Tag Archives: historical paramedics


Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
That top hats are fabulous? No. Although they are…

Aaaaand we’re right back up and bouncing happily on the Trampoline of Endearingness again. Not at all a bad point of takeoff, as Series Five debuts…

In this episode:

Song: The Ages of Stone — Mat as a totally Jazz Age cave pianist, man…

Recurring sketches:

Historical Masterchef — Pirate (“I like to think of it not as losing a hand, so much as gaining a utensil…”)

Victorian EastEnders — Moving on Up… From the Sewers

Historical Paramedics — Victorian (“And how often does that work?!” “NEVAH!”)

Historical Dragon’s Den — Stone Age (“Me invent beer! It grown-up drink* *Not for kids!” “Ugh… me invent headache!”)

HHTV Sport: The First Olympics — (“Let me guess… It’s an Ancient Greek thing.”)

Stupid Deaths — Milo of Croton (Strongman who got stuck trying to rip a split tree in half… “Hah, you spent too much time working on these muscles, and not enough on this one!… You know, the brain?… and sudoku, and…? Oh never mind.”)

Historical Pet Shop — Cavalier Prince Rupert, cousin of Charles I (“Did I mention that?”)

Historical Don’t Tell the Bride — Stuart elopement options (“Is this even legal?!” “Good question, and in answer to that I’d just like to say that your hair looks lovely…”)


Terrible Tudors

The Spaniard Takes a Wife — “Once upon a time, a loving king married a beautiful queen, and they lived happily ever after. Unfortunately, this… is the story of Phillip II of Spain and Mary I of England.”

All-New Tudor Sugar-Paste Toothpaste — Being forced to compliment Elizabeth I on her dental hygiene: proof that being a royal courtier wasn’t all beer and skittles. Or Skittles. It did however apparently involve a ton of other sugary goodies…

Putrid Pirates

Pirate Weather Forecast — Even talking about the weather is more fun when you add pirates. Kind of hard on the black cats, though.

Field Notes:

