out it’s just the gang having a ball with some admittedly surefire stuff… maybe too surefire, come to that. As per previous notes re: Henry VIII, Willbond’s definitely been taking the easy way out with the dictatorial-doofus stuff lately, especially for a Thick of It alumnus.
  • Meanwhile I’m being proactive and not even bothering with the Georgian wig fashion bit, because clearly there’s no way that it has a point other than everyone, up to and including the producers, wanted to see Mat, Ben and Jim faff about in those costumes. Fine, I agree, that was a pretty good point. If I try in any way to go further with the sophisticated analysis here, I’m going to look even more in need of a life than usual.
  • So I’ll just mention what really amused me: Ben’s idea of flouncing aristocratic fabulousness clearly hasn’t advanced any since S1. It’s an archetype, something obviously foreign he deliberately puts on. Whereas Mat, on the other hand, is supremely, actually rather terrifyingly in his element. I… am not entirely certain where this leaves us, only that it’s really past time to re-evaluate whom we should be directing the ‘posh’ jokes at here.
  • …And just for the record, I also think they’re saying what everyone thinks they’re saying at the end there. Even given the most objective possible listen, “Wig-gy!” should not be coming out sounding like “Wr-gy! Wr-gy!”

95% Accu-rat:

  • Not really a historical note per se, but I am right there with you on the swan PSA, Rattus. Truth to the, uh, feathers. Except that you missed the bit about the hissing (‘mute’ swans, my left foot!), which I assume has to do with your PTSD, but is the vital component of the nightmare fuel. Who needs Lovecraft, when you’re nine, when a great white beast exactly your height is racing toward you, wings outstretched, making noises more usually reserved for Freddy Krueger movies?
  • So, the Borgias. In real life, definitely creepy, debatably ooky… but not so much with the kooky. As has been documented pretty extensively in other media, when your Wiki article starts out like this, you know you’re not exactly ideal whacky sitcom material:
  • Especially during the reign of Alexander VI, they were suspected of many crimes, including adultery, simony [ie. forcing the faithful to pay to receive the sacrament], theft, rape, bribery, incest, and murder (especially murder by arsenic poisoning). Because of their grasping for power, they made enemies of the Medici, the Sforza, and the Dominican friar Savonarola, among others… Today they are remembered for their corrupt rule, and the name has become a synonym for libertinism, nepotism, treachery and poisoners.
  • The actually funny part is, when you dig a little deeper, the curdled clan — especially Lucrezia, who seems to have been guilty of not much more than extreme familial loyalty — weren’t really all that bad. Apologies to the Assassin’s Creed devotees, but historians will insist on trying to sort out truth from smear campaign, and in this case it reveals quite a different (and fairly routine, for the time) story. Corrupt, venal and mostly amoral, sure, but depraved monsters, no…
  • OK, except maybe for Cesare. He really was a charming-but-vicious SOB on a hair-trigger, who had originally been groomed to follow in Dad’s Popey footsteps. He made it as far as cardinal before Dad, ever the opportunist, decided to make him a prince of some locally disputed territories instead. The subsequent charming, scheming, and mercenary-ing campaign through southern Europe did impress Machiavelli greatly, but only two direct anecdotes from Cesare’s career were used in The Prince — “as an example to elucidate the dangers of acquiring a principality by virtue of another.”
  • Oh, and you know how Ben as the eldest brother, Giovanni, just sort of stands there looking nobly lost? This is because Giovanni’s equally if not more promising religiopolitical career was brutally cut short by his murder at the age of twenty-two. Quite possibly by jealous Cesare, who saw him as a rival for power… or maybe by Gioffre, with whose wife big brother was apparently having an affair. Yeah, kind of puts a whole new spin on that kid’s bland expression, doesn’t it?
  • Given their obsession with dentistry in general and Georgian in particular, I have never understood why the show never featured perhaps the most famous victim/patient of same: George Washington, acclaimed Father of his country, conquering General of the Revolution, and man with some serious dental hygiene issues. By the time he’d hit heights requiring he be featured on the dollar bill, he only had one real tooth left, extensive experience with the more inept denture options of his day, and — not incidentally — a soon-to-be-immortal habit of smiling (grimacing, really) with his lips firmly closed.
  • According to the delightful link above, courtesy his Mount Vernon estate, once Washington was inaugurated: Dr. John Greenwood—a New York dentist…—fashioned a technologically advanced set of dentures carved out of hippopotamus ivory and employing gold wire springs and brass screws holding human teeth. Yep, life was good, when you were the first President. Or at least, enabled you to avoid the gunpowder, wee and hot wires.
  • So yeah, Julius Caesar does seem to have been sensitive enough about his regal presence to have popularised the combover/laurel wreath combo. However he was not responsible for the salad (invented by New York chef Caesar Cardini in 1924), nor was he the first beneficiary of the Caesarian section operation (which prior to comparatively recent times was a near-guaranteed death sentence for the mother).
  • The latter more likely has to do with the Latin caedere, to cut… which was in turn claimed by Pliny the Elder as the origin of ‘Caesar’, the name, after one of Julius’ ancestors who was in fact ab utero caeso, or ‘cut from the womb’. Historical etymology: an entire Horrible morass in itself.
 
