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S04E12

Ooh, goody! Amateur scientists are so much more fun than professional ones…

As has become the usual, the series wraps up with a funny and full reminder of exactly how much there will be to miss… perhaps a leetle too full a reminder, by now.

In this episode:

Song: (We’re the) Georgian Navy — Jim returns as ultimate All-England manager Admiral Horatio Nelson to oversee a motley team of enthusiastic new recruits, including Ben, Mat, Larry, Simon and Jalaal.

Recurring sketches:

Stupid Deaths — Robert Cocking, ‘professional watercolour artist and amateur scientist’ (Sought a better parachute, carefully taking into consideration all variables… except the weight of the parachute itself. Oops. “Wouldn’t it have been a good idea to test it with a dummy first? Ooh, wait, you already did, didn’t you! Hah!”)

Historical Dentist — Ancient Roman (“Now, we need the blood of a man who’s been killed in a violent way, and I think we’re all out. Do you mind fetching me some, Mandy?” *AUUUGHH! EEEEK!* “… they never outrun Mandy…”)

Historical Masterchef — Tudor (“I’m – looking – thoughtful.” “I’m – SHOUTING!”)

Horrible Movie Pitch — The Alfred the Great Project (“I don’t want to be remembered for a cake story that never happened! This could be a great movie!” “Yeah, you’re right. And guess what? It’s called Alfred the Cake. Somebody get me Ashton Kutcher on the phone, we got a hit…!” “Ooh, look, Cake Guy’s getting upset!”)

Words We Get From the — Greeks: Scholarly

Historical Mastermind — Ancient Greek scholar

Bob Hale — The Napoleon Report (“… as he helps to overthrow the monarchy and protect the new people’s government. An act that wins him fame, wealth, influence and helicopters — though probably not that last one.”)

One-offs:

Vile Victorians

Necropolis Railway — “When you run out of room to bury people in the city it does make sense to put your cemeteries further out — and you do get a lovely day in the countryside!” “Ooh, yes, it’s very convenient. And my husband does love trains!… or, well, he did..”

Rotten Romans

Tarpeian Rocks — In which we discover the characteristically elegant-yet-ruthless Roman solution to ensuring people thrown to their deaths off cliffs actually die… well, having the ensurers stand directly below, that maybe needed work. (“Now, always stay tight to the cliff, because… *thud* *urghh* …hmmm, should’ve started with that one first, shouldn’t I? My bad!”)

Terrible Tudors

The Prince of Paranoia — Towards the end of his life Henry VIII developed a real fear that his enemies — up to and including Death — were out to get him, and took (some very odd) measures accordingly. I’ve no idea why he’d think something so outlandish, do you?

Smashing Saxons

New! Saxon Bank — “Literally a bank of earth! Interest rates are at an all-time low, so your secret stash of treasure will attract zero interest (from Vikings)!… Just don’t forget where you buried it all…”

Groovy Greeks

The Gordian Knot — Unravel it, the prophecy said, and all of Asia is yours. Luckily, when not ominously sniffing subordinates, Alexander the Great liked to spend time literally cutting to the chase. (“Now, where’s my Asia?!” “Uh… over… there, sort of…”)

Field Notes:

  • So now would probably be a good time to admit it: Series Four is far and away my favourite patch of HH goodness. As chronicled therein I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Series Two, of course; but not long into my first viewing of S4 I began to suspect that the one was merely the natural extension of my affectionate nostalgia for the other. The even-numbered HH series represent the leaps forward into what we think of as classic HH style, while the odd-numbered… well, consolidate those gains, let’s say.
  • This review project has confirmed that theory, in spades, with several cherries on top. If S2 was a joyous, anarchistic, ambitiously creative rollercoaster ride, S4 is that same rollercoaster made bigger, more elaborately engineered and accordingly that much more exhilarating. (Again, as me and my fear of heights are assuming. We do have a small nephew who studies these things in-depth.) And it concludes here, even more so than most series-ending episodes, with a shot of essential, endearing familiarity.
  • The flipside — and in some ways the spice — to all this being I likewise already knew Series Five wasn’t going to offer anything more. That the cast would have a chance to play on the same field as established here was tremendously exciting… but just a trifle poignant, as well. The producers had always been adamant that the show would go out ‘while it was still popular’, and as the creative completeness of S4 became obvious, this provoked a sort of low-level uneasiness re: just how much longer it could be justified under those circs.
  • Thus the sort of rose-coloured sentimentality that makes one actually appreciate a sketch whose entire point is transporting bodies to a cemetery. Because in S2, it would’ve been a fun but forgettable throwaway (possibly still involving random limbs flopping out). But two series and one massive evolutionary shift in creative purpose later, it’s just all kinds of surefire, hilariously morbid stuff, performed with the snappy ease of chemistry enhanced by genuine affection.
  • Speaking of which, only between a man and — to all appearances — his coffins: Never change, Laurence Carl Rickard. Never, ever change.
  • Especially, never change the sheer enthusiasm that has me much less worried for Bobsy Hale going forward, now that you have demonstrated that you quite literally can’t help it, and helicopters to boot. (I was going to complain about your blatantly reusing the ‘give the Bonaparte brothers countries instead of socks’ gag, but then realised I was probably the only one who noticed.. until now, of course. Oops.)
  • Much the same nostalgic overcoming effect is strong with the Tarpeian Rocks sketch. Technically it all goes on much too long for the slender point — especially since the same point was already made, with little plastic wings on, in S3’s ‘Angel of Death’ bit — but in practice, by now, there is no limit on how much classic loopy Farnaby is enough, nor Worried Mat as his foil. In the case of Jim’s little wavering offscreen pleas from the falling criminals, this holds true regardless of how long you’ve been watching.
  • In fact, I am so on the Hallmark-card verge here that I am perilously close to deciding to settle for what I can get, re: Ben and Henry VIII. Because while some real hints of complex menace would be nice, the childish-idiot-ness has here at least acquired some very acceptable Blackadder-y edges. Up to and including Jim’s relentless devotion so neatly paying off as a sort of pop-up target.
  • It’s all going a bit too brilliantly apparently; you can almost see the seam where inspiration becomes over-excitement, and on the other side is the *sigh* more usual cliche of Henry as endlessly beef-gnawing glutton. Really not at all sure why the show stubbornly refuses to clue into the fact that the actual major difficulty in getting him up the stairs were his horrendously ulcerated legs (as per below), the sores by all accounts were wonderfully oozy, smelly and putrid…
  • …Erm, *ahem*, terribly painful I mean of course. There is apparently also a slight downside to hanging out with this outfit so long… or possibly just with the rat and his shamelessly teeny-excited-paw-laden snarkiness leading me into temptation. Albeit he’s grown up a little bit too, this series; clearly the increasing contrast between demographic ambitions and puppet-intensive comedy has led to a compromise. I would complain about the concurrent lack of squee-worthy teeny accessories, except that (spoiler alert) I have also seen the next episode.
  • At any rate, even when Alexander the Great encounters the, uh, other sketch-worthy moment of his career, Ben still isn’t helping with the cliches nearly as much as I suspect he could. (Given the way they play this scenario up, though, I am guessing this must be kind of annoying for the writers, the otherwise deeply, boringly efficient way Alex went about being Horrible.)
  • So no, there’s no sniffing. There is, however, a lot of hissing. This… Oh, what the hell, I can make the nostalgia value stretch just that much further, why not. If I remain convinced that Willbond has been something less than fully inspired this series, it here at least makes an excellent foil for Larry and Simon’s more-than-usually nuanced goofballery.
  • …Also, there was the juggling. Oh, and the Asterix impression, that makes up for a lot too.
  • The unexpected — and/or inexplicable — return of Historical Mastermind, on the other hand, acts merely as an object lesson in how the writers taking an obvious snit against a parody target does not automatically result in oodles of inspired hijinx. At all. ‘Nikos Ancientgreekios’?! Really, show? Really? Not to say that watching Ben’s smug coping with yo-yo trivia isn’t mildly amusing, but you didn’t figure the whole skit being a nakedly blatant lift of an entire previous song would distract just a smidge?
