Tag Archives: historical masterchef


Do you know, if I’m honest, I’d rather just do the funnies. Can we not get a badger or something to do the serious stuff?

The annual late-series bundle of awkward oddities this time takes a rather alarming turn into the morbid — and then swings back again into ballet-dancing Roundheads… even when this show entirely misfires, it seems, it’s a unique experience.

In this episode:

Song: The English Civil War Song — Mat as Charles I, Lawry as Cromwell, Jim and Ben as their respective sidekicks (Parody of: Cool, from West Side Story)

Recurring sketches:

Historical Masterchef — WWI foot soldier (“Whomever wins this competition, it will change – their – lives.” What – he – said.”)

Bob Hale — The Anglo-Saxon Report (“So England gets over-run with Angles and Saxons, making it: Anglo-Saxon! Yes! And you thought we just made that term up.”)

Words We Get From the — Normans

Scary Stories — The Mystery of Motecuhzoma (“Right, let’s clear this up once and for all: Ghosts: scary. Vampires: scary. Spanish blokes on horses: Not. Scary.”)

Computer Game: Warrior! — Aztec Warriors vs. Spanish Conquistadores

Danke! Magazine — Barbarian Fashion Special (“Free with every ten dead Romans!”)


Frightful First World War

(Not) Keeping Warm in the Trenches — The more details the show gives re: life at underground level in this war, the more impressed you are that they managed to pull off an entire global conflict in the first place… wait, that didn’t come out right.

Smashing Saxons

Mud and Matilda (movie trailer) — William I approaches courtship with the same splendid disregard for odds that won him Britain… also, probably a lot of the same tactics. Coming soon to a cinema near you: a tale of loving… and shoving.

Gorgeous Georgians

HHTV Entertainment Today: Live from Bedlam — How bad was it before TV, kiddies? So bad that a fun and fashionable day out often consisted of going to the famous mental hospital to gawk at the inmates… no, that does not sound kind of fun! Geez.

New! Solomon’s Live (not very) Long Water — “It’s the mercury that lends it that unique metallic taste… and we Georgians are pretty sure it’s good for you. The loss of sight, hearing, balance, sensation and occasionally life are just a coincidence.”

Rotten Romans

Barbarians in Charge — When the Goths take over Rome, they plan to destroy it… except of course for the arenas, the aqueduct, the houses, and the art. And before they can get around to smashing any more small jugs, they really need to to tidy up in the Roman baths…

Slimy Stuarts

Battlefield Medicine — Dr. William Harvey takes his search for fresh corpses to anatomize to the source, and demonstrates that yes, to be a pioneer you have to be a little bit crazy. If not actually psychotic.

Field Notes:

  • Huh. Well.
  • So here we are, finally at the definite epicentre of the dull patch — the episode I not only immediately dubbed ‘Least Favourite Ever’ but watched again later that night just to make sure. The one, in fact, on whom the chance to vent actually helped inspired this project…
  • …and on rewatch now, I’m not at all certain why the fuss.
  • I mean, fine, so they did bundle all the morosely inappropriate stuff — and gosh there’s a lot — into this one ep and try to pass it off with the rat’s help as a fun little theme. Which somehow includes a Scary Story. And easily the stupidest makeup job in the entire show. And then they just bunged the awkward musical stepchild on top of the lot…
  • …OK, so it’s still not that great an episode. Pretty typical of late-season HH awkwardness, in fact. However I am forced to conclude once and for all that my past S3-related contempt had a basis less in reality and more in… well, call it burnout, a year’s infinite loop of daily episodes later. At any rate, I was getting pretty hard to impress. “Look, show, if I don’t get some quality icicle-free Baynton time soon, I’m deleting the entire series record, you get me?”
  • The qualifier is there because while Baynton is definitely here, he’s just a little busy fulfilling every single one of my worst fears for the WWI sketches. Because, having access to three husky, healthy males (given that Jim had more than served his time as a military-flavoured Slushee), the producers of course decided to star the skinny, big-eyed, waifish one as Random Schmuck Freezing to Death for a Really, Really Stupid Cause. Larry’s too moved even to take advantage of their hug, that’s how authentically pathetic Mat is coming off here.
  • The whole thing is such a tonal misfire — well, OK, as a lost scene from Saving Private Ryan it’s potentially brilliant, but this is HH, so I’m still left wondering how it made it into an episode. There’s no use suggesting they didn’t know, because they went to the one-off extreme of hanging a plastic icicle off Mat’s nose in a clear attempt to lighten the mood. So great, now he’s dying and he has a stupid prop on his nose. Way to rob the guy of his last pitiful shred of dignity, there, guys.
  • Speaking of misfires… I’ll admit I’ve watched the whole Civil War song a few times now, but only to convince my brain that I wasn’t making stuff up the first time. “Suuuurrre,” my brain is wont to snort. “Tell me again about the ballet-dancing Roundheads.” So I try to explain that the intense, edgy melodrama of the underprivileged that is West Side Story is now supposed to be a framework for daffy dancing toffs, featuring not only Ben but Lawry boogyeing down Broadway-style, and it just shuts right down on me. I can’t get any work done for hours.
  • What they’ve done, evidently — and uncharacteristically — is just wildly miscalculated the campiness of the source material. Which is a shame, because there’s enough real romantic melodrama in the English Civil War to have pulled it off, had they cared at all to match the two note-for-note. I can see where — especially to a British mindset — it might’ve been difficult to believe all that finger-snapping street passion was in earnest, but it was; and authoritatively enough that this fluffy, facile parody, while technically fairly smooth, inevitably still feels merely amateurish.
  • “With Greg deloused, it’s time to find out what Ernie will be serving up!”… ah, now, this is more like it. Historical Masterchef, I have missed you. Definitely the high point of this episode. Also something of a personal high for Larry, who gives the closest thing he ever has to an acting-type performance — a character, not just his usual coherent collection of eccentricities. Impressive, even if it was copied note for note off the Plucky Comic Relief Guy (frequently the Cook, come to think of it) in every single war movie ever.
  • “Hot sausage!”… and a legend is born. It’s not quite as impressively clever as the Masterchef, but even back when I was revving up to full-on unload on this episode, the ‘Conquering Barbarians’ bit was my major exception. One of those skits you just cannot dislike: a lovely hilariously charming summation of all HH creative strengths discovered to date, brilliantly well constructed and played to the hilt. The laughs are more than honestly earned, and not to keep harping on it, but in this episode, that’s saying something.
  • Meanwhile, so yeah, turns out there was still one more Scary Story floating around out there — plus the unused one, which will later rise from the grave, so to speak, in the Halloween Special. By now this particular recurring bit has acquired some overt zombie-esque traits, is what I am trying to clumsily hint here. Even Baddiel is obviously just going through the motions by now…
  • …with the (OK, possibly unintentional) exception of the common Aztec syllable ‘tit’. You think you could emphasize it a bit harder, there, David? Even after the three straight repetitions, I don’t think the innocent young minds in the back quite caught it.
  • Anyway, get in all the gleeful sniggering while you can, kiddies, because this is where the morbid kicks in for real. Suddenly the hitherto throwaway game sketches are revving up like the moral equivalent of Chuck Norris: they have come here to splat rats and convey the horrifically sad and futile reality of mass genocide, and they are all out of rats… except of course the one who now wants to hand off to a badger.
  • But I kid our resident Python-riffing rodent. In fact, I think it’s rather sweet of him — and by extension the show — to thus tacitly acknowledge that they haven’t been in this far over their head since trying to convey the realities of Nazism. There are just certain aspects of history that are impossible to make funny, and there is equally no way for a show that is just about to cut to shamelessly Zoolander-ing barbarians to adequately explain why they are sad.
  • This same sheer comedic pointlessness applies to mercury poisoning through medical ignorance, and the Grand Guignol theatre of the mind that was formerly Bedlam. Again, it is extremely obvious that these things are Horrible, but once that’s been said, there’s literally nowhere to for a comedy series to go.
  • So they end up consisting mostly of confirming that a) even in huckster mode Larry is not actually funny just standing there; and even more so that b) the shrill authenticity of Alice’s blonde newsbimbo character just really, really makes me want to throw things at the screen, which tends to get in the way of the moral outrage a bit.
  • Fine, then what can we do to get back on the comedy train? I know, how about a good old-fashioned round of Homerotic Barbarian Fashion Tips! Or something. Seriously, while I appreciate a winkingly ironic take on hyper-masculine archetypes as much as the next Net nerd, the sheer enthusiasm here is just a trifle bewildering… and involves frankly disturbing speculations re: possible inspiration gained from certain aspects of the actual German magazine industry, so I’ll just be moving on now.
  • Still, despite it all, it is kind of reassuring to see the gang back manning the bastions of gleeful bad taste, not to mention outrageous Teutonic accents. Mat of course can pull this stuff off in his sleep, Ben gets… many points for the valiant attempt to let his hair down (so to speak), and Jim gets all the points — not to mention most of the best lines — for simply rolling with it all. (“I’ll show you how to keep your horse warm — with this designer blanket made from the skin of your enemies! Mm… smells good!”)
  • I am not entirely certain where Larry had gotten to during the aforementioned, but there was also a Bob Hale report, so that… uh, has nothing to do with it really. Still, it’s a nice enough consolation prize anyway. Not one of Bobsy’s masterpieces, mind, but you do get to find out the origins of ‘Anglo-Saxon’, which has been on my personal List of Vague Wonderings for years.
  • Meantime, the chance to spend quality time with Simon’s William II is always welcome — and awww, Greg the random knight/secretary/squire/attache’s back! So cute! As you can see, this episode by now has left the viewer in such dire need of a teddy bear to hug, however metaphorically, that even though the skit’s point is how adorable it is that this enormous man is physically bullying a tiny woman into a relationship, I am still inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt.

95% Accu-rat:

  • Yeah… so the whole thing with the Aztecs, the conquistadores and smallpox, excruciatingly awful – with accent on the excruciating. Looking up the contemporary accounts of the plague (involving victims too weak to move encrusting themselves to their straw mats with their own weeping sores) is not recommended if you ever plan to experience joy again.
  • However. In the interest of entire sociological equity, it might just be pointed out that the Spanish, while undoubtedly stupid with greed and their own interpretation of God, were not actually responsible for the smallpox thing.  As pointed out, the Aztecs simply had no resistance to their germs… which the conquistadores naturally interpreted as a sign from the Deity that He really did like them best, and was furthermore obviously helpfully clearing out the savages so that civilization — ie., fear of Him — could flourish.
  • Something similar happened a few decades later, when the first English colonists to the Americas showed up further north. Basically, anytime you catch yourself wondering about the advantages of modern medical science, you might just want to reflect on the mental picture of pompous Pilgrims: tromping enthusiastically through the ruins of a once-great civilization, raiding entire empty villages of their treasures and giving devout thanks to heaven all the while.
  • (Oh, and if you’re into political irony, you might also want to note that among their neighbors, the demise of the Aztec Empire was greeted by roughly the same amount of respectful grief as Margaret Thatcher’s. There was after all that little matter of the hundreds of heart-rippings yearly.)
  • Yes, it’s incredible, but as hideous misunderstandings of the natural world go, accidental mercury poisoning isn’t even in the top ten. You may want to check out’s co-incidentally recent list of “Six ‘Harmless’ Fads That Caused Widespread Destruction”, including such gems as ‘Radium glows in the dark, it must be a life-giving tonic!’ and ‘Hey, let’s paint this wallpaper with green dye made from arsenic, and sell it to millions of quietly respectable Victorians!’… Y’know, never mind complaining how little time we might have left — let’s all just be ridiculously grateful that we, as a species, made it this far.
  • There’s actually sort of good news on the ‘William bullies his tiny bride’ front… unless possibly you’re Terry Deary, and you have *ahem* unwisely shot your mouth off about the same libraries that have for years helped in large part to promote your books into classics, stinging actual scholarly historians into responses like this.
  • Worth reading in full, but this is the relevant bit, about Matilda’s height as mentioned in The Stormin’ Normans and parroted by the sketch here: You say that William’s queen, Matilda, was only 127cm tall. This is a modern myth caused by misreporting. The French archaeologists who examined her partial remains actually concluded she was 152cm (about 5’).