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Posted by on August 11, 2013 in Series Four

 

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S04E03

Well, I’ve eaten a goose filled with the Holy Spirit, and now a goat filled with the Holy Spirit… I must be morbidly obese with divine wisdom!

Having firmly established to their new and age-improved audience that the hype was deserved, the show takes a moment to let the familiar take centre stage…

In this episode:

Song: Hey, Hey, We’re the Thinkers — Socrates [Ben], Plato [Jim], Diogenes [Larry] and Aristotle [Mat] warble witty and wise (Parody of: The Monkees, feat. Theme and The Beatles, feat. Help!… with a bit of assistance from MP’s “Upper Class Twit of the Year”)

Recurring sketches:

Dominic Duckworth: HHTV Investigates — Religious Relics (“For a small donation, I’ll let you rub one of Saint Appolonia’s teeth — as knocked out by the Romans, before they burnt ‘er alive!” “That’s an awful lot of teeth…Are you sure they’re all hers?!” “Oh yeah, ‘course. She had a big gob on ‘er.”)

Historical Dentist — Saxon (“I have been trained… We’ll just put this boiled holly leaf into the saucer — now, if you could just yawn for me?” “…were you trained by Dr. Saxon, by any chance?”)

Historical Masterchef — Saxon (“Five munuts!” “Eleven minutes!!” “…You literally never learn, do you?”)

Shouty Man — New! Great Western Railway — “The Victorian Transportation Revolution!” (“It”s not great!” “It is great. Ignore him.” “It isn’t!” “Yes it is.”)

Horrible Movie Pitch — The King Canute Project (“King Dumb and Queen Dumber! It’s a sequel!”)

One-offs:

Measly Middle Ages

The Crusade is Thataway — Wannabe subject of heroic ballads Emicho of the Rhineland sets out to conquer the Holy Land! and bring back Jerusalem as a prize for his fair lady!… all without a map. And for some reason the Holy Spirit-imbued livestock are no help either. (“Well, I never thought I’d become part of a walking metaphor, but that really was a wild goose chase…”)

Groovy Greeks

The Rescue of Socrates… Why? — “But I don’t want to be rescued!” “Why?” “Oh, don’t you start…!” “Look, no real philosopher fears death. If you rescue me, people will still find me really annoying, and I’ll end up in prison again.”

Terrible Tudors

Elizabeth I Online — In which good Queen Bess follows in her dad’s footsteps… to the dating services, if not necessarily the actual dating. (“The truth is, I am already married…” “Oh yes, your Majesty?” “…To England.” “Ah. Well-said, m’um…. *clik* Yep, she’s really lost it.” “I’M STILL HERE, CECIL!”)

Vile Victorians

Great Victorian Institutions: The Postal Service — Y’know, as much as we modern types complain how slow and inefficient the mails are, I’m not sure we’d’ve been able to handle the Victorian solution… (“Why won’t you leave me alone?!” “Well, that’s the joy of [it], madam. Up to twelve deliveries a day, come rain or shine, and all at a reasonable charge!”)

Vicious Vikings

New Home Abroad — In which Chipper Host Mat’s efforts to relocate a Nordic couple to English climes are hampered by even more than a ridiculous feathered ‘do… yes, even more than the bright red puffer jacket, sorry, forgot to mention that one. (“Whoa whoa whoa, guys! Don’t kill them!” “You are right. Perhaps we have been a little hasty… After all, we’re going to need a couple of slaves!”)