  • Mind you, again, the repurposing the S1 stuff generally, probably less of a problem given CBBC viewers’ attention spans than a cranky adult critic person (currently obsessively reviewing every episode) has been willing to concede up to now. Even if it is merely about running out of surefire factoids faster than sketch ideas, it can still work on the grownup level when writerly experience (and, apparently, whacking great doses of childhood trauma) is applied properly.
  • Or, y’know, with total self-indulgent abandon. What I am getting at here is that, despite my open scepticism of their motives up to now, the Historical Dentist team has decided to treat me to a denouement beyond my wildest Horrible Points of View-influenced daydreams. Featuring a blood-streaked Sarah loyally backing up Very Civilized Roman Mat — who, from the hairstyle, got into dentistry after pounding criminals to death on the Tarpeian Rocks proved strangely unfulfilling — and Civilian Larry as the patient bemusedly watching all this.
  • Now, I do feel it incumbent on me, as also a (marginally) responsible adult critic person, just to mention that blatantly using the medical factoids to reach new heights of sophisticated black comedy is not precisely the Surgeon General’s approved method for moulding juvenile attitudes to health care. Not for the first time am I entertaining myself by adding to the mental list of therapy bills the show will likely find itself being served with in the next decade…
  • …And trust me, I am grateful. Even more than I was to discover it’s Death’s deathday, and so the party-hat wearing skeletons and mummy have bought him a nice little cake from the grocery. Chocolate, mmm!… Sorry? Yes, of course there was a death, and it was very stupid. That special sort of HH stupid that comes with an actual little to-do list of stupid, which always makes my cockles auto-warm. Or it would, if I wasn’t already happily lost in Dr. Phil’s ideal of purgatory. “It’s a joke… Oh, you got it? Well, tell your face!”
  • All this and we haven’t even gotten to the Masterchef segment yet! Which I am kind of OK with, because I had completely forgotten there even were five MC segments this series. That the fifth contestant is Lawry in full whinge mode, yeah, that’d partly explain it, but I’m at a bit of a loss to begin with as to how they so badly overshot the natural end of this bit.
  • After blowing up the sexual harassment and hauling out the bottom-slicing you’d figure a team as sharp as they’ve demonstrated recently would’ve realised the novelty value was officially exhausted; but no, we’re stuck watching as what was once needle-fine satire devolves into helplessly-flailing schtick… well, yeah, there is that one little moment where Jim, told vegetables cause hair loss, goes to check his scalp. Otherwise, HMasterchef, I shall prefer to remember you in your prime.
  • The LoG’s Movie Pitch bits, meanwhile, have much more smartly been saved as occasional treats, and are thus — as far as I’m concerned at least — still very much on the top of their game. Yep, sorry kids, still giggling helplessly… granted, assisted by their own growing glee in the part, and even more so Mat’s gloriously, hilariously, yet almost surreally convincing turn as Alfred ‘Don’t Call Me Cake Guy!’ the Great.
  • Needlessly harping again I know, but frankly that bottom-burning business last ep is shaping up to be the absolute least of his performances this year. There are worse ways to sum S4 up than by noting that, while a strict count reveals Ben actually played the most roles — several more in fact than Mat — the refrain from viewers all series long (not to say mine here, earlier) was nearly equally divided between “Too much Baynton, nobody else can get a look in!” and “Not enough Willbond, where’s he got to?”
  • Finally, there is the song, or more accurately the anthem. “Playing with these balls can really do you harm…” oh, sure, why not? It’s about as close as this production gets to the authentic naval atmosphere. Seriously, I place it here because it is so obviously the final summing-up of all that joyous, endearing etc stuff I was babbling about — very much including one of the aforementioned rare moments Ben gets to shine through.
  • Strictly considered as a production it is an engaging mix of brightly enthusiastic and handsomely lavish, and the song is a right rousing example of its kind — a Gilbert & Sullivan version of Horatio Hornblower, substituting energetic clutter for the choreography and sporty posturing for the chest-pounding. Even if you’re not familiar with the parody source, it’s all endless amounts of good, verging on genuinely witty, fun. No surprise (esp. if you follow him on Twitter) to learn it was co-written by Greg Jenner…
  • …however I was a bit startled to discover the cute l’il mute peasant so far indulging his dark side as to force Jim to sing about how ‘the [Arsenal] Gunners are my team!’. American viewers: Jim is a diehard Tottenham Spurs supporter, making this the NFL equivalent of trapping a Chicago Bears fan into belting out ‘The Packers are my team!’ in front of many thousands. With a huge smile on his face. What the hell, Greg, did he steal your red stapler or something?
  • It’s all not quite enough to make it onto the list of true HH classics — although it should be noted in connection with same that I’m speaking from entirely outside the football ethos. Regardless, it does something that in the moment is even more precious: it captures the pure essence of the matter perfectly, all four ridiculously amazing years of it. Certainly, there is still Series Five to go… but for me at least, an oddly satisfying sort of closure had already been achieved.