  • Yep, it’s back. Again. Series Three, you have proved true to my relationship metaphor from S03E01: while I have come to accept that while you may never really excite me (creatively, guys, creatively) in the manner of the series just fore and aft, your overall likeability, along with the commitment to a swift and engaging recovery from missteps — up to and including recognition of the immediate need for moar Baynton, as displayed here — does still go a long way toward strengthening my affection.
  • In all seriousness, though, I’m still not convinced my missing Mat so much from the latter half of the series is totally about the physical. Turns out that when Jim described his BAFTA-nommed buddy as ‘the absolute staple of our show’, he for once wasn’t making a snarky crack about the minstrel eyes.
  • Not that the others aren’t all staple-y in their own way; that’s what a comedy troupe is. Ben especially has been doing a sterling job of proving it lately. Only that Mat (and, to a less doe-eyed extent, Larry) bring a certain freeform spark to the whole — free particularly to shift between childlike and adult implications — which if you’re going to spend a season mostly resting on your creative laurels, it’s especially sorely missed.
  • Except for the music, which of course never quite rests anywhere. We’ve gone notably minimalist this week, but my imagination does not mind, for it has filled in the blank spots with a running paraphrase of the pre-production meeting. Highlights:
  • “OK, so we’ve got this incredible song. You know how Stone Age taxonomy sounds all sort of jazzy, like scatting? …Well, anyway, we get Mat to perform it in that skimpy fur tunic, it’ll sound fabulous. Trust me.”
  • “Wait, that’s it, just the one part? No backup chorus? Tell me at least there’s some fun stone instruments in there.”
  • “Ah, about that… have you ever seen the Flintstones live-action movie? Yeah, don’t. We figured, wouldn’t it be hilarious if instead there’s this huge modern piano in a cave. (Mat plays piano, right?) And just for insurance, we’ll do that thing where the cute stick cave paintings come to life. Everybody loves the little dancing buffalo.”
  • “I don’t know… Anybody remember what we did for the first caveman song?”
  • “Uh… I think we just sort of grabbed everybody from the other cave skits and had them do something sort of funny in the background, really. Plus, you know, that whole inset sketches thing. Man, am I glad we don’t have to resort to stuff like that any… What?”
  • “Hm? Oh, I just had a great idea…”
  • So yeah, a sort of luxury Series One format upgrade — which did turn out to be pretty great overall. Largely because there’s nothing more happifyingly catchy than an authentic jazz/big band performance; clearly Amy Winehouse wasn’t the only British musician of her generation paying close attention to the American standards. This is something else I find incredibly endearing (the paying attention, that is. The Winehouse question is another blog entirely).
  • Oh, also I bugged my multi-instrumentalist brother-in-law, and in-between funny looks — engineers just have no appreciation for history — anyway, he confirmed that if Mat can play the keyboards he can play the piano, at least in theory. That said, musical prodigy or no, Mat’s clearly not actually playing here — you can tell from if nothing else the quick just-the-highlights cuts used to show him at the keyboard.
  • (This is standard practice when not actually filming Chopin or Liszt biopics. Backing piano tracks, like any other, will usually already be pre-recorded, and attempting to match up the onscreen finger-flying with that would create a continuity headache nobody — let alone a BBC kid’s show on a budget — wants to deal with.)
  • Mat can also, and this needs to be stressed as frequently as possible, morph randomly into a hungry tapeworm-slash-concept art for A Bug’s Life II. This alone should cement his essential-ness in HH legend, if only because being in a performance zone where invertebrate-related humour not only seems like but is a gloriously funny idea must be at least one definition of pure joy. Which is, as it happens, exactly how the Victorian HParamedics come across onscreen.
  • This is in fact why I’m not altogether broken up that it’s the last of the lot; the Tudor one provided an instructive warning re: just how vulnerable the concept is to self-aware satisfaction… although I wouldn’t have minded risking that on a caveman one, also maybe pirate.
  • Luckily, in the meantime we have not only Pirate Weatherman Mat (“Sick as a parrot”… nice one that, must remember it) but Simon and his… unique… knack for both. The Stone Age Dragon’s Den is altogether hilariously adorable, not least because the format is ideally suited to an era in which pretty much every waking moment involved innovation.
  • I do also like the meta-conceit — found exactly nowhere else in the series — of flat-out telling the viewership that we’re going to have adult time now, kiddies. Especially the way Mat sounds quite genuinely concerned, like he’s somehow not a fully passport-holding citizen of a nation that considers drinking an essential life skill to begin with. Seriously, guys, you were providing cutesy little infographics for Viking hell by your third episode, and this is the child-development hill you want to die on?
  • Anyway, yes, Simon. Who it must be admitted makes a much more authentically appealing cave inventor than Mat, and whose essential role in the troupe is summed up nicely by the fact that when somebody on the writing team was all “Hey, you know what would be good value? If for once the pirate wasn’t all menacing, but really laid back,” everyone nodded and agreed. (Yes, somehow the entire production staff have all acquired Canadian accents, specifically the verbal mannerisms of a blogger from Southern Ontario. It’s odd, I know.)
  • So the HMasterchef featuring the resulting awesomely cool pirate is pure Farnabian bliss, and in combination with the ease with which Jim and Ben now inhabit their parody roles easily the best of the four HM segments. Although I do still have a soft spot for Martha and the whale phlegm. At any rate, I am unreservedly glad that this recurring bit will be returning, as it is explicitly designed so that familiarity only makes it funnier. I especially enjoy how unlimited background gags are built right into the format.
  • Moreover, in the process there have been vistas opened by Jim’s hitherto criminally underplayed talents as a mimic — this of course is his essential role, to be ridiculously talented regardless of whatever ridiculous creative situation he’s plonked down into — that are a big part of the reason I’m already anticipating, not only reviewing S4, but watching S5.
  • Although… So, uh, Rattus? The whole rat-blatantly-skewered-on-a-hook thingy…? Anything you’d like to share with the viewership, who frankly at this point is totally on your side, at least in between the violent retching? …Yeah, you’re right, I guess one more pet flea gag was totally worth ignoring it all. *rolls eyes*
  • In other recurring news (on several levels): No, show. I do not care if you bribe me with Mat playing the guy whose picture I walk past every day on the way to my cubicle (more below) and an adorable puppy. I refuse to be sad that the Historical Pet Shop is going away. Frankly I have reached the point where if I hear one more ‘hilarious’ animal fact out of you I’m going to throw socks at the screen, so there.
  • Ooh, way to bust out the snark, little cartoon Tudor lady! You were always my favourite. So are Mat as Prince Philip, and Larry his advisor, and their accents that are… sort of what would happen did Spain suddenly decide to embrace Snidely Whiplash, a la the French and Jerry Lewis. (Readers under 21: ask your parents.)
  • Larry’s essential role by this point goes a bit deeper than the offbeat wit; as his familiarity with performing alongside the others expands so does his low-level knack — probably related to his writing skills — for tuning into their schticks and enhancing them. So that anytime he’s paired with Mat or Simon especially, his overt silliness level goes down and the hilariousness of the whole goes up about 150%.
  • As if to maximise the potential of this, the writers have finally got round to the darkly comic melodrama inherent in the actual Tudor experience — although Alice predictably fails utterly at being homely, but never mind, it’s all enormously satisfying fun, and I adore it. Too much even to chastise them… much… for the “How’s about a kiss?” bit, which let’s face it, that’s literally the only reason Ben’s playing the priest, isn’t it?
  • Alice — who, probably to her ongoing chagrin, really is the very definition of ‘ladylike’ — is also signally failing to sell the lower-lower-class ‘Victorian EastEnders’ accent. Again, though, I’m pleasantly surprised enough at the return of this bit to let it pass. Even when tested by the writers’ weakness for horrendous poo-related gags, the thoughtful charm somehow remains strong with this series. I think ‘Dickensian’ may be a species of British media Teflon by this point.
  • (Totally random thought had while typing that last sentence: physicality aside, Simon would make an absolutely killer Micawber.)
  • On the other hand, Alice could not make a more perfectly virginal historical bride, nor Mat her feckless groom. Always nice when you go into a sketch cringing in anticipation at the cliches and end up laughing aloud. I’m not familiar with the source material, but this is at least equally enjoyable; a neatly and sweetly lovely little bit of universal satire, fine as a needle and as exquisitely performed.
  • You can tell this is Ben’s week off — or possibly just that somebody accidentally ordered the wrong size loincloth, because Larry is playing the latest big dumb doofus to have a Stupid Death, and from the camera angles the minimalist costuming was clearly supposed to be the hilight of the role.
  • And very acceptable it turns out to be… still, it leaves me strangely unsatisfied. I cannot quite think of a way to explain how Willbond is much better at this moronic stuff without implying terribly unfair things about our resident Oxfordian, so will merely say that it is an art… and hastily change the subject to Death and the ongoing skeleton-intensive middle-class psychodrama, of which I can never get enough.
  • Anyway, there’s plenty of appealingly minimalist Wilbond at the Greek Olympics, also Simon come to that. (There is also Jim’s facial hair, but hey, not even this troupe bats a thousand.) Lovely all-round expert mock-Olympic coverage this — presumably designed to co-incide with the anticipation for the real event, so I’m not sure how the parody writers missed the chance to swathe everything in magenta.
  • Otherwise it’s only missing the inspirational story of a marathon runner who began as a helot slave in Sparta and started running to avoid getting caught up in one of their periodic slave purges… OK, maybe you have to have access to the American coverage to get that one.

95% Accu-rat:

  • Right, the real story behind Phillip II of Spain’s sneering villainy is… well, it involved significantly less sneering, and a job lot more dour dutiful Catholicism, given that it was actually Dad’s brilliant idea that he wed his cousin Mary in the first place — in order among other things to unite their thrones against the oncoming Protestant Reformation. Seeing as how Dad was Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and Emperor Charles I of the Spanish Empire, what’s a guy surnamed ‘the Prudent’ to do?
  • Basically, what he’s shown doing here… well, barring the dashing around being tall dark and handsome. In reality, at the time shown here, Philip was a polite, sedate young manikin with the blonde, blue-eyed looks — and trim calves — that were actually required to be considered a hunk in sixteenth-century Europe. Being a tad on the short side (about Jim’s height, actually) didn’t hurt his status with the ladies at all.
  • It certainly didn’t deter Mary, who was as (sort of) shown thirty-seven to his twenty-seven, and very much still a virgin, because did we mention she was also a fanatical Catholic? They didn’t have ticking clocks back then, so biological metaphors tended to be couched more in terms of “Fulfilling God’s will that I have offspring to carry out my work,'” but you get the idea. Philip sent his portrait along, and — despite literal riots among her notoriously xenophobic subjects — that was it. Did we mention she also really didn’t get realpolitik?
  • The net result went also as shown, only even more pathetic, famously involving at least two false pregnancies. Frankly embarrassed by this faded, middle-aged woman clinging desperately to him (even their formal portrait is awkward), Philip basically kept appearances up just long enough to persuade her to get involved in his ongoing war against the French, whereupon they promptly lost Calais, England’s last possession on the Continent. Shortly after that, Mary took to wandering the palace halls muttering to herself and occasionally attacking Philip’s portrait…
  • You can see why Philip saw his much younger, comparatively much hotter sister-in-law as a more appealing alternative. Even much later, after they were well embarked on their epic feud — the one that would lead to (spoiler alert) the Armada — Elizabeth liked to boast that she could have him back merely for the asking… you’ll recall that marriage proposals back then generally didn’t involve getting close enough to breathe on your beloved before the actual contract was signed. Also, incidentally, that the Tudors pioneered the art of sugar sculpture…
  • Cut to a couple centuries or so later, and the English throne is being occupied by people considerably more eager to head out and make their mark in — or more accurately on — the world. One of them was, yep, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, who some years after playing amateur dog trainer convinced his Cousin Charlie II to back a go-getting little fur-trading outfit calling themselves “The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England Trading Into Hudson’s Bay”. Which, in 1670, is exactly what they did.
  • Hedging their bets in true Renaissance explorer fashion, the GCAETIHB promptly dubbed huge swathes of their new possession ‘Rupert’s Land’, and appointed him their first Governor. Thus it is that, yes, Prince Rupert’s portrait (OK, a replica of, but still) now hangs on a wall in an office in suburban Brampton, Ontario, Canada: the buying offices of the Hudson’s Bay Company, now Canada’s premier department store and my humble 343-year-old employers.
  • Clearly, Rupert’s expedition were careful not to harm any albatrosses en route to the New World. Because this never-kill-an-albatross thingy, quite the big deal, and not only for pirates.
  • Check out Samuel Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner for a glimpse into just how seriously the random murder of dorky-looking waterfowl could impact your performance review — also the English language’s stock of cliches. It starts off with “Water, water, every where/Nor any drop to drink”, proceeds through “Instead of the cross, the albatross/About my neck was hung”, then winds up with Death winning the souls of all his crewmates… after which things really start to get bad.
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Posted by on May 27, 2013 in Series Three


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Can you imagine it, I’m the last Plantagenet…

The show takes a midseason break from being clever and innovative, but still comes up with a plausibly charming episode. Of course, it helps a lot if you’ve got Richard III in reserve…

In this episode:

Song: The Truth About Richard III — Jim as the much-maligned monarch, Lawry as Thomas More & Mat as Shakespeare

Recurring sketches:

Historical Paramedics — Tudors (“Geoff! I forgot to feed the spiders!” “Are you insane in ye brain? We can’t feed her dead buttered spiders, that’s just crazy!”)

Horrible Points of View — Celtic (“So let’s just see what’s in the bulging mailbAUGGHHH it’s a severed Roman head!... Why would you do that?!”)

Historical Pet Shop — Celtic (“No, no, dogs don’t talk, luv! …But if you kill ’em, an’ eat their flesh, they will talk to you in a vision…” “OK, go on then, out you go! Walkies!”)

Bob Hale — War of the Roses Report (“Luckily, the Archbishop of Canterbury steps in and sorts the whole thing out by inventing Love Day: when the Lancastrians and the Yorkists march through the High Street holding hands. And I’m not even making that bit up.”)

Come Dine With Me — Aztec Days of Maize and Beans (“…where we just eat… maize and beans. For nineteen days. It’s to celebrate the end of the dry season.” “Yeah, and the beginning of the windy one!”)

Shouty Man — New! Multi-Purpose String (“Why not use it to make a string bag? It’s up to 50% better at carrying stuff than your bare hands!”)

Stupid Deaths — Maria, Countess of Coventry (covered her acne with a white lead foundation, which led to more blemishes, which required slathering more toxic stuff on her face… “You’re as thick as your makeup! Ooh, if looks could kill — and they did!”)


Terrible Tudors

Henry VIII’s Tudor Diet Plan — “Just seven hours of feasting a day, and you too could have a body to die for!”

Savage Stone Age

When Farming Was Invented — You know that one famous Calvin & Hobbes strip on how milk was discovered? This right here would be the live-action sequel. “…I quite like the sound of being a faaahhma, with a hooom…”

Gorgeous Georgians

The Death of Nelson — “It’s just that if he was saying that this was his destiny, and you do kiss him… then forevermore, people will think that Britain’s greatest naval hero on his deathbed asked his right-hand man for a bit of a snog.”

So We Pickled ‘im — “What did you do with Nelson’s body, by the way?” “Oh, we wanted to make sure it was preserved… so we put it in the barrel of brandy.” “Pphlbbbt!”

Field Notes:

  • Of course, it would have to happen to Richard III, of all HH characters. Only Jim could give a performance as a pathetic victim of fate so completely amazing that fate had to resort to bunging one of the most important historical discoveries of the 21st century to date under a random car park, just to regain the upper hand.
  • And even then, it didn’t succeed entirely — or even really seriously. Despite giving some of the most elegant songwriting in HH musical history a few scuff marks (dealt with in detail below), this remains a tiny perfect musical comedy masterpiece, a transcendent triumph of… well, yeah, Howick-ness, really. Aided and abetted by the happiest combination of lush production values and cleverly snarky staging since the King of Bling hip-hopped his way through Hampton Court.
  • (In particular, whomever came up with those little kindergarten drawings under ‘Good With Kids’– do you by any chance have a Kickstarter? Cos if so, I just became your biggest backer. For whatever, I don’t care.)
  • It joins a remarkable series of definitive musical performances that have thus far included Dick Turpin, William Wallace and Cleopatra (…and will, probably, include an Aztec priest). Just how precisely Jim can manipulate sentiment, especially in song, isn’t exactly a deep secret at this point — although it’s worth noting that in terms of creating plausible, nuanced characters, starting from pure adorableness is even more challenging than from George IV’s whining. And more interesting, in a way, because the implications run much deeper.
  • Thus, this version of Richard III is teddy-bear cuddly — the actual fur cloak is another brilliant touch — and sympathetic, largely because he’s evidently found a decent anger-management therapist or at least ditched the badger fixation. But because it’s Jim, there’s always a hint of self-interest lurking around the edges; the possibility that he’s at best exaggerating, or at worst cynically manipulating the facts in his favour. So, y’know, if you still want to enjoy the song totally as-is, that works too… just not in the way you may have intended.
  • So yeah, the show obviously now knows its strengths intimately enough to basically take an episode off from being innovative and/or whacky and still be… oh, wait, hold the whackiness train, I forgot there was a Historical Paramedics bit. Aka, at this point, the youngest troupe members’ personal comedy jungle gym (“It sounds like she’s suffering from… SICKNESS!” “I concur!”). Which is… sort of disappointing, in a way.
  • They’ve clearly by now been fully convinced of their own preciousness — probably couldn’t help it really; if the trick to keeping a straight face is biting the inside of your cheek the entire crew on these must’ve terrified their dentists. While it’s never a bad thing that Jim and Mat are enjoying themselves, the demented drollery of the HP sketches particularly depends on how perfectly — Pythonically? — a deadpan they can achieve.
  • On the other hand, they don’t take the farming sketch seriously at all — well, Mat seems to be pretty into the spear thing, also his Ali G-except-white schtick, but that’s about it — and it’s one of the most engagingly funny non-HP things they’ve ever done together. The anarchic innocence of Calvin & Hobbes being, now that I come to think of it, a perfect metaphor for their professional relationship, up to and including the drawing rude stuff on Martha’s scripts. Besides, Mat and mouthfuls of strange foods is becoming almost as amusing a minor fetish as Larry being covered in ick.
  • *ahem* As I was saying, this ep is mostly about the more gentle — oh, sorry, sorry, I forgot, there was also Henry VIII. Although they did manage to hold off on the fat jokes for a full two-and-a-half series, gotta give them that. Ironically enough, though, what Harry’s actually describing here is his original middle-aged S1 incarnation. While I’m not going to deny that those fetching strawberry-blond curls are an improvement in some important respects, it’s at the expense of reality.
  • So anyway, this ep more-or-less covers the gentle charms of the familiar… oh, right, and Historical Points of View. Ehhhh… close enough, inasmuch as ‘familiar’ in this show totally covers ‘hot guy compulsively chatting to severed heads whilst taking Simon Cowell-related potshots’. The overstuffed parlour effect complete with floral arrangement over the mantel is a bit unusual, though — sort of weirdly over-precious… wait, this is Baynton, that was probably the point. Which would also handily explain the chatting-to-severed-heads thingy.
  • More seriously, this is my favourite of the new (non-Masterchef) S3 recurring bits, which isn’t saying a whole lot, but does take in how nicely Mat manages to capture the parody subject. I have no idea what that is in particular, but anyone who’s ever dealt with public broadcasting anywhere recognizes the validity of Ombudsman on the Verge as a comedy concept. That expression on ‘poetry’ perfectly captures it — and incidentally provides some insight into how hard our Mathew must otherwise have to work to keep his face in ‘blandly nice young man’ mode.
  • Oh, and bonus lesson in how to tell your reviewer is Canadian: I’m looking at Larry the Celtic Poet, squatting by his fireside, imbued with all the dignity of his tradition, and I’m thinking “that is totally Red Green’s ancient ancestor!”… Yeah, you may just want to go with that one.
  • Come to think of it, between this sketch and the HPet Shop, I think I might be starting to see a pattern — maybe these quietly desperate types are the only ones who can see the historical intrusions into their world, or just attract them somehow, thus driving them to the levels of eccentricity we heartlessly chuckle at here? Boy, are you lot lucky I’m too busy to write fanfic on that theme.
  • While I’m on, must remember this time to give props to the ever-sadistically-creative makeup team. I’m almost more impressed with their making Martha look that frumpy than I am the wasp stings.
  • There is a slight improvement in the Pet Shop giggle quotient here, partly because the historical narrative is becoming more coherent, but mostly cos I do love me some big stupid Celtic Ben — here with bonus new and ridiculous accent, yet…. uh, with apologies to anyone whose accent it may actually be. That’s the lovely thing about Ben’s roles: even though I may have little-to-no idea what the voice he’s using is or why, I can always be sure it’s accurate. Does wonders for cross-cultural understanding.
  • OK, fine, so most of the gently charming stuff is provided by the longtime regulars. Speaking of both that and coherent narratives, I must give all props to Bobsy Hale. Though for once too busy explaining the mass of shifting and conflicting loyalties that is the English Civil War to bother with the usual outlandish distractions, he still manages to deftly extract the funny, while also still being approximately 237 years old. That scenario right there is about as close as I will ever come to understanding where the I *HEART* HALE crowd is coming from.
  • Death is also deep into the amusingly predictable, exchanging beauty tips with skeletons to no-one’s surprise but quite a lot of enjoyment. You can just see him with a copy of Cosmopolitan open on that desk, can’t you? Meantime, Shouty Man hawks string, of all the oddly innocuous things, and thanks to a Simon in full sweetly earnest straight man mode (having to my relief put the brakes on the manic hopping and grunting from his last caveman act), does a hilariously thorough job of it.
  • Ohai Aztecs!…Wait, isn’t that the Inca cartoon intro lady? Awww, show, and you were doing so well, too. Ah well, still nice to see them integrated into mainstream sketches — here primarily because the writers always tend to interpret ‘kid-friendly content’ as ‘providing as many fart jokes as possible’, but hey, they’ve got the real CDWM narrator in to make it bearable to the grownups, and well done him for taking it on. Just personally, though, I’d like to hear more about that prehistoric super-whitening laundry detergent the Aztecs evidently had access to…
  • There’s more gentle goodness in the Death of Nelson, another little mini-sitcom which I’m assuming was intended as a satire on all those stalwartly romantic Patrick O’Brien-esque things where Russell Crowe’s the captain and the music is sweeping and whatnot. Even if it wasn’t intentional, it works so perfectly — and the gags are otherwise so pointless — I’m going to assume it was anyway.
  • Despite a certain rather conspicuously missing eyepatch, everybody makes a lovely authentic job of blending into the milieu. Especially Mat, whose character clearly benefits from all that practice he’s been getting lately at being, well, normal.
  • Also, Rattus’ teeny, inexplicably clean hankie… squeee! Also also, the fainting fit after ‘coming over all brainy’… yeah, you know the drill. Quoting the rat extensively is a bit beyond my purview here (there aren’t so many ways for an adult reviewing a children’s show to maintain dignity that I can afford to ignore any) but rest assured he’s being very quotable indeed lately. Evidently the puppeteers were given the same freedom to please themselves in S3 as the rest of the team.

