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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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S02E01

General, I said a weapon like a pike! I didn’t literally mean a pike, ‘pike’ was just an example! Honestly, if I told you to go and jump off a cliff, would you?!

…he’s gone to jump off a cliff.

Newly professional-looking credit sequence, newly sharp and sophisticated writing, makeup and costuming budgets obviously increased, camerawork much more assured, parodies much more pointed, Stupid Deaths upgraded, the Incredible Incas introduced, Larry and Martha now part of the leading troupe, Rattus’ hole gets a makeover… as, of course, does the music. Even the gross has been bumped up to Shakespearian heights.

Welcome to Horrible Histories.

In this episode:

Song: The Viking Song (Literally) — The ancestors of Spinal Tap: Mat (lead vocals), Ben (lead axe), Larry (bass axe) and Jim (drums)

Recurring sketches:

Come Dine With Me — Roman Emperor Elagabalus (“Huhuhuhuhuh! I’m so random!”)

Shouty Man — New! Incan Hole Childcare System (“With the unique dig-anywhere design, you can take your hole wherever you go!”)

Stupid Deaths — Bobby Leach (fearless daredevil who.. slipped on a bit of orange peel on a New Zealand sidewalk & died of gangrene)

Historical Mastermind — William Shakespeare (Great. No, really. Future argumentative revisionist: “How could a mere uneducated peasant write works of such timeless genius?” Future me: “Knock-knock!”)

Computer Game — Operation Defend Britain!… somehow. (“And just what do you think you’re doing? I’m a real nun!”)

One-offs:

Terrible Tudors

Portrait of a Furious Queen — Being a raving beauty was way easier back when “PR firm” meant “guy with a paintbrush who doesn’t breathe unless I say so.”

Incredible Incas

Incan ShamPee — “Available in all full bladders. Bucket not included.”

Vile Victorians

Welcome to Badminton House — Or as I like to think of it, Inexplicable Moments in Mild Victorian Eccentricity, Vol.3…

Great Eccentrics of the Victorian Era: The 2nd Baron Rothschild (animated) — …Vol.4… (Also vols.1, 5, 6…)

Slimy Stuarts

Fawkes’ 13 (movie trailer) — “Because you’re a Catholic, and I’m a Catholic, and the King hates Catholics! He seems to think we’re always plotting something.”

The Irony is Deafening — Royal press restrictions: one giant step backward for freedom of expression, but apparently one giant step forward for screwball comedy.

Woeful Second World War

Arming the Home Guard — Awwww, they should’ve let them keep the pikes. The grandkids would’ve paid a lot more attention to the stories later, believe you me. Especially if they also involved accidentally sticking them into nuns.

Durham Accident Book — The local (and obviously pike-free) HG division can’t even save themselves from splinters. Bonus: attempts at the accent almost as painful-sounding as the actual injuries.

Vicious Vikings

Sat Rav — Quoth the navigational device: Nevermore! (Yes, I have been saving that one. Shut up.)

Field Notes:

  • Right, the whole figuring out what worked thing, apparently it went pretty well; inasmuch as it seems to have consisted more-or-less entirely of ‘They not only bought it, they gave us more money for it! FREEEEEDOMMMMM!!” Followed by several minutes’ Dance of Joy around the boardroom, or wherever it is the creative types are given their mandates.Which is to say, the HH we all know and love — ie. a slightly more conscientious Blackadder — makes a remarkably complete and self-assured debut, to the point where said debut seriously does exude an air of almost giddy relief.
  • Thus it’s fitting that it all leads off with our first look at Mat Baynton 2.0: alternately mad, bad, and… well, not ‘dangerous’ exactly. Only that his day job just couldn’t continue to ignore the fey ambiguity behind the boyish charm. Esp. given he was just coming off a supporting stint on the notorious Horne & Corden (as literally the only aspect of it I could find described anywhere as ‘funny’) So… they decided to exploit it, instead. Then, presumably, sat back with champagne to watch as their cross-demographic horizons abruptly exploded.
  • In possibly related news, to kick off this bright new era in HH musical credibility, Mat and Larry have written… a note-perfect 80’s hair metal power ballad. The mind boggles to consider how this cross-cultural intimacy might’ve come about. The traditional way involves hanging out in a pickup truck in a Midwestern mall parking lot, drinking Old Milwaukee and playing air guitar so that it shows off your tattoos to best advantage (in case any actual girls should wander by, natch). I would scoff at this explanation, except that I have seen an actual pic of youthful Larry. Also, adult Mat’s patent inability to keep a straight face past the second chorus.
  • It may also be a factor that our Laurence just happens to have colouring very reminiscent of an *ahem* authentic ancient Norse warrior. Including unusually bright blue, deep-set eyes that, if other self-posted pics are any indication, he has long since decided are his best feature. He may be correct, at that. At any rate he is now entirely redefining ‘make the most of your chances’ even by his standards (as set during the earlier “sowsages” scene in the Elagabalus sketch). At one point during the choruses even Jim ‘Sharp Stone’ Howick is glancing over at him like “Whoa, man, family show!”
  • All snark aside, it’s just amazingly nice to have the music back. Yeah, it was mostly a no-brainer once the media picked up “Born 2 Rule” and ran with it as the cool, innovative bit; but if Series One has any meaningful legacy at all, let it be the demonstration not only that the media was exactly right, but what the alternative would be. Going forward, not all of the parody songs will be as good (and even fewer will be as sophisticated) as this one – but they will all be songs, as supervised by adults with an understanding of both music and comedy, as opposed to merely an earnest desire to entertain children.
  • It’s the most prominent of generally reassuring signs re: straight priorities. At least, this is how I reassure myself that I’m not entirely nuts to keep going with this project: the show is also actually invested in making me almost embarrassingly glad to see a time-travelling conman with no indoor voice and a Grim Reaper who’s patterning his mid-afterlife crisis as a perpetual X-Factor audition, just because he can.
  • Yes, they’re brilliant satirical concepts and all, but there’s something more intangibly satisfying happening here. When asked about the inspiration for the similarly beloved-by-all-ages Looney Tunes, Chuck Jones once said “We didn’t make them for children, and we didn’t make them for adults. We made them for ourselves.” There is a perpetual feeling, when watching HH from this point onwards, that both writers and performers are doing exactly the same thing.
  • While I’m on, yay! for the return not only of Ben the goofy military gallant — he can wear a uniform, and a uniformed character, in much the same way Larry wears Viking getup — but also the gaming hero. I have always found the show’s retro take on video games highly amusing, inept graphics and all — esp. given the real possibility, based on the behind-the-scenes vid, that Ben at least may not quite realise it is retro. I particularly like the little “ow – ow – ow…”
  • Meanwhile, Martha is likewise making the most of her promotion. New!Liz I is a bit stereotypically broad for my tastes (although Jim’s Walsingham is surprisingly effective; see below). I do however enjoy watching her showing off all her considerable poise, charm and comic timing — and couple-chemistry with Jim — in the otherwise fully pointless badminton sketch. OK, that and awwww Jim having so much fun punting into the breakables! My Howick plushie may need to come with kung-fu kick action.
  • Simon, on the other hand, was off working on the Boosh quasi-spinoff movie Bunny and the Bull for much of this series’ filming, so now’s the time to get used to his understudy, Lawry Lewin: aka the world’s only bipedal stick insect. As you can imagine, the transition will be a little fraught. Now’s also the time to confess it, I suppose: what with missing ol’ Dandelion Head badly, and constantly being mildly irritated by his replacement’s take – ie., just as neurotic but not nearly as happy about it — I never did warm to our Lawry.
  • This is not to say there aren’t times when that same style actually works on its own (as per the effete and earless Stuart author here, for instance). I honestly admire him besides for being the definition of a dependable supporting player; he’s more than earned his current position as unofficial seventh member of the starring troupe. But anything that requires more active interest in the man will always be beyond my ken. Sorry in advance, surprisingly vocal Lewin fanbase.
  • Still on the subject of tact… or not… look, show, I do understand that you’re British, also a silly comedy. The horrific minefield of racial sensitivities I’m anticipating, re: your decision to populate Mesoamerica with (very) white guys in fake tans, just isn’t there from your core viewers’ POV. I get it. But oooh, trust me, the Shouty Man’s look here is awkward — even if you ignore the entire sociopolitical argument and just go with “Have your makeup staff ever even seen a Hispanic person?”
  • It’s a double shame since otherwise the upmarket f/x debut is triumphant. Most notably, we’ve switched out Elizabeth I for the more traditional Scary Old Clown Makeup Lady, in order that she might display her truly legendary vanity — by describing an ideal self (“Petite-nosed…” etc) that sounds very much like her Series One incarnation. Yeah, should’ve taken that up with your agent, your Majesty.
  • Elsewhere, we’ve established that Mat should not attempt a Northern accent ever again, and that Jim should… well, look, I’m not going to start handing out accent advice to somebody who can switch at will between saucer-eyed adorable and freakin’ Winston Churchill, because I do not wish to mess with anyone who clearly has the power to take over the universe with sheer awesome anytime he wants. Also, the ‘S’okay, it’s just a MASSIVE SPLINTER’ thing was hysterical.
  • Boy it didn’t take long to call for a redo of the Fawkes story, did it? As previously noted, I am totally onboard with a second draft, especially one that makes so much the better use of the material’s huge potential both artistically and – we don’t have Fireworks Night over here, remember — educationally. (Plus giving Larry a chance to demonstrate he can actually settle down and act when required.) Mild weirdness alert when Ben ‘the brains’ gets all of one word to demonstrate it, but hey.
  •  Also raising the ‘intelligent comedy’ bar — well, once you get past the wholly inexplicable part where neither of them visually recognise the problem, ie. the other’s very clearly severed ears — no, really, get past that part. Forcibly if necessary. It pays off in a genuinely hilarious screwball scene which acts as further evidence that somebody in the writing staff also grew up with Abbott & Costello movies… or whatever the British Sunday-morning-TV-filler equivalent was. At any rate, it’s appreciated.