95% Accu-rat:

  • The really annoying thing about the insistence on the Greek inventions stuff (OK, besides Ben’s hair) is that, as noted back in S01E12, it’s based on a deeply shaky premise: that any one civilization, specially in an era prior to reliable recordkeeping, can claim the ultimate discovery of anything… and yeah, trust me, where national pride is concerned, even who gets to claim the yo-yo can become a YouTube battleground.
  • Henry VIII’s weight, also a rather deceptively complex issue. Sure, he was a big eater of more or less all the wrong things, as was pretty much every other upper-class type at the time — the Renaissance had by then revealed many strange and wonderful things to the medieval European mind, but the existence of cholesterol was not one of them.
  • First time I’ve heard the ‘vegetables carry disease’ thingy, though… not sure how they proved that one, given that logically  the entire human population would’ve been long decimated by then, but moving on…
  • The thing is, the Tudor royal diet wasn’t always the problem. Besides being well over six feet and strongly-built with it, in his youth Henry was actually quite the handsome strapping athletic type, renowned across the entire continent as the very model of princely perfection in both mind and body. (Think Kevin Costner in Robin Hood, only actually doing the accent.) Under these circs, the vast appetite was merely one facet of his enthusiastic efforts to live up to the part.
  • It wasn’t until some years into the production, with age and accumulated injury — jousting alone was pretty much guaranteed to turn you into a modernist sculpture of yourself — that the more familiar image of ‘Bluff King Hal’ started to take shape. In particular, one fall from a horse had left him with severely ulcerated legs. Basically? Ugly, perpetually inflamed, incredibly painful running sores that due to their location (and the fact that the Renaissance hadn’t been much help with medical hygiene, either) refused to heal.
  • So yeah, eventually his only princely consolation was sitting around having banquets, so there was less than nothing to stop all that athletic musculature from rapidly dissolving into slouchy fat. By the time he’d reached the point shown here — near his death, at only 55 — he wasn’t only being helped up stairs but winched onto his horse in armour with a 50-plus-inch waist. (Also, marrying wife No.6, Catherine Parr, almost solely for her manner beside the bed, not in it. If the drift is clear.)
  • Finally, no. 31457 in the You Probably Weren’t Wondering But Too Bad, It’s Interesting files: how the approximately 25m/80ft (just low enough to warrant those executioners) Tarpeian Rock got its name. Turns out it was perfectly in keeping with the general pathetic-ness:
  • According to early Roman histories, when the Sabine ruler Titus Tatius attacked Rome after the Rape of the Sabines (8th century BC), the Vestal Virgin Tarpeia, daugter of Spurius Tarpeius, governor of the citadel on the Capitoline Hill, betrayed the Romans by opening the city gates for the Sabines in return for ‘what they bore on their arms.’ She believed that she would receive their golden bracelets. Instead, the Sabines crushed her to death with their shields, and her body was buried in the rock that now bears her name.
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Posted by on August 26, 2013 in Series Four

 

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S04E11

Normally, I’d say you’re through over my dead body. But for fear that you might slice the bottom off my dead body and then eat it, we are saying you’re through to the next round. Or rather, Roland is…
*squibbbbrgugurk* *urrrghhh*
…Congratulations.