Posted by on May 27, 2013 in Series Three


Tags: , , , , , , ,


To help remember all your kings I’ve come up with this song — a simple rhymin’ ditty for you all to sing along, ohhhh…


…Bit short, innit. We need more kings! Who came next?

In a bid to remain on viewers’ minds for approximately forever, the show unleashes the ultimate edutainment extravaganza-slash-earworm… plus some other fairly cool stuff.

In this episode:

Song: The English Kings and Queens — Simon as William the Conqueror; Jim as Henry II, Richard III and George IV; Ben as Henry VIII & George I; Mat as Henry I & Charles II; Larry as William II & Henry V; Martha as Elizabeth I and Victoria; Lawry as George III; and Greg Jenner as the Knight

Recurring sketches:

Historical Masterchef — Stuart (“I want these historical chefs to cook some food for me, and for me to really like it.” “THREE MINUTES!” “EIGHT MINUTES!”)

Words We Get From the — Greeks

Stupid Deaths — Unknown Greek boxer (Took out his jealousy by ‘beating’ what turned out to be his named rival’s particularly unsteady statue.. that name being, in case you were still wondering: Theagenes of Thasos. “Don’t say that name!” “Oops, did I say the name Theagenes…? Did I…hmm. Sorry, it turns out I did say the name Theagenes.” “Stop it, yeah?!” “OK, let’s get on with your stupid death… ooh! Did it by any chance have anything to do with the name Theagenes of Thasos?”)

Historical Pet Shop — Georgian

HHTV News: Mike Peabody Live — From the Battle of Malden, Essex

Monk Magazine — Everything for the modern monk (“First edition out now! Second one available… as soon as I finish copying it.”)


Nasty Knights

Castle Assault — Knights debate their battle plans: they can either duck hails of arrows, boiling oil and swords… or they can do things the hard way. (“Any questions? Yes, Davis?” “That is completely insane!!” “OK, that’s not really a question…”)

Siege Forecast — Being stuck inside a besieged castle: not fun. Graphics upgraded a bit, though. Next!

Slimy Stuarts

Dinner with the Raleighs — Accepting dinner invitations when your hostess has lovingly preserved the severed head of her husband: Miss Manners suggests you avoid complimenting the ‘lovely cut of beef’.

Gorgeous Georgians

New! Roller Skates — An attempt to film an advert featuring their inventor John Joseph Merlin, a very slippery floor… and the inevitable. (“Brakes! Knew I’d forgotten something…”)

Vile Victorians

First Flush of Flushing — The ol’ ‘inappropriate toilet noise’ gag finds the ultimate justification — at a dedication ceremony for the first flushing toilet. Archie Bunker would be so proud.  (“Um, might want to leave it five minutes…”)

Nobel Endeavours — “I shall use my massive fortune to establish a special prize. One that rewards positive human endeavours in the pursuit of peace! So that when I do die, I won’t just be linked to explosives! And I, Alfred Nobel, shall call this special Peace Prize… Prizemite!”

Field Notes:

  • So you’re a hit historical sketch comedy, and you’ve just debuted all the most sophisticated results to the world… and now it’s time for Episode Two. What can you possibly do for your loyal audience that’s going to live up to the cape and eyeliner alone?
  • Why, haul out every damn royal in British history, of course! …well, starting with William I, anyway, because frankly the older ones’ names are gonna be very hard to rhyme (as it is you’re going to be heavily reliant on modern nicknames, esp. in and around ‘William and Mary’). Also you’ll need to fudge over that pesky Lady Jane Grey — still causing the succession problems, lo these five centuries later. Even after that, you’ve still got one hell of a lineup, and you’re going to see to it that they get namechecked in their full native fabulousness. 1066 and all that, baby.
  • *turns off Eye of the Tiger* OK, the real if no less charming story goes like this: somewhere midway through the second series’ airing, the HH team noticed that kids were starting to memorise the lyrics to the songs, to the point apparently where they were being besieged by adorable rapping rugrats wherever they went, and were tickled enough to up the ante. Why not, they thought, deliberately create the ultimate musical history mnemonic?
  • Thus this song, a five-minute full-on “Twelve Days of Christmas’-style cumulative epic that fully impresses despite — or perhaps partly because of — using already established/upcoming characters, costumes, sets and even stock footage. It not only gives the kidlets something really satisfying to lord over their playground peers, but doesn’t drive their resident adult totally bonkers in the process. Yes, that’s absolutely an applicable creative parameter. Do you lot get Dora the Explorer over there? Right.
  • And before you ask: yes, I do know the entire chorus by heart. Oh sure, I may have to mutter quickly over some of the more random Edwards in the middle, but I’ll stack my ‘Oi!‘s against any six-year-old on YouTube. Really. Ask me to demonstrate, next party.
  • OK, so critically it’s all quite a lot to take in over five short minutes. Some of the notable debuts:
  • Simon as a big cuddly bear of a William the Conqueror — who looks nothing whatsoever like the corpse seen ‘way back in S01E05, but trust me, you’ll be too mesmerised by the Dancing Farnaby to care. Really, one of the more impressive costume/makeup jobs in the show’s history.
  • Greg Jenner, HH production assistant in charge of pedantic stuff, as his… general? Squire? Personal secretary? Anyway, way to make excellent use of a cameo. I do like onscreen Greg generally, and not just because he does me the favour of reading here from time-to-time. Comedy-wise he’s got that sort of Chaplinesque pure innocent fool thing going on, very appealing.
  • Victoria ver.2, as essayed by Martha under old-lady makeup extensive enough to suggest that having it applied has the secondary purpose of helping her get into famously dour character. She at any rate does a decent job of seeming accustomed to being unamused, albeit having George IV to kick around undoubtedly helps. Overall I like her much more as the young and newly-crowned Vicki — and later sketches will suggest that I’m not alone.
  • Henry VIII’s simplified costuming… which frankly I’ve never been at all a fan of that grey — robe? Poncho? Favourite t-shirt he was totally wearing when he won Flodden? No idea, esp. in comparison with the truly gorgeous (and authentic) magnificence of his original getup. Seriously, where the f/x team got ‘regal’ let alone ‘legendary narcissist’ out of a ratty Ikea throw, I’ve no idea.
  • Charles II… while his dancing skills seem to have gone seriously downhill, his outfit, by contrast, has been taken right over the top in parrot (Pierrot?) red. I quite like this latter change actually. Flattering and a sure sign His Royal Insouciance will be reappearing soon.
  • Richard III, ditto. Still pointedly grumpy, but the astute viewer will notice the cuddliness level has been bumped just a wee bit… (Oh, and speaking of brilliant bits of Howick-ness, could I just add: “Hi, Henry II, killed Thomas Becket!” …Never change, show.)
  • Larry’s very first shot at fully regal impersonation, of which likewise much more later. In the meantime, I do hope they gave him a cake or something to mark the occasion (also possibly completion of that alarmingly ‘method’-looking roller-skating bit). He is meanwhile now solidly in place as the go-to Generic Guy, and is really starting to relax and enjoy the possibilities… well, for a given value of ‘relax’. Still, it’s a measure of what a phenomenon this troupe is that even the odd corners are filled by offbeat charm this sophisticated.
  • Jim as George IV — mostly intact save for maybe a few missing medals — totally doing the ‘ride the pony’ move. Right, not actually a debut per se, but, erm… do they get HH in South Korea, by any chance? No? Yeah, OK, just checking.
  • Before all of the above, of course, there was an episode. Which would’ve made for a perfectly acceptable — even something-above-average — diversion, were it not for the all-singing all-dancing Debrett’s nuking rational thought centres from orbit. Eventually, though, awareness filters through the earworm again (protip: try to avoid sedately adult environments, like *ahem* for instance your dentist’s office, until it does) and you remember that there was, for instance, a historical Masterchef segment.
  • Of course a second later you’re going “geez, there’s only four of these, guys, pace yourselves,” and the moment is sort of ruined…. but not for long (see what I did there?), on account of for one thing you’re not a cynical critic, and for another I don’t think it’s physically possible not to smile at these bits. Not even when they’re trotting out the %#$%# ‘Stuart novelty foods’ schtick for the third series running. By now Martha is almost literally being asked to make reciting the multiplication table interesting.
  • Which — of course — she does, with the help of both Ben and the wonderfully total self-assurance that she brings to all her characters. (Besides, I must admit, throwing the whale phlegm in there at the end was a solid curveball.) Then there is Jim, who is fully making me want to check out an episode of the original show, just to see the clueless for myself.
  • The rapidly expanding elaborateness of the whole setup testifies that the point anyway isn’t the food facts; it’s totally ragging on the food show, the hosts of which I guess are the writers’ new dartboard picture now that Simon Cowell has been, um, dealt with. Yeah. I have frankly given up trying to peer too deeply into these irrational reality-show hatreds, because they’re only getting more surreally hilarious as they go along, and by now I’m genuinely excited to see if Series Five will bring me, say, a garden-show host with an unhealthy fixation on pansies.
  • I’m less enthralled with the other new recurring bit, the Historical Pet Shop. Not to the point that I want to boo and throw things at the screen, mostly because Martha does an enjoyably recognizable take on certain middle-aged doggy moms of my acquaintance. And as animal-based anecdotes go, it’s at least an improvement over hearing about the Baron Rothschild and his zebras again. But really now, show. In any era some people do odd things; that’s not teaching history, that’s Yahoo! News on a slow day. Especially, again, when you’re repeating the same odd anecdotes over and over.
  • Much more fun to be had in the full-tilt approach to the ‘Nasty Knights’ bit — although of course Larry-the-poopsicle might beg to differ. Still, despite mostly being a rather slight string of clichés, it’s always been an especial treat of mine. I particularly enjoy Mat’s very sporting enthusiasm for self-parody… he always has struck me as a sort of aristocratic throwback, which the outtakes (available with the DVD, or YouTube, and highly recommended) suggest might run a bit deeper than merely his tilting forth his heroic chin: “You don’t have to bully me today, Mat!”
  • On the other hand, that odd little cloth bonnet-type-thing Ben’s wearing… look, I know — or have enough faith in the producers by now to assume — it’s authentic. But he’s clearly supposed to be the mature sensible one here, and I’m just saying, it’s really really hard to keep my inner twelve-year-old from sitting there going ‘hee hee! Baby bonnet!’ (Incidentally, I have since gathered that the excrement Larry’s covered in is mostly made of chocolate, so now that same twelve-year-old is just all kinds of conflicted.)
  • To shut it up I am forced to pay close attention to Lawry. Which is actually not a total hardship, given that this is another one of those roles so precisely suited to his style: the weaselly guy in the lineup of heroes. A grand comedy tradition, esp. in British terms. These characters will become more frequent now that he’s out of Simon’s long shadow, and — well, as long as they’re spaced out far enough, say every three-four eps or so, I’ll be reasonably OK with that.
  • Especially since, with some minor modifications, the same schtick also makes a very decent foil for ever-conventional Mike Peabody — as does Mat. I now desperately want all Peabody sketches to include a severely untalented poet monk even though I know his voice would shortly force me to hurl something through the screen, that’s how worth it those few more moments would be.
  • Regardless, I do enjoy our perpetually right-man-on-the-wrong-scene tremendously, and I’m glad he’s a big part of this series – I remember that, on account of he’s one of the few HH characters whose satirical purpose I don’t have to filter through overseas sensibilities. Anybody who’s ever watched  CNN — and more particularly, the ones who’re, y’know, female and stuff — must like Mike.
  • We also get our first (and fully brilliant) Stupid Death of the series, and I return to wondering just how much of his part Simon gets to ad-lib. This is the one recurring sketch that never quite falls into predictable routine, and I dunno, there’s just something about the utterly non-sequitur loopiness of Death’s character development that suggests the voice of the Boosh is being heard in the land. Case in point: the skeleton with the hand thoughtfully propping up its chin.
  • I also note with pleasure that Martha & Jim are not only firmly ensconced as the go-to comic couple, but somebody did in fact decide to give them their own sitcom — or at least the closest approximation possible. Both take full advantage of a wonderfully-written Nobel sketch, especially Martha (“Well, this paper says you’re dead, and they’re usually very reliable,” – totally love that and hug it and call it George). It’s Rattus holding up the little ‘Silly’ sign that really seals the punchline, I think.
  • On the other hand, while it’s nice to have Alice back, and damn that costuming is lush… I don’t know if the premise of the Raleigh sketch stretches belief too far for a single throwaway gag. Really amazing job on the head f/x, though, and some genuinely good lines in response to it, so I’m not complaining too loudly…
  • …wait, did I just compliment the children’s show for the authenticity of a severed head on a stick? Damnit, you lot are a bad influence. OK, maybe not bad, exactly, but definitely educational in ways I don’t think were entirely intended.