95% Accu-rat:

  • So… Emperor Elagabalus (or, more formally, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus). Easily the most un-nervingly edgy of all HH icons; fear of what happens when sweet young fangirls go to look him up has kept me out of the fanfic archives for some time now. Because in real life (although as usual the sourcing’s a bit sketchy), the ‘random’ teen dude with the charmingly dopey giggle was — if not actually a transgender who offered a reward to any surgeon who could give him a sex change — at least a desperately sexually confused mope who married as many as five times, lavished favors on male courtiers popularly thought to have been his lovers, employed a prototype of whoopie cushions at dinner parties, [don’t ask me how HH missed that one, I’ve no idea] and was reported to have prostituted himself in the imperial palace.
  • On the (faintly) bright side, history agrees that if it existed, the famous powder-room lion was probably old and mostly toothless — remember that they had to get him into the palace in the first place, not to say keep him there, and cattle prods weren’t exactly a thing back then.
  • Another way you can tell this is a whole new series: I’m about to say something nice re: the show’s Tudor fixation. The gratuitously well-researched appearance of Elizabeth I’s security adviser, Francis Walsingham, is actually one of the things that initially piqued my interest in the show beyond ‘Oh, look, they made a cute series out of those snarky books…’ Cos he really was a dour, humourless, all-black-wearing Puritan sort (yes, basically an early version of Oliver Cromwell) who was renowned for being the one courtier who always told our Liz how it was, no more nor less. Which in real life earned him her tremendous respect, but never mind.
  • So yes, Elizabeth, famously vain over her appearance. What the show doesn’t mention is that she also considered her pretty, slender hands one of her best features, hence that weirdly stiff arms-in-front pose in all of the official portraits. On the plus side, she was also the Tudor most willing to get out there and show her actual self to her subjects; her amazing knack with the common people was obviously inherited from similarly-but-more-inexplicably-beloved dad Henry, and one of their firm proofs that she was in fact his daughter.
  • Yes, OK, show, the Baron Rothschild did actually have all those fun animal pets, and I can fully see where they’d amuse the kiddies no end. Still, as Victorian eccentrics go, he wasn’t really even in the top ten. Besides the good Dr. Buckland, eater of royal hearts, check out Friar Park, built by Sir Frank Crisp (and later lovingly restored by some musician guy named George Harrison.)
  • From the Department of Whoa, People Really Do Care About This Stuff! (vol. 324 in a continuing series) comes the guy who created a FAQ section on the show’s Internet Movie Database page for the apparent sole purpose of typing a massive wall o’ text rebuttal to their take on the Home Guard. One can only hope his relatives have managed to keep him from watching Dad’s Army. The truth, as always, seems to have fallen somewhere between the two extremes. Honestly I had a feeling, inasmuch as there’s no way any reasonably healthy males given the chance to play war would be that un-creative re: the homemade weapons. Or maybe we should just be grateful they didn’t have the Internet to search, yet…
 
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Posted by on February 17, 2013 in Series Two

 

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