The quest for all-ages appeal nears its logical conclusion, featuring some old standby concepts reinterpreted with a newly assured comedic edge…

In this episode:

Song: William Shakespeare — Mat as a smoothly soulful Bard sings about his influence on the English language; with Ben, Jim, Martha and Larry as his one-night only backup, The Quills.

Recurring sketches:

Historical Masterchef — Crusader Knight and his Old Crone (“I have literally – no – idea – what – I’m – talking – about!” “I – enjoy – eating – beef!“)

Historical Dentist — Ancient Egypt (“Must be something to do with the worms…” “What worms?!” “Oh, we Egyptians believe that mouth-worms are the cause of dental decay. Anyway, open up and say ‘Ra!”‘)

One-offs:

Slimy Stuarts

Raven (Mad) Observation — Royal Astronomer John Flamsteed’s lofty scientific ambitions are being frustrated by some very mundane realities, and anything-but-mundane Charles II isn’t… exactly… helping. (“I’ll build you a new observatory at Greenwich.” “Oh, thank you, your Majesty! You are truly dedicated to science and the pursuit of knowledge!” “Big time. And it’s a great excuse for a massive opening party!”)

Dr.Culpeper’s Health Spa — For treatment that is truly bizarre! “We’re equipped to deal with any number of health problems. From coughs, chronic indigestion and stomach worms to a splitting headache! Whatever the ailment, an intensive course of smoking tobacco will really do the trick!”

Nasty Knights

My Husband Went to the Crusades… — …and all he brought me back was a daffy lot of spices, perfumes, fruit, home furnishings, shawls and just generally everything but gold. Oh, and a weird fixation on something he calls ‘juggling’.

Terrible Tudors

The News in Tudor Criminal Slang — All who suspected it’d sound even more convoluted and nonsensical than the Victorian version, raise your hands… Great, you’re already doing better than the onscreen translator. (“And now over to Carl, our Soothsayer, with the headlines in groundless superstition.” “Auuuggghhh! We’re doomed! Doooomed!” “Thanks for that, Carl.”)

Spelling Bee — Non-standardised spelling in the Middle Ages means we’re really lucky even to be able to read Shakespeare’s plays… said no modern student, ever.

Measly Middle Ages

King John Online — How the most inept autocrat in English royal history single-handedly brought the concept of absolute monarchy to its knees, as retold via modern social media. Complete with Mullions XP, MaceBook, Twaddler… and of course woodcut LOLcats. “I can haz roast swan?”

Awful Egyptians

New! Egypt 2000 BC Hair Dye — Is he or isn’t he? Only his hairdresser knows… besides anybody within a ten-kilometre radius possessing a functional sense of smell. Now with a special ingredient: putrid donkey liver!

Vile Victorians

A Manner of Life or Death — A suitor’s efforts to save his beloved’s dear papa risk mortally offending him anyway. (“Well, you certainly have a cheek!” “So do you, sir, and it is on fire!“)

House (sic) Hunting — The good news: we’ve finally moved on from Victorian child labour. The bad news: we’ve now become fixated on Victorian slum conditions. Of course, for the shabby-genteel poor of the time, it was no joke at all…

Field Notes:

  • Right, despite everything (and, OK, the kitchen sink) technically this is still a children’s series. By now, I’m feeling the need to mention that as a sort of public service announcement, for I am confronted here with a really breathtaking display of ‘all-ages comedy’, an episode in which the kiddy-centric silliness is actually almost entirely — and clearly very deliberately — composed of all the adult inflections children wouldn’t possibly be able to grasp.
  • Of course, on most levels this is great. It’s this series’ ambitions fulfilled, a uniquely remarkable cross-demographic fusion achieved, and not incidentally this project validated for another series’ worth of reviews. Thing is, I’m also a bit discombobulated by the fact that slack still needs to be cut for less mature sensibilities… or does it? When confronted with evidence of CBBC viewer-level expectations, do I complain about the lack of artistic merit, or should I be frankly grateful we haven’t gotten around to actually butchering dead bodies on camera yet?
  • Look, why don’t we just sort of ease in slowly, with the miracle of mildly inappropriate hilarity that was my first encounter with ‘described audio’. See, I didn’t realise that was the version I’d downloaded until I had happily flipped to the song first thing… only to be confronted with Random Disembodied Soothing Voice: “He steps onto the stage.” *song* “He steps off the stage.” Even once I peeled myself off the ceiling, this did not strike me as all that helpful, somehow.
  • Ooh, and hey, did you know Ben can juggle? Because he so can. Yeppers, Benjamin Willbond’s mad juggling skillz, everybody! I know, I’m far too easily amused by the juxtaposition of uber- British-ness and non-sequitur party tricks. But that this combo should turn up twice in the same episode… *snerk*… Strangely, however, there is no audio description in either case. Someone at the BBC is slacking. (“He picks up the potatoes.” “He moves the potatoes around his head in a controlled motion.”)
  • *ahem* Back to stuff actually designed for my enjoyment. Like, for instance, cliched Shakespeare quotes reinterpreted as big-band standard tuneage. This is so much my idea of pop-cultural mashup bliss that my first thought on hearing of it was: ‘Oh shoot, Mat has to sing that, doesn’t he?’ Sure enough, he doesn’t *quite* have what it takes to run with the Rat Pack, and there evidently proved to be no way to mash up what he does have with Jim’s voice, so it’s the first time I can hear Baynton consciously imitating, rather than simply inhabiting, a genre.
  • Mind you, I also have the genre-sensitive ears of someone with a babysitting auntie who figured, if she had to listen to Sesame Street for hours at a time, we had to demonstrate like reverence for her Sinatra collection. Once I consciously re-calibrated critical expectations using S3’s Stone Age jazz, ‘William Shakey’ proves worth the listen. He’s having a great time with a concept that he could’ve sung off-key from start to finish and still hardly have screwed it up, and he’s by no means screwing it up. The quiet bits in fact are genuinely lovely.
  • I say ‘listen’ instead of ‘viewing’ because nothing’s going to get my instincts around how no-one else — least of all the Quills — even bothers to try for the stylish, snappy unison you’d think would be fundamental to the parody. As mentioned, sort of a bad time to beg sympathy for childishness, there, show. Although, again, I’m not quite sure what I’d suggest doing about it, since I’d likewise hate to lose their respective interpretations — esp the way our Benny there continues to prove to me that it’s possible to love cricket and have soul at the same time. Just full of surprises, that man.
  • (Larry, contrariwise, seems content merely to provide eye candy, which in this context at least is a trifle disappointing. Possibly the BBC censors had a little talk with him re: the Boast Battle business?)
  • It should come as no surprise whatsoever by now, in any HH milestone of edge-sharpening, to discover a perfectly-coiffed Baynton right at the heart of it all — you can tell they’ve really upped the ante this time, because he’s also wearing a beauty-spot. Thus this episode of HMasterchef turns out to be easily the most memorable of them all, featuring Mat the diva-esque knight finally taken to his disturbingly logical extreme. Yeah, boyo, you work that hair… and that, uh, tongue, and… oh, right, the dysentery, I’d hate to deprive you of your big showstopping party piece. Although not for the first time I am left wondering what it’s like, having a career in which you melodramatically suffer violent gastrointestinal upset and the audience is going “What, *again*?”
  • The really amazing bit is that this all isn’t just a performance, it’s a theme. Sort of what’d happen if they did one of those things where other artists interpreted HH their own way, and Masterchef wound up in the hands of, ooooh, say, Adam Lambert. The gentle foodie satire somehow now features croquettes de corpses’ bottom, and from there devolves into Ben discussing his own bottom being sliced and served, all the while never changing his usual expression. All amid the suddenly-blatant sexual harassment of Saxon Larry. My newly savvy British media sense would suggest the whole thing as the inevitable next level for the reality-show sketches, except my North American instincts are too busy blinking.
  • Mat’s ability to keep a straight face in the midst of all the coif-centric vamping just about holds out through the later Egyptian hair dye advert, so the really unsettled viewer is free to assume this is all a Zoolander-esque fantasy happening in some dim model’s head backstage at the fashion show… or, y’know, whatever location suits your settling needs. Me, I’m kind of vamped out at this point and would rather dwell on Charles II.