95% Accu-rat:

  • Right, so as the entire world and its uncle is aware by now, the real Richard III has been found where he was hastily buried: under a random car park in Leicester — well, it probably wasn’t one back then, but you get the idea. Thus filling in one of the most important gaps in English royal history and, according to the otherwise excellent (largely because Farnaby-anchored) documentary King in the Car Park, making grown women cry. And probably go home to write passionate fanfiction. I foresee several new additions to the time-travelling romance genre in the near future.
  • Anyway, the day the discovery was confirmed, the question on everyone else’s lips was of course ‘Hey, wait, does this mean Horrible Histories lied to us?’ Because the media, paragon of journalistic subtlety that it totally isn’t, was reporting gleefully that he was hunchbacked after all! This is because the media is composed of the same average laypeople who don’t realise that hunchback is a distinct spinal condition, and besides spending a few moments Googling would’ve severely cut into their poignant-quote-composing time.
  • So yes, hunchback, or kyphosis, is in fact a distinct spinal condition, and not in fact the one Richard had. Forensic scientists studying the bones describe him instead as suffering from the much more common scoliosis, in which the spine is twisted S-fashion, not hunched. Meaning that no, Richard didn’t actually walk his full height, and probably would also have had had at least a slight limp, as the condition commonly hitches one hip higher than the other. It also correspondingly hitches one shoulder higher than the other, which it’s easy to imagine opportunistic enemies exaggerating into a monstrous hump.
  • Mind you, this was an era in which any physical deformity was of course a mark of God’s displeasure, if not actually a sign that the Devil had got there first (as late as the nineteenth century, forensic researchers would be clinging to the theory that outward appearance can indicate personality traits). So, a little exaggeration here and there… throw in a withered arm just to make it clear that this was a man in whom the milk of human kindness had literally dried up… and hey presto! A propaganda monster for the ages.
  • Lost in all of this, of course, is the question of whether our Richard actually did anything monstrous. Even granted that he wasn’t actually the medieval equivalent of Lex Luthor, the mystery of the princes still features him as a deservedly prime suspect — although an even better case can be made for the incoming Tudor King, Henry VII. (The standard one features as the plot of Josephine Tey’s brilliant, if retroactively flawed, Daughter of Time.) Put very simply, Henry undoubtedly had a lot more to fear from a pair of Lancastrian spawn running around loose.
  • Most likely, Richard really was a nice guy… but as the HH version admits himself a pragmatic one, in pragmatic times. Based on what I’ve read, probably overall a bit more difficult to cast as a romantic hero than his ardent supporters would like to admit.
  • For a full discussion of the realities of the Tudor diet, see under S01E10. As a preview: Henry (whose weight gain in later life was exacerbated by injury-induced immobility) actually ate quite a few vegetables — and was known to have grown artichokes in the Hampton Court gardens. The show itself seems to have felt the over-the-top ‘VEGETABLES ARE FOR POOR PEOPLE!’ schtick needed some apologia; Rattus more accurately refers to the issue as involving uncooked veggies — or even more accurately, with veggies prepared without spices or other condiments.
  • In a former life as a book reviewer yours truly had the opportunity to become intimately familiar with the Tudor diet, including the sugar work — the same discipline that the Food Network has discovered makes for such daring and dazzling TV, and back then the one area in which English cooks seriously impressed their Continental counterparts. Overall, the reality of Tudor cuisine was much more imntriguing than the ‘random hunks of meat’ cliches, and I still highly recommend Peter Brears’ book.
  • Tudor medicine, on the other hand… yeah, I guess we’re still talking intriguing, as long as we’re also not eating at the time. As this hilariously candid children’s museum notes, spiders (or ‘young frogs’) were indeed used back then as a cure for asthma — the butter was to help them slip down easier, natch.
  • The same page describes a whole lot of wildly entertaining stuff the HP sketch inexplicably missed, including the cures for gout (“boil a red-haired dog in oil, add worms and the marrow from pig bones. Rub the mixture in”) and my favourite, liver complaint (“drink a pint of ale every morning for a week – with nine head-lice drowned in it”)
  • OK, yes, Nelson in all probability did ask Hardy to kiss him; according to this rather delightful online Phrase Finder, there are fully three eyewitness accounts testifying not only that he said it but that Hardy did in fact give him a little peck on the cheek, no doubt nobly hiding his heartbreak behind his brass buttons the while, sweeping music swelling in the background.
  • More seriously, the same site notes that …The later story, that Nelson’s last words were “Kismet [fate] Hardy”, aren’t supported by any contemporary evidence. In fact, ‘kismet’ isn’t recorded as being in use in English to mean fate until as late as 1830, a quarter of a century after Nelson died. Essentially, later historians totally made the whole thing up because ewwww, guys kissing! Yes, apparently later historians had roughly the same ability to handle homoeroticism  as Lucy did Snoopy’s dog germs.
  • Actually, of course, same-sex smooching was one of the mundane realities of the 18th centuries, an era during which even the most platonic friendships reached a pitch that routinely gets perfectly innocent period authors — like Jane Austen — accused of lavishly erotic innuendo on the modern Internet. It’s all rather silly, really.

Posted by on May 5, 2013 in Series Three


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“Stone him”?!
It’s fine. We simply lay a large stone upon his belly. One upon which the sun has never shone!… we get them mainly from Scotland.

Time to give the floor to the tried-and-true, who deliver a solidly entertaining episode… perhaps just a wee bit too solid. Still: helicopters.

In this episode:

Song: William Wallace Scottish Rebel — Ben in the Braveheart kilt; Larry, Jim, Simon & Mat as his hard-rocking rebel posse

Recurring sketches:

Shouty Man — New! WWI Wee-Wee (“The multi-purpose liquid revolution!”)