95% Accu-rat:

  • *Sigh* Y’know, show, I’m not saying you’re wrong to ensure Richard III gets all the sympathy for being the victim of a vicious propaganda smear campaign… merely that it’s a bit hypocritical to still be simoultaneously totally OK (at least, until S4) with going along with Protestant propagandists in painting Mary I as this horrifically ‘scary’ ghoul whom everyone ‘dreaded’.
  • In reality, most of Mary’s problems stemmed from her being entirely too nice, not to say naiive. She was entirely lacking the trademark shrewd Tudor political sense, preferring to rule according to the dictates of her conscience — which you can imagine how well that went over, even in the sixteenth century. Especially once the same conscience started insisting that she give ‘heretics’ a taste of fiery hell for their own good.
  • Didn’t help that she was in fact convinced she had been preserved by God Himself through all the indignities Henry heaped on her and her mother,  in order that Mary might bring England back into full accord with the dictates of the True Church — a perception that was only strengthened when, despite being formally declared illegitimate and stiff-armed out of the succession by Lady Jane Grey, she was hailed to the throne in a massive popular uprising.
  • This, incidentally, is why Jane is left off the song here: it was then hastily decided that Henry VIII’s will, which named his daughters ahead of her, had never been legally superseded because his son Edward’s subsequent codicil had never been ratified by Parliament (as all changes to the succession must be). Thus, along with all the other indignities that come with being all-but-forced onto the throne at fifteen and then executed for it at sixteen for reasons likewise largely beyond her control, Jane is officially only a pretender to the throne, who was never crowned besides.
  • Well, I gotta admit I was sceptical, but it turns out ambergris — now used mostly as a fixative for certain high-end perfumes — was totally a thing you sprinkled on your 17th-century breakfast eggs, and maybe also in your drinking chocolate. That is, once it was actually horked up by the sperm whale, then washed up on some rocks, then completely dried out so as to lose the ‘fecal’ smell… yeah, ‘phlegm’ turns out to be a rare instance of the show putting it kindly.
  • Anyway, the real thing has much more of a crunchy crumbly texture than shown here, and has in fact managed to impress at least one modern foodie connected with Gourmet magazine. It was also reputedly an aphrodisiac, which, y’know, explains Charles II’s enthusiasm — and also possibly his death; as the link explains his fatal stroke was sudden enough, and his affection for a pungent ambergris appetizer well-known enough, to give rise to theories that it was used to mask the taste of poison.
  • No, of course Elizabeth ‘Bess’ Throckmorton Raleigh didn’t hold dinner parties seated opposite her husband’s head on a stick! Geez, people. She was a strong-willed, intelligent lady, and by all accounts was deeply in love with her Walter — so after he was beheaded for treason she, um, had his head embalmed and kept it in a special red leather case instead. Which she in turn kept near her person more or less at all times, which I can see making afternoon tea a bit awkward. But not dinner parties.

Posted by on April 21, 2013 in Series Three


Tags: , , , , , , ,


Incredibly clever, yet incredibly simple. aBook is the new book that rewrites the book on… writing books.