  • Who’s seen here at his most absolutely, infuriatingly charming… possibly because this is the first time Mat’s been given a chance to perform him opposite Jim. The sketch itself is based on no more than a whimsical little legend (see below), but I can see why it’d be far too good to pass up — even besides the poo jokes. Uniquely lively, intelligent stuff, in much the same key as the earlier Columbus sketch, and a minor triumph of the writers’ ability not only to work the troupe’s chemistry but keep it fresh.
  • Totally apropos of which, when Mat’s long-awaited Biggest Silliest Character Moment Ever finally does arrive, it amusingly finds him partnered with Larry expanding the straight and subdued act. In fact, that our Laurence makes such a convincingly sweet, dignified old-timey suitor turns out to be much the more satisfying suprise characterisation…
  • …. since when his biggest, etc. moment does arrive, Mat looks (and sounds) disconcertingly not so much like he’s performing anything as that he’s having a sort of grand mal seizure. Clearly, he and I had been operating on slightly different definitions of ‘biggest and silliest’, here. At any rate, I’m still more impressed by Tsar Peter, not to mention most everything else he’s played this series.
  • The same sketch is also trying to pass off Martha as Mat’s daughter, which I’d suggest is taking the whacky casting hijinks just a tad too far (*tsk*, typical, just when you want Simon, he’s nowhere to be found). Despite it all, though, I’m glad they finally found a nifty way to get across this uber-obvious but tricky material. That they’ve worked their way up from trying to be subtle about in-your-face gross stuff to being totally in-your-face about repression, I find sort of adorable all by itself.
  • And with Larry around, it’s not like there’s ever going to be a shortage of authentic over-the-top silliness. Dr. Culpeper’s skit rests solely on the Rickardian weird, and… man, I’d forgotten exactly how seriously he takes that kind of challenge. Revenge re: being stuck in that HHospital bed for two series might have something to do with it too, come to think of it. At any rate, he fully succeeds in single-handedly making this routine medical sketch into the natural followup to …whatever’s going on with HMasterchef. Featuring forlornly logical Jim as the perfect foil in both cases: “We could just open a window…?”
  • Both the medical malevolence — psycho Larry, now with bonus access to drills! — and the factual repurposing from S1 continue into the HDentist installment. Thus I must conclude that the writers are just that desperate either to avoid losing their tooth-phobic psychodrama or the chance to put the male cast in civilian dress.Or both. Watching Sarah hotfoot after that mouse while Civilian Jim desperately negotiates with a guy wearing Tutankhamen’s hat, I am… less inclined to blame them for any of this than I was last week.
  • Jim’s really big moment this episode is of course the latest Net sketch… well, not all that big a moment technically, since as per usual these bits have opened the floodgates of writerly snarkiness. In between the above-noted plus Macrosoft Tax Raiser, “Ooh, that is a lot of capital letters, he is not a happy man…” and (especially) the Magna Carta as the ultimate in ‘oh, nobody reads the terms and conditions’, all Jim really has to do is hang on for the ridiculously engaging ride.
  • Mind, he does get another crack at the Hey Nonny Nonny a Family Member’s Dead schtick, which is by definition never a bad thing. The whole thing is basically a clinic in how to do adult-level Information Age comedy without actually resorting to ‘adult’ online references. Not forgetting of course Simon, Mat and Larry all having an absolutely wonderful time entertaining themselves on the margins… the kind of stuff that makes you more impatient for Yonderland than all the special f/x going.
  • Speaking of margins, the little throwaway bits here do a lot to keep the anticipation going too, also. Esp. Martha in the other Crusader bit, making the most of her big chance to get in on the ‘long list’ act. None of it’s incredibly original, but really well written and executed, and a nice way to get the point across re: how quickly the exotic becomes mundane… not forgetting Ben’s *snerk* *snicker*  juggling.
  • OK, so the ‘Tudor Criminal Slang’ bit is basically a massively pointless overworking of a joke that was only mildly amusing to begin with… but I do like how solemnly Simon takes his job, complete with the formal little gestures… and Carl is just all kinds of awesome. If we really had to revisit this format, how come we couldn’t’ve just redone the ‘Forecast via Superstitions’ bit, that was genuinely fresh, amusing and interesting?
  • The other Victorian bit… I’m not sure how to take it, honestly. Part of me enjoys the familiar huckster schtick, realises anew how the sheer earnestness of Ben’s attempts to play a common type makes them that much more watchably endearing, and revels in  the chance to see Dominique again…
  • …,and the other part always insists on constructing an elaborate backstory wherein these two’ve been thrown out of their just-barely-respectable homes when he got a black girl pregnant and she decided to stay with him, and now they have to go live in their own filth, and as you can imagine this all provides a rather harsh reminder that enjoying adult implications comes at a price. So, uh, mission accomplished I guess?