Scary Stories — The Tale of Evil Edmund (“Right: I’m not doing this anymore. I played Macbeth, you know! I gave a semi-competent performance! And that’s not me talking — that’s the Wolverhampton Gazette.”)

Historical Paramedics — Stuart (“Nigel, go and get Flossy!” “What’s Flossy?” “I think you mean, ‘Who’s Flossy’?” *baaaaaa!*)

Stupid Deaths — James II of Scotland, son of James I of Scotland, father of James III of Scotland (Killed during testing of his ‘shatterproof’ cannon — but never mind, “what you lot need is Death’s Big Book of Baby Names! Over two copies sold!”)

Bob Hale — The French Revolution Report (“…What? Nope, pretty sure I didn’t say helicopters…”)

HHTV News: Mike Peabody Live — From the French invasion front in… Fishguard, Wales? (“Bonjour Maman!” “Look, can you not do that, please? The waving thing? Very irritating…”)


Frightful First World War

Life in the Trenches — I don’t care how naiively patriotic you are, if you get down there and a certain gruff-voiced redhead is giving you instructions, desertion suddenly becomes a viable option… which goes double if the rats start talking back. (“Just for the record, Billy: rats aren’t ‘disgusting’! Unsavoury, maybe, but not disgusting!“)

Smashing Saxons

Invasion, Invasion, Invasion — Ancient real-estate deals tended to involve a slightly more literal interpretation of ‘cut-throat’. “Negotiations over further land have got a bit out of hand. In fact, they’ve turned into an all-out war. And Horsa has been forced to pull out of the deal.” *erk* *thud* “Told you I was a better fighter than him!”

Terrible Tudors

Queen for Nine Days — “Day Seven: Relax and take in the luxurious surroundings!” “Like I could be any less relaxed…” “Ma’am! Our armies have been defeated in Cambridge by Mary Tudor! She says she’s the Queen now, and she’s marching on London!” “OK… so now I’m less relaxed.”

Not By a Tudor Mile — The question ‘Are we there yet?’ takes on frankly terrifying levels of annoying in an era prior to standardised measurements.

Field Notes:

  • Awesome, this is the one with the William Wallace song. How coo… wait, why does this look like the bumbling whitebread dad from those Tide commercials spent too long at the party from those Molson’s commercials? Isn’t this that kickass authentic hard-rock vocal I fell in love with over mp3?
  • As it happens, yes. I’d forgotten how long it took the audio track to overcome my scepticism after initially viewing the video. It did, though, and I now consider it honestly one of the great vocals in HH history, containing more than enough passion, cynicism, rage and grim humour to bring the Wallace legend to something resembling accurate life in three minutes on children’s TV.
  • It becomes even more impressive when you realize that was achieved a) without benefit of Gibson’s actual crazy and b) with benefit of ‘not!’ jokes. (Oh, and: “Sent Englishmen to heaven”? That is one spiritually generous — or, hopefully, massively sarcastic — homicidal maniac.) All I can figure is that Ben’s effectively internalised all those Thick of It scripts over the years, and maybe Billy Connolly routines during the breaks…
  • …and the HH creative types then just set it down in a random field, put it in plaids that are ‘worn’ like that old comforter on your basement couch and held a meeting re: staging that clearly went “Eehhh, Scots, Vikings, close enough.  Say, are those bourbon cremes?” It does pick up some towards the end, thanks to the fairly clever application of fake flames in the foreground and eccentric Larry in the background (he — and Jim — have experience in this sort of thing, after all; see S02E11)… but it at all times is hampered by the disconnect between vocal and visual Benjamin.
  • Now, I suppose it’s possible that even this show might balk at exposing kiddies to the filthy, visceral reality of medieval guerrilla warfare — or, knowing this show, assume that the kiddies have already seen Braveheart. Also, I don’t know, maybe my cultural bar is set a bit high here; versions of HH Wallace, triumphantly upraised arms and all, can be found in any Canadian suburban man-cave over any hockey playoff weekend. Mostly cleaner-shaven and maybe a bit lacking in imagination re: kilts, but at least they usually think to put on some face paint.
  • Whoa, Bob Hale’s life-force is draining away fast now, isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, I like Bobsy immensely, but I also have always had a bit of an irrational phobia re: those time-lapse things where they age a person thirty years in as many seconds. So at this point, while Bob’s up there being oh-so-whimsically clever, my imagination keeps insisting on creating scenarios involving phrases like ‘slow descent into the madness of the alligator-haunted void’, which is kinda getting in the way of my ability to appreciate the adorable. (And the big ol’animated basket of ghostly-pale severed heads is not helping.)
  • But I kid our resident eccentric history maven!… sort of. Anyway, he does a fairly decent job here of explaining the French Revolution by stringing together its child-friendly aspects. Although it still seems like there’s at least thirty seconds or so of THEY CHOPPED OFF AAAAALLLLLL THE HEADS that could’ve been used instead to more effectively summarise the revolutionaries’ philosophical rationales… erm, yes, I’ve done almost as much reading on this subject as I have on the Tudors. Apologies in advance.
  • More Scary Stories? What, seriously, show? As mentioned previously, I don’t actively hate the concept – and I can see where if Baddiel says he’d like to come back, you’d feel a bit silly turning that down – I’m just genuinely baffled at how such a veteran creative team figured it was worth labouring on a single mediocre joke this long. Maybe they spent more on the set than they could recoup in one series? Come to think of it, the fez looks custom.
  • Well, I’ll be damned. The maternal parent used to be a huge fan of Location, Location, Location (mostly for all that unabashed rural scenery porn). The very British take on high-stakes real estate – as Mum eventually began to wonder openly, “So… they spend the whole time catering to these people, and in the end they don’t sell them anything, and everyone’s OK with this?” — turns out to be a great satirical vehicle for historical land claims & conquests; bit disappointing that they didn’t carry it further. Imagine what they could’ve done re: Native vs. colonial Americans, for instance.
  • It’s also a neat way to kick off Mat’s new go-to parody role as your cynically wholesome reality-show host… which, amazingly enough, will require he spend quite a lot of time standing around looking fetchingly tousle-haired in civilian dress… nahhh, I’m sure it’s all about how perfectly he can mimic middle-aged real estate agents. At any rate, in this event his accent’s not quite comfortably urbane enough, to my ear, to really pull it off. The hand gestures look fairly familiar, though.
  • On the other hand, Simon’s Scandinavian accent… yeah, just all the usual happies, with a couple extra thrown in while he’s conscientiously setting the table for the treachery. Larry can totally get away with just standing there randomly inflecting vowels, that’s how ridiculously hilarious they are together. Funny that no-one’s ever thought of pairing them before; they clearly understand each other perfectly, in some much more happily eccentric universe just next door to this.
  • Love also for Ben’s quick little up-and-down before accepting Rowena — and for Martha’s reaction. By now it’s clear that regardless of which demographic the material’s aimed at, the whole troupe are, as they will shortly begin insisting to an increasingly interested media, ‘just making a comedy series’ —  increasingly abetted by both knowingly assured casting and these longform sketches, designed to give them the chance to play with comic subtleties the quick ‘ewww!’ bits don’t.
  • Ohai military Lawry in the Shouty Man sketch… now with bonus precious catchphrase? Is he supposed to be parodying anyone in particular? Anyway, it serves to liven up one of Shouty’s less memorable outings… if almost literally nothing else. OK, yes, I have a problem: the WWI bits are always set outdoors, in what always looks like grim November, and — well, sure, the less-than-fit guys in the trench-based bits are all part of the joke, I get that; I just always have the uneasy feeling the joke’s about to become a whole lot more morbid than necessary.
  • For now, though, I must admit Jim looks almost unbearably cute in his little granny glasses. Like that kiddy comic character — what’s-his-name — Billy Bunter? At any rate, clearly, my Howick plushie will be needing accessories. Besides which the WWI sketches mark the beginning of a series-long running gag involving Rattus actively protesting rodent prejudice – evidently the newfound confidence in the creative possibilities encompasses even the puppet.
  • Thus it’s frankly kind of weird that the same, usually remarkably sensitive — and no, I don’t believe I’m typing this either – sewer rat, or more to the point his handlers, can’t work up even a bit of sombre for a sixteen-year-old girl about to have her head chopped off for something she was railroaded into to serve the selfish ambitions of those she should’ve been able to trust the most. It’s really a shame they ignored the truly Horrible potential in Jane Grey’s story (see below) to go with such a glib, misleading overview.
  • As per Bobsy above (and Joan of Arc last series), I can totally understand the need to make complicated adult motives and/or philosophies accessible to the younger set… I’m just mildly paranoid that it’s crossing the line into routinely lazy writing. Doesn’t help that while Alice does a truly great line in angry petulance, thus far this series it’s the exact same line every time. It’s making me really want chipper, capable Lowe from the S2 songs back now.
  • …So I’m just on the verge of working up all this really satisfying cranky, and they go and toss me a Historical Paramedics bit. and… and… the huge red crosses on the hats… and Jim’s little wink… *dies*
  • *determinedly picks self back up again* Yeah, so, after that Tudor measurement bit I’m really starting to be concerned that they’re getting sloppy, and… and the sheep named Flossy… and… “It’s no good, there seems to be a massive stone on him!”…  *dies*… and Rattus’ wee shiny little trophy… *dies*…
  • …Death with a baby-name book… *dies* OK, OK, show, you win, for now at least. Besides giving us our first glimpse into the afterlife’s enchantingly fussy suburban trappings — also, more of Mat’s Scots accent, not to mention his increasingly entertaining tendency to equate ‘quick character development’ with ‘how far to widen the eyes’ — there’s something all sort of satisfyingly cosmic, man, in the notion of Death having heard pretty much every name possible throughout history.