The show kicks off its first wholly self-referential series with an episode that showcases the outer limits of the possibilities: the f/x budget lavish enough to accommodate real imagination, the credibility to blatantly mimic mainstream adult comedy and the veteran troupe proven not only able but willing to handle all of it…

…short version: this is the one with the erotic singing highwayman. Regardless of demographics, when you’re a hit TV show, life is good.

In this episode:

Song: Dick Turpin, Highwayman — Mat as Adam… uh, Turpin, Larry, Jim, Simon and Martha as the ‘notorious gang of Gregory’ aka chorus, Ben as the postman. (Parody of: Adam and the Ants, Stand and Deliver)

Recurring sketches:

Historical Masterchef — Aztec (“We are looking for an exceptional cook, who does exceptional cooking, exceptionally.” “I’M SHOUTING FOR NO REASON WHATSOEVER!”)

Words We Get From the — Vikings

Historical Paramedics — Vikings (“He urgently needs soup!” “No, he needs hospital!” “Will you stop making words up and just listen to me?!… Now, let us carve runic symbols into a whalebone, to ensure this young man’s good health.”)


Rotten Romans

A Triumph of Bureaucracy — When you award victory parades based on a specific number of enemy dead, the sketches starring little accountant types standing by the battlefield basically write themselves. (“Yes… I’ll give you that one. He’s moving, but realistically he’s not going anywhere without his head.”)

Introducing aBook — What ‘thinking different’ looked like in the 1st century AD. “With the new aBook, you simply turn the page, using the unique turnable pages to reveal new information.”

Fabulous French

You’ve Been Artois’d! — In the best argument yet against messing with temporal reality, medieval prankmaster Robert of Artois tries to construct a reality show out of random MTV cliches. “‘Top of the pops, bay-bee! I know these words, you see? I am ‘street’, yes? Whoo-OOOO!…” …Seriously, we need to show this to NASA.

Terrible Tudors

In the Gong Family Business — Following your heart (or nose): not a major theme in medieval career counselling.

Royal Progress to the Loo — An Elizabethan nobleman learns that he will be hosting her Majesty as part of her annual tour, thus enriching the national treasury and ensuring his country remains strong and free. Also, that Tudor Blackadder was pretty much a documentary.

Angry Aztecs

Howl to Get Yourself Killed (animated) — Howler monkeys mull over how the Aztec hunters always seem to find them even in the densest jungle. YEP, IT’S A MYSTERY ALL RIGHT!

Gorgeous Georgians

Newgate Prison — Bribe your way to good food, clean sheets and decent service whilst incarcerated in a tiny bare room… I’m sorry, was this meant to be a parody of a modern hotel advert?

Vile Victorians

Politeness is No Picnic — The dashing hero of carefree alfresco romance discovers too late that he’s actually wandered into a sociological Whack-a-Mole game.

New! Victorian Floral Messaging Service — Say whatever you like with flowers… just be careful of the ones that have thorns. (“Do you by any chance have one that means ‘I love someone else?’ And another that means ‘And it’s your best friend?'”)

Frightful First World War

Battle of the Somme — “So at this rate, we should be in Berlin by… ah, don’t tell me… four hundred ninety, divide by the two… add the five… carry over the doo-dah, then the whats-a-me-face…” “It’s over a hundred years, sir.” “Oh! Well… we won’t be alive by then, will we?” “Not with you in charge, sir.”

Fabulous Fat King’s Fat Factory — And if you need any more explanation than that forget it, ‘cos my stomach has to run and catch the nearest porcelain bus.

Field Notes:

  • This is the show they wanted to make. Or rather — since that much has been obvious since Day One — this is the apotheosis of that show. If Series Two’s hallmark was giddy excitement at being allowed to make certain creative choices, Series Three radiates the self-confidence of those same choices validated, in – well, almost every way possible. They hadn’t actually started winning awards yet.
  • Still, stratospheric ratings and burgeoning critical acclaim – especially for the music — had clearly done what it usually does. Except that in this case it did it to a children’s series, which makes it far more interesting, given that the result could still only be about creativity. (You can tell: while Robert Artois openly sniggers about sending jets of water up ladies’ skirts, the next shot shows the jet actually going off in Martha’s face. There is something strangely reassuring about this, for all demographics.)
  • Still, even within those bounds, the show clearly no longer feels the need to even bother to distinguish the house style from the comedy mainstream. Historical edutainment is now definitively the show’s hook, not its purpose; and it all is propelled by a bonafide comedy troupe, whose personal styles are integral to the funny. More than ever, this is a show not for children, nor adults, but for its creators.
  • For the viewer, this means basically… more of the same, only much more so, and with the few remaining ragged edges filed off. Rather like the progress of a long-term relationship; the wildly innovative bit is over – at least for the moment – but the good stuff still grows… spiked, hopefully at least, with enough unpredictability to keep things interesting. Granted much of that last is, as I recall, concentrated in this one spot (this being one of the few S3 eps I’ve seen more than once); there’s more than enough for me to give the whole the benefit of the doubt.
  • Particularly in regards to the f/x. Series Three is gorgeous… yes, yes, I know, sexy Dick Turpin song, getting to that in a sec. It’s more generally cool that this means that for the first time the visuals can also be an integral part of the satirical process. (The simplified costuming on Liz I’s a bit disappointingly cheap-looking, though – like a drugstore Halloween costume of itself.) My favourite result — besides the aBook sketch, which is, like Mary Poppins, uniquely Practically Perfect in Every Way — is actually in the Victorian sketches, which get more subtle effects that nevertheless reward the literate viewer enormously.
  • If you don’t mind humouring me for a minute longer, I’d like just to run a quick compare-and-contrast on the show’s handling of the Angry Aztecs, which unlike the Incan ditto contains not a speck of awkwardness. Perhaps the lack of llamas meant the writers had to work harder regardless. At any rate, while they did have pyramids, the Aztecs instead simply show up as part of a brilliant sketch, accurate and interesting. Clearly, the Mesoamericans are now just part of the humanly flawed gang. This, also, is reassuring.
  • Although, the subsequent howler monkey cartoon… yeah, I don’t think the gag was quite that clever, guys. And has the animation gone downhill a bit, or is it just me?
  • Also, they then attempt to bung some extra diversity in there by casting a black actor as… a venal, amoral prison inmate. He does a really decent job, but, yeah, another one of those fun little total differences in cultural sensitivity, I’m thinking.
  • Right, moving on to the stuff we all can understand: Damn, that Dick Turpin sure is sexy, isn’t he? Of all things HH, the music stood to benefit the most from the new confidence, given that it was already a fully developed and nurtured idea that only required that financial and artistic boost to send it over the top – and, spoiler except totally not, that’s exactly what happened. With a few notable exceptions, the seamless awesomeness of S2’s musical best becomes the norm here.
  • Really, there’s not a lot of justification for this one, otherwise. Sure, it’s fairly Horrible that a vicious thug like Turpin should be romanticized, but honestly, how often does that happen? And if there isn’t already a fandom calling themselves ‘Turpintines’ and dotting their undying Twitter fealty with little hearts, did anybody really think dolling Charles II up in cape and eyeliner was going to prevent their formation? (Personally, I’d never heard of Turpin before this, and now I’m completely intrigued by the possibilities. I always did have a soft spot for guys in capes.)
  • Nope, clearly what we have to blame here is an old-skool New Wave fan with a sense of humour, a fairly decent CD collection, and a gig writing music for HH, roughly in that order — and the rest of the creative team knew exactly what to do from there. Just for fun, I was going to go all raging iconoclast and declare that video didn’t do a thing for me, but I totally cannot do it. Mat’s performance is easily the most adult thing ever committed to children’s media. The hell of it is, I don’t think it was – entirely — intentional. It cannot at least have been his fervent desire to create a legion of tweens disappointed that he doesn’t actually wear Michael Jackson’s hair.
  • If you look closely through the makeup and posturing to Mat’s actual performance, and are familiar enough with what’s driving it, then it is actually possible to laugh at it — because it’s actually a note-perfect parody, taken just far enough over the top to be frankly ridiculous, but not enough to be unkindly obvious, and thus spoil the fun entirely. That, plus some of the best pure songwriting – probably, again, because some of the closest to the source material – ever done for the show, turns the whole into a genuine work of art.
  • Interestingly enough, given the obvious frontloading-the-debut-for-the-critics going on here, this episode also rather obviously collects the hilights of Mat’s S3 tour. He will spend part of this series away filming Spy, meaning HH will basically devolve into the Ben and Jim Show for several eps… which I seem to recall as having something to do with the lack of future excitement. No, not so much because of missing the minstrel eyes — I swear! — as that they’re usually found in the vicinity of something intriguingly offbeat.
  • Mind, the others get new and frequently novel showcases too – besides the Masterchef hosts and Artois, I specially like Ben’s ‘kindly peasant dad’ schtick and the return of Politely Unstable Simon from (of all things) last series’ teatime sketch. The latter then turns out to segue very nicely into Simon the Proper Military Chucklehead. Also, all the welcome-back hugs for Other Little Guy Who’s a Much Better Actor Than Bertie, Though Not as Blond. Really must get his name, someday.
  • It’s sort of the same issue as I had with the lack of Farnaby, last series, except in this case (thank god) they didn’t attempt to bring on a random attractive goofball to help out… although come to think of it, Jalaal Hartley from S4 might’ve worked… look, for the moment let’s just be grateful a) that Larry’s a permanent fixture by now and b) Mat made it into enough good stuff to be going on with.
  • Like, for instance, the return of the Historical Paramedics — my favourite one, yet. I won’t attempt to critique it, because all it would be is incoherent cooing with ‘squee!’ where the punctuation should be, but seriously, damn I am glad that someone recognized the potential and ran with it (literally, in the case of the tagline). It just captures the hilarious essence of Jim & Mat together – perfectly structured, while still allowing for whatever random Pythoning to happen. Y’know, in case you’d forgotten that under the weird Larry’s also a hugely talented screenwriter.
  • So is whoever wrote the aBook sketch, showing off a nice satirical judgement which Mat then carries through to perfection. To the point where it serves as a sort of found proof of the newfound priorities; kind of hard still to be just a silly kiddy show when this bit routinely gets passed round as Twitter humour by adult tech writers. All the points to Baynton besides for attempting a notoriously tricky accent… although it occasionally sounds more like a Californian attempting a Scots accent, which is a trifle distracting.
  • Speaking of accurate takeoffs – also, goofy accents — I gather Ben and Jim are considered to do devastating spoofs of the real Masterchef hosts. Which is cool, but honestly, these bits are so wonderfully done they work even if you’ve never seen the source material — in fact, they might work better, as unfamiliarity amplifies the surreal funny. As a long-time fan of competitive cooking generally, I do totally appreciate the advanced cleverness of the parody whole; even if the weird-food stuff hasn’t gotten any more exciting since the old ‘Ready Steady Feast’ bits (you really do have to be twelve to appreciate ‘gross’ properly as a comedy concept).
  • Especially since elsewhere Jim’s forays into crazy are… well, much less successful for the character, but for the rest of us, schwing. The You’ve Been Artois’d! sketch has, let’s face it, no real justification either as a history lesson or parody; it’s carried almost entirely on familiarity with the performers’ styles – ie., basically, Jim being Jim after somebody got his hopes up way too far — and it is one of the funniest damned things I have seen ever, in any comic media.
  • The really hilarious part… OK, besides Larry’s flouncy little scream… is that, complete and uncompromising tool that Artois is, you actually do feel a wee bit sorry for him at the end. Honestly, our Howick is brilliant at what he does in a way that I still remain baffled he isn’t an indispensable star of the British comedy scene yet. If you lot aren’t going to use him, can we have him? We’ve been at loose ends a bit since Corner Gas was cancelled.
  • So the Fabulous French aren’t introduced by name until the third series; this still counts as praiseworthy cultural restraint. Well done, show — ooh, and bonus Gallic Mat voice on the cartoon intro guy! Kind of disappointing though that they just reused the same medieval peasant model… they could’ve at least slapped a moustache or baguette or something on him.
  • Ohai Tudor obsession!… well, it’s a decent Blackadder pastiche, if another one of those ‘yeah, so?’ bits historically. Lovely to look at, too — albeit noticeably missing the approximately 32,785 servants that would in reality be flitting through the scene; even luxe budgets can only stretch so far, evidently. I’m also not entirely sure why Mat is playing the Earl as actually mentally challenged, but whatever gets you through a long day’s filming, I guess. (This would also handily explain how much Martha seems to be enjoying the chance to smack him, not to mention why her own face screws up well prior to the ‘surprise’ pie hitting it.)
  • Oh, and while we’re on about the ‘manners’ sketch: “So I just left the pheasant where it was, and shot Mr. Darlington instead!”… I do love you so much, show.
  • I also love you (especially Rattus) for the ‘floral messaging’ bit. Kind of missing Mat’s Cockney accent here, though, you’d think it’d be a great opportunity for some real Artful Dodger stuff. I think he’s going for a swishy florist instead… but it’s a bit too subtle, so ends up just making me wonder if he and the flowers need some *ahem* alone time. Finally… Simon, can I just thank you again for not being whisked off to fame and fortune via your movie? I know it’s selfish of me, but it’s sincere. Really.