95% Accu-rat:

  • I am pleased to report that Dr. Nicholas Culpeper — despite being descended from the family that also included Thomas, famed Tudor bonker of Queen Catharine Howard — was not, in fact, the seventeenth-century’s version of Dr. Doom. In fact, he seems more to have been the equivalent of that one self-described ‘holistic naturopath’ at the health food shop who stocks Deepak Chopra and otherwise spends most days lecturing customers on how ‘Big Pharma’s just in it for the money, man, they don’t care about the people…’ As you can imagine, this all has gone over very well with like-minded folks to this day. Including evidently the editors of his Wiki page, which formally describes him as a ‘botanist, herbalist, physician and astrologer’.
  • Mind you, back in his day he had a much better point, given that the contemporary equivalent of Big Pharma involved charging fat fees and quoting extensively in Latin for things like blood-letting and having their patients send random urine samples in to be examined in their stead.  Essentially Culpeper was fascinated with natural cures — eventually compiling an exhaustive herbal — and notably vocal about their benefits as a means of actually helping the patients, as opposed to making their prescribers wealthy. All of which noble motive, as the sketch notes and a quick skim of the chapter on ‘English Tobacco’ confirms, should be held distinct from the accuracy of his conclusions. Especially the part about the ‘integration of astrological principles’.
  • I often feel like a total killjoy in these notes, and never more than now, but yeah, the thing with Charles II and the ravens, most likely an apocryphal legend (one that occasionally features His Merry Majesty as the one peeved at the droppings, and Flamsteed as the one urging him not to banish the ravens because “if you do that, you will lose your kingdom, having only just got it back!”). A close examination of the records indicates that the first evidence of captive ravens showed up in the mid-nineteenth century, possibly propagated by a noble family with a thing for ancient raven gods… and you thought Wikipedia was boring!
  • Which is not to say the current UK powers that be — the same people, you’ll recall, who consider a Swan Master essential to the national well-being — aren’t right on this whole preventing-the-kingdom-from-falling thing. To this day, there’s a nice healthy raven population (six adults plus spare, plus fledglings on their way up) kept constantly at the Tower, under the… wait for it… Raven Master. Who has to work for his beer and skittles, don’t think he doesn’t. You ever spend time with a raven? They’re big. And mean. And smart. I am not of course suggesting this whole gig sounds exactly like something they’d’ve come up with to prank the pink hairless apes… I am just suggesting.
  • I’m pretty sure the whole saga of the Magna Carta (Latin for ‘Great Charter’) is on the finals in most UK history classrooms, so won’t get into the details here except to confirm that the sketch manages to bung in quite an impressive number of them, in the right order more or less, and as an excuse to provide the link to this lovely interactive British Library guide that allows the visitor actually to read the original document.
 
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Posted by on August 19, 2013 in Series Four

 

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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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S04E08

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

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

In this episode:

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

Recurring sketches:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One-offs:

Rotten Romans

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

Nasty Knights

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

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

Groovy Greeks

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

Terrible Tudors

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

Field Notes:

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

95% Accu-rat:

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

 

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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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