Field Notes:

  • Every now and again, when I’m at a bit of a loss re: the current review, I go back and reread the previous ones for inspiration. Then I decide to do a bit of editing ‘as long as I’m here’, and the next thing I know it’s several hours later and deadline’s looming so I just bung whatever down and hope for the best. Which thus will still, eventually, need editing. So it’s kind of a vicious cycle really.
  • Until today, when I realised that hey, I’ve pretty much done all the editing, on account of I’ve been at this for forty reviews now. Which led to the real epiphany: it is past time simply to pause and realise just how far the show had come in four series. I mean, I’m perusing S01E05, wherein I was totally all ‘ooh, great episode!’ and it didn’t even have a song. It did have Caligula, also auto-squealing pork insulting Simon Cowell… but seriously now.
  • So this right here is what ‘ooh, great episode!’ looks like in Series Four: all the way from live-action kiddy book cartoon to clever, complex — adult, basically — exploration of the possibilities. As you can tell from the above, I had a real struggle with this one not to just quote the whole thing and call it a week.
  • I only regret to report there is no Simon Cowell… oh, who am I kidding? Never understood that one. Not that I understand the obsessive need to take shots at the Masterchef hosts that well either, but as per last ep’s review I do not care, just as long as it inspires the writers to these heights of intricate hilarity.
  • Of course, if your sketch stars Ben and Jim together, you’re half-way there already. Also, the playing-with-food shtick has literally been around since Episode One, albeit back then called Ready Steady Feast, so by now, you’ve got the possibilities down. And as the cherry on top, if you like, you have Larry, who here gets to show off a rather startlingly effective noir side that usually gets lost amid the random goofiness. The generally snide vibe of the HM bit has been very good to him generally.
  • So has the Viking getup, for which our blue-eyed boy discovered an affinity in S2 and never has looked back. Unfortunately he also discovered an affinity for dopey accents around the same time, which he has since tried to explain as a deliberate effort to invoke the ‘when in doubt, go over-the-top’ principle of comedy. All I know is, here it comes off as his having maybe once spent a weekend in Minnesota. Possibly with Martha. Which sort of simoultaneously enhances the jokes and distracts from the… other stuff. I do unreservedly enjoy the mad gleam in Ms. Howe-Douglas’ eye upon realising she’s gonna need some slaves, though.
  • In a similar vein, the ring of triumph in Shouty Man’s voice signifies his return to the Victorian era, scene of his S1/S2 glory days. He’s never more at home than when gleefully exposing the discomforting realities under the veneer of civilization, and the mock-travelogue is an inspired, ah, vehicle, with Ben once again his natural foil. This sketch is fully Shouty Classic… including, I notice, full (if rear) views of the outdoor gents, which I guess counts as a daring adult update of that squirting coffin doll last series.
  • Speaking of daring, so there’s lots of modern civilian Mat in this one… no, that’s not the daring bit. At this point it’s the equivalent of giving the audience an extra helping of dessert before they’ve asked. Which yes, means that feathery ‘do represents the icky cheap frosting on the cake. Also, the daring bit, because frankly I have a feeling that if anything could make a man reconsider starring in a wildly popular TV series, looking in the mirror after that particular styling session would be it.
  • The Historical Dentist, meanwhile, is unreservedly great, albeit not for cosmetic reasons (a pink pullover automatically disqualifies on those grounds). I know describing anything about this show as ‘subtle’ is just inviting snickers, but seriously, imagine a HH writer trying to capitalise on his dentist phobia in S1… wait, you don’t have to, they already covered the ‘stuff in half a dead mouse in loving close-up’ five short eps in.
  • Since then, they’ve learned the value of leaving things to the audience’s imagination. Sure, it helps a lot that they’d previously learned their audience isn’t exclusively eight, but still, nicely handled all ’round. Especially by Sarah, who more than anyone can appreciate the difference. Even Mat and Simon have learned when to dial back the loopiness… sort of… hence the lovely little ‘silent scream’ bit.
  • Which brings us round to Emicho of the Rhineland, who stars in what’s occasionally my favourite HH sketch ever. It’s basically what became inevitable once the writers got a good look at the ‘Nasty Knights’ sketch from last series, and Mat clearly didn’t need much convincing to help them up the stakes. Damn but he enjoys these mock-chivalric posturings… which would, come to think of it, be kind of an interestingly effective way to deal with self-image issues, when you look like a fairy-tale character to begin with.