95% Accu-rat:

  • The Roman Triumph: technically, at least, supposed to be an exercise in self-effacement. Per Wiki: Republican morality required that despite these extraordinary honours, the triumphator conduct himself with dignified humility, as a mortal citizen who triumphed on behalf of Rome’s Senate, people and gods. Of course, the article then goes on to totally horselaugh at itself; these are Romans we’re discussing here, Republican period or not. Despite attempts by conscientious contemporary historians to draw the moral lesson, the triumph laid the foundation, if not the actual blueprint, for all noble processionals thereafter.
  • While I’m being unnecessarily pedantic: the term ‘book’ actually technically applies to any medium for recording information. The Rosetta Stone is a book, and so are scrolls. What Stevius Jobius here is hawking, and what we now think of at the standard, is actually a specific form of book called a codex — albeit again, these days mostly only by those really desperate to compensate for that copy of Fifty Shades of Grey lurking under their thesis notes. This refreshingly-pedant-free ‘Enyclopedia Romana’ article gives a more in-depth compare-and-contrast on the two recording methods.
  • Couple of realities require ignoring if the Tudor toilet sketch is to be enjoyed fully… no no, please don’t thank me for now describing them in excruciating detail, it’s what I live for. So yeah, the ‘strew rushes on the floor to (hopefully) absorb (most of) the gunge’ method of hygiene practiced back then did require the monarch — especially one as notoriously fastidious about foul smells as Queen Elizabeth I — to move on approximately every few months or so. However, this wasn’t what led her to impose on her aristocracy; after all, she had a lot of palaces at her disposal.
  • What’s happening here was actually called a royal progress, or trip round different parts of the kingdom, which for obvious reasons usually happened in the warmer months. Officially it was a way for Her Majesty to show herself off to her subjects, and for them in turn to have the honour of hosting their monarch; in reality, it was all about saving the royal treasury household expenses.
  • Which the nobles in fact gladly did — you couldn’t pay TV fees to view royalty back then, so they were totally free to instead break themselves providing lavish banquets, entertainments etc etc. The most famously elaborate of these visits is the one paid to Kenilworth Castle — at the time home to Liz’ main-maybe-squeeze, Robert Earl of Leicester — but the pattern was pretty much the same everywhere. In reality the Earl here wouldn’t need to move out to the garden, because he’d’ve likely already built an entire mini-manor there just on the off chance she might show up.
  • On the other hand, a fragile flower in need of perpetual cossetting our Bess emphatically was not. Like the dad she idolised, she was in reality a tough, shrewd type who carefully cultivated her down-to-earth Englishness, and so wasn’t at all above quaffing a few ales and sharing earthy jokes with her mostly-male court — so long as she was the one who made them, of course. A typically cheerful sally, after the Earl of Oxford returned to court after years of self-exile for breaking wind in the royal presence: “My lord, I had forgot the fart.”
  • Frankly, nobody in the Victorian picnic sketch earns a whole lot of sympathy from me. The male half ought to have known he was in for trouble as soon as she consented to be alone with him without a chaperone (that she is makes complete nonsense of her pique re: his sitting too close to her — she’s already irretrievably compromised herself anyway). I mean, look at her, she’s totally dressed for the late Georgian period! Clearly a nefarious time traveller with an agenda of her own. (Probably in league with whomever gave Robert Artois access to cable.)
  • More plausibly, she could’ve been hoping to beat him into a ‘breach of promise suit’. This was the Victorian etiquette equivalent of losing that last boss battle: if you promised marriage — or, as in this case, made it impossible for society to infer otherwise — only to later come down with a bad case of commitment phobia, the lady’s family could retrieve her value on the knot-tying market by hauling your honour-free butt into court,where you would be forced to publicly take the blame and thus re-certify her as sound. This legal concept totally still exists, by the way.

Posted by on April 14, 2013 in Series Three


Tags: , , , , ,