95% Accu-rat:

  • OK… Lady Jane Grey, the full story. Hold on, folks, this is about to get ugly…
  • Jane wasn’t ‘vaguely’ related to Henry, at least not in succession terms. She was his great-niece, the daughter of his younger sister Mary’s daughter Frances, later Duchess of Suffolk. More than close enough for a dying, spiritually desperate Edward VII to notice — with some pointed help from his chief advisor John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, who may-or-may-not have turned away at intervals to twirl his moustache and cackle evilly — that she was the only officially legitimate, Protestant heir in his generation. He made a will altering the succession accordingly.
  • Fifteen-year-old Jane, of course, only found out about all of this later — specifically, when she noticed all the bowing and scraping suddenly having moved to her vicinity post-Edward’s deathbed. Even from her formerly strict (and, she claimed, abusive) parents. You’d think their earlier having married her to Guildford Dudley, son of Northumberland, would’ve provided a clue, but Jane was a famously bookish, erudite sort with no interest in politics. So yes, the ‘discovered reading’ thing here is one, if pretty much the only, nice touch.
  • In reality she had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the throne; how literally is disputed, but it is at least clear that she held out against the assembled great and powerful adults for some time, insisting that Mary Tudor was the rightful Queen. She only accepted the crown, in fact, literally after checking in with God. She begged for a sign, got nothing, and interpreted that as the Divine go-ahead. After all, it must be remembered, she was as fanatical a Protestant as Mary ever was a Catholic, so the idea of His choosing sides made perfect sense… to both, as it later fell out.
  • The rest of it follows pretty much as shown, although it was actually her dad the Duke who broke the news of her de-queening, tearing down the cloth of state and bluntly telling her she’d best get used to civilian life now, kthxbai. Then he and the rest of Jane’s supporters entirely abandoned the teenage girl in their rush to be the first to explain to Queen Mary that they’d been totally intimidated by that nasty Northumberland, and were so her loyal subjects forever, and much more along the lines of ‘Queen Jane? What Queen Jane?”
  • Frances Grey claimed the same, and — thanks to ‘Bloody’ Mary actually being, as discussed previously, another political naif with a conscience — actually succeeded in getting her family mostly off the hook. This would’ve eventually included Jane… were it not for Jane’s dad continuing to be a selfish idiot. He supported the later Wyatt rebellion, upon which the Spanish ambassador informed Mary that her fiance Philip II couldn’t possibly be sent over until his security was assured… exeunt Jane, one of the most distressing victims of realpolitik ever.
  • Meanwhile, you know the whole ‘Hengist gives his daughter to Vortigern in exchange for Kent’ thing? Well, the real story also turns out to be a lot more exciting… OK, also a lot less true, even than Rattus implies, but still, check this Wikipassage out: [Rowena] is first mentioned in the 9th-century Latin Historia Brittonum as the lovely unnamed daughter of the Saxon Hengist…. At her father’s orders, Rowena gets Vortigern drunk at a feast, and he is so enchanted by her that he agrees to give her father whatever he wants in exchange for permission to marry her (possibly by bigamy—the fate of Vortigern’s first wife, Sevira, is not specified). The text makes clear that the British king’s lust for a pagan woman is a prompting by the Devil… According to the Historia Brittonum, Vortigern “and his wives” (Rowena/Rhonwen is not named directly) were burned alive by heavenly fire in the fortress of Craig Gwrtheyrn (“Vortigern’s Rock”) in north Wales.
  • On the other hand, the Battle of Fishguard was totally a real thing… it’s just the whole ‘began and ended with a bunch of peasant women’ bit that’s a fraction dodgy. The really moronic French mistake was made when they allowed the fort at the harbour to raise the alarm, despite having it completely outgunned. Even the town’s official site, as linked, concedes that not only a 400-plus-member militia but pretty much the entire civilian population then promptly turned out to beat off the invaders.
  • It does appear though that local cobbler Jemima Nicholas, at least, was not a lady to be messed with: H.L. Williams, who was present as a member of the Fishguard Volunteers, went on to describe her actions: “On her approach she saw in a field, about twelve Frenchmen; undaunted she advanced to them, and whether alarmed at her courage, or persuaded by her, she conducted them to and confined them in, the guard house in Fishguard Church.”