  • At any rate, everyone else somehow manages to match him with appropriately profound gravitas, so that the sheer ludicrousness can be savoured as it gradually builds. That there is serious comic skill, folks. (Excepting the ‘morbidly obese’ crack, which is more just the natural result of these people having been hanging around each other far too long.) Also, serious animal-wrangling skill, especially on Simon there. Trust me, fluffy feathers or no, hanging onto a goose is never going to be the best part of your day.
  • No, I haven’t forgotten the song. Nooooooo. The song is central to my thesis; you’ll recall that while S01E05 doesn’t have a song, S01E12 most definitely does… yeah, OK, you’re excused for not remembering it. The Greek thinkers’ song that doesn’t merge the iconoclasts of ancient times with their equally iconic modern counterparts in a way that actually makes the irreverence feel fresh and the respect sincere.
  • Aka the one in which Aristotle isn’t totally on speed, and also doesn’t have a beard, which may or may not be related. While I can appreciate excitement making it difficult to fine-tune his face — that must be a chore on the best of days — Mat isn’t so much communicating ‘endearingly kooky’ here as he is ‘climactic freakout of the After-School Special’. Then again, it’s the 60’s, this isn’t exactly unrealistic (or un-educational, come to that). Also he’s onscreen a lot with Jim, so, y’know, precedent.
  • More seriously, like all the most engaging HH musical productions, the seeming effortlessness of this one actually rests on a delicate balance of perfect understanding… you can tell, because this is also the song in which Our Larry the Perpetually Accent-Challenged somehow pulls out a note-perfect takeoff on Ringo. Also Ben contrives to genuinely get in the groove for the first time since that one S2 song with the monks, and this time in full daylight. So I am inclined generally to assume that whatever was in the ether that day, it was good, man.
  • This extends to the intro sketch to the above. Only Willbond’s smug could be simoultaneously annoying enough that people would fully support his execution and yet charming enough that this sketch is a classic… albeit I must admit that Mat and Simon’s frustration looks pretty damn realistic. The result of several run-throughs too many, perhaps? (In other news, there’s something about adorable weasely little Jim beneath that huge helmet plume that tells me the plushie just picked up another accessory.)
  • Hey, speaking of whom, Dom Duckworth! Who is actually starting to really grow on me. Between having stumbled on an excellent subject for this sort of sketch — and a nice complement/followup to the Dissolution last sketch to boot — for once Dom’s on a roll. Which makes the ‘state of the streets’ running gag a really clever idea, because, not to put too fine a point on it, otherwise Jim as hard-nosed reporter would become less and less convincing.
  • Ah, Lawry, every once in awhile I realise why they keep you around… because you can snivel really really convincingly, is what I’m thinking here, so this may not actually be a compliment, sorry. Meantime, Simon’s native ability to slide into that hard, grasping Northern stereotype (shades of Palin and Swamp Castle) has evidently been well under-used up to now.
  • The Elizabeth I Online bit, on the other hand, makes full use of previous funny, so that all the little seemingly throwaway gags in her dad’s original tech foray reappear. It’s just incredibly endearing to me that they’re not only keeping continuity with these details, but expanded on them, so you’ve got this whole totally coherent parody narrative that opens with ‘Mullions XP’ and winds up with Elizabeth changing her relationship status to ‘married… to England’ while Cecil fails utterly to understand the ‘mute’ button.
  • The show has now basically created an entire sitcom around Tudor marital troubles as filtered through modern social media, and frankly, why the hell not? Despite some serious messing with the actual timeline (see below) I am still fully onboard with the sheer on-point cleverness of it all. The individual characterizations are great… much love esp. for Martha, who gives what may be her finest prose performance of the series, esp. when reacting to Amy Dudley’s death.
  • And thus we swing back around to the present, and the LoG… and my ongoing delight. Sorry, kids, I think we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this one. I really am trying my best; I know they’re increasingly alien to the HH milieu, I know (now) that the concept’s a shameless ripoff — but somehow, the fundamental humour centres of my brain just refuse to be irritated.
  • Really. Confronted full-on with the realisation that that Reece there on the end would ordinarily have us planning to throttle him right through the screen by now, the humour centres just sort of went ‘Ehhhh…’ and gave me an apologetic shrug. Then they pointed out that these bits enable us to fully appreciate Vaguely Swishy Barbarian Jim without actually having to watch the ‘Danke Magazine’ sketch, and what could I do but give in?

95% Accu-rat:

  • So, according to YouTube, the current segment of the Icelandic population with too much time on their hands would like a few words with this episode’s producers re: the characterization of their homeland. Starting with the animated-map-makers who heard ‘Viking’ and went ‘Norway!’ and now will never hear the end of it, ever.
  • On the other hand, Emicho of the Rhineland (more formally Count Emicho of Flonheim, “sometimes incorrectly known as Emicho of Leiningen”, because apparently there was a difference): In this case the Net fully agrees with Rattus, this was one bad dude. Basically he seems to have gotten jealous of the popular Crusade movements of the day — ie., 1096 — and decided to announce that Christ had not only appeared to him in a vision, but offered to make him Emperor of the World and everything once everyone was converted, so there nyah.
  • This being the Dark Ages, this managed to impress some few thousand people (including the ones who worshipped the Spirit-stuffed goose and goat) who promptly marched up and down the Rhine in his name forcibly converting Jews. Or, more often, simply murdering them upon refusal and confiscating their valuables, because apparently Christ had left the question of financing the Second Coming a bit vague, and Emicho was just that kind of go-getter.
  • Right! *cracks knuckles* As noted above, there’s some serious temporal tinkering happening within the Elizabeth I sketch. The actual timeline of major events mentioned (which should give an even better idea of how intricate the sketch itself is) goes like this:
  • 1558: Twenty-five-year-old Elizabeth ascends to the throne, appoints ‘special friend’ Robert Dudley her new Master of Horse (with the right to ride next to her at all times, wink-wink-say-no-more) and immediately starts taking grief from Cecil and her Privy Council — aided and abetted by Parliament — about the whole marriage-and-heirs thing. This is seen as a religious as well as a political duty, and divinely appointed ruler or no, no 16th-century male is about to trust a woman with her own reproductive powers.
  • Elizabeth, in response, immediately starts dangling her eligibility in front of the other great powers of Europe… playing them off one another… spinning out prospective courtships as long as she can… gaining all the favours and concessions that implies. This will eventually evolve into history’s only full-fledged foreign policy based almost entirely around a womb, and will net her even Cecil’s grudging respect, if not approval.
  • 1560: Amy Dudley, wife of Robert, dies under suspicious circs, having been found at the foot of a staircase at her home just hours after insisting all her servants leave her to attend a local fair. Elizabeth acts with characteristic decisive ruthlessness to avoid scandal and preserve her throne, ordering a full inquiry and banishing Dudley from court for the duration.
  • It’s eventually decided that brittle bones caused by advanced breast cancer was enough reason for her to have fallen and broken her own neck — also, the whole ‘advanced cancer’ thing meant there was no real reason to kill her in the first place — but by then Robert Dudley will have already acquired the faintly sinister rep that will follow him throughout history.
  • 1578: Having finally realised that Elizabeth really really meant that whole ‘I will never marry’ thing she first threw at him when they were, like, five, Dudley — now Earl of Leicester — defiantly hooks up with her cousin Lettice Knollys instead. Liz is furious, but just can’t quit her Robert, so takes revenge by banishing Lettice from court while requiring her man there constantly.
  • 1584: Leicester’s stepson, Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex, comes to court under stepdad’s sponsorship (in much the same way William Cecil is concurrently grooming young son Robert to take his place). By now Liz is of course well past marrying age, but still, evidently, highly susceptible to handsome young silver-tongued courtiers.
  • 1588: Leicester dies. A grieving Queen takes further steps to set Essex up in his place, naming him the new Master of Horse and granting him his stepdad’s lucrative patents, as well as sending him out on military expeditions, notably to Ireland. That the vain, arrogant, rash youth deserves none of it will take a few more years yet to sink in.
  • 1591: Sir Walter Raleigh does not, in fact, ask the Queen before he marries Bess Throckmorton, hence spends his honeymoon  in the Tower. It’s generally conceded that this likely had a personal component.
  • 1601: Essex, having arrogantly, rashly etc. made a hash of his Irish assignment and further disobeyed orders not to return until it was fully straightened out, is deprived of his privileges and patents. Desperate, he decides to foment rebellion against the evil advisors he’s certain must be poisoning the Queen’s mind against him. This largely consists of Essex wandering the streets yelling ‘To arms! To arms!” and then being all kinds of surprised when exactly nobody flocks to his banner. He’s eventually arrested and executed.
  • 1603: Elizabeth dies age 70, by all accounts still a virgin. It was one hell of a ride.
 
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Posted by on July 1, 2013 in Series Four

 

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S03E04

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

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

In this episode:

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

Recurring sketches:

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

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

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

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

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

Words We Get From the — Greeks, part 2

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

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

One-offs:

Slimy Stuarts

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

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

Measly Middle Ages

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

Rotten Romans

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

Field Notes:

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

95% Accu-rat:

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

 

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