Posted by on April 21, 2013 in Series Three


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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


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Man-child! Do you want to be a gallant hero?!
*nods warily*
Then you must wee on that man’s head!

The revolution hits its stride… which, as is becoming traditional, involves disgustingly decadent Emperor Nero, vicious religious persecution, and happily blatant homoeroticism… all in different skits. Apparently I’m finally getting used to it, because it’s also all freakin’ hilarious.

In this episode:

Song: Spartan School Musical — Mat, Jim and Larry as Spartan High students; Ben as their teacher. (Parody of: Disney’s High School Musical franchise)

Recurring sketches:

Ave! Magazine — Profiling Spiculus, most famous gladiator in all of Rome

Historical Paramedics — Middle Ages (“Nigel, treacle!” “Yes, honey?” “No, no, get the treacle!”)

Scary Stories — The Children of Woolpit (“I grew a goatee for this!”)

Stupid Deaths — Tudor entertainer (The Great Stab-Proof Man… who one day forgot to rig up his stab-proofing)

Cliff Whiteley, Historical PR Agent — Billy the Kid & Wyatt Earp meet Pearl Hart… let the celebratory gunfire commence. (“Right, I’m gonna start chargin’ for that ceiling.”)


Rotten Romans

I’m a Christian, Get Me Out of Here! – Y’know that one Star Trek: TOS episode where the Romans had TV? That, reality-show division.

Love You to Death (movie trailer) – Nero’s love life: so not covered by Hallmark. “I need a sign! Something to show that you love me now, and not her!” “Right!… uh, something more than grapes? Because I’ve got loads of grapes!”

Groovy Greeks

Athenian Student — Who would later grow up to write plays and participate in ‘Wife Swap’, apparently.

Terrible Tudors

Surely, You Jester – OK, so How They Broke the News of Queen Katharine’s Adultery didn’t really go anything like this. But dammit, it should have.

Savage Stone Age

Coming of Stone Age – In which the prospective glory of hunting megabears and sabretooths becomes the key moment in… the discovery that turtle soup is delicious.

The Caveman Workout — “Stay in shape — and you too could live to the ripe old age of thirty!”

Awesome USA

Pony Express to Nowhere – The riders of the Old West are literally replaced by machines… provided they survived that long.

Field Notes:

  • So yes, in a surprise move, I will not be making much of the blatant adult-ness of this episode’s content, since every time I do work up a good North American-style “won’t someone think of the children?!” a helpful British reader pops up to assure me that it’s really no big deal at all over there. To the extent that I’m starting to get really interested in what would be considered the difference between adult & children’s comedy in the UK. Best I can figure is 1. Don’t swear (a lot) and 2. Don’t actually show the genitalia. That’s about it.
  • Meaning I will be entirely ignoring the Fisher-Price ‘My First Village People’ set that is the Spartan School Musical. It is, after all, the show’s mission to present accurate and/or educational satire; therefore not a peep shall I utter, despite severe reservations that the real Spartan cult of male love involved quite so much giggling, flirting, posing (with-or-without bullwhip) and Mat… uh… existing. I may have given a few especially disbelieving snorts when presented with Larry’s proto-jheri-curls, but that need not concern us here.
  • Anyway, for all that – and in several cases, because of all that – I still like it enormously. Even if the specific reference is a bit past sell-by at this point, the squeaky American accents will always most excellently make the point, and the few odd Britishisms (“lashings of good fun”?) in no way detract from its overall snarkiness.
  • Besides, the Christians-being-tortured sketch? Was all set to work up some prime aghast re: that one — had the thesaurus out and everything — until I realized that this is what many modern faithful think is happening every time someone tells them ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas’. Given the choice between the two forms of bad taste, I think I’ll go with the one that’s intentionally shooting for black comedy.
  • It helps that Jim’s hosting; not that he doesn’t continue to develop a nice line in cheerily amoral reality-show hosts, but c’mon, it’s Jim. You just sort of subconsciously assume there’s a mattress under that torture tree he’s describing.
  • Albeit Mat & Lawry are both too realistically vulnerable for comedic comfort. Apropos of which, fully not buying Lawry as a champion gladiator, either. At least Mat usually contrives to sound dangerous.
  • Jim also effectively works the awww-give-Uncle-Slimy-Sociopath-a-hug on (newly brunet) Emperor Nero, and I wish I could decide if I approved or not. Seriously, every time I watch this sketch, I giggle like a complete maniac from beginning to end, then hate myself in the morning. On this last run-through, however, I have about concluded it’s worth it. Because grapes. (Also, Alice doing a satisfyingly tempestuous temptress.)
  • Speaking of — AAAHHHH THE HISTORICAL PARAMEDICS! TOO MUCH SQUEE BRAIN ALL SPLODY… erm, translation: I’d forgotten that Geoff & Nigel’s manic multi-era medical adventures would be showing up this early, and they just make my sense of humour happy all over, inasmuch as they contain the distilled and combined essence of Mat, Jim and Larry (their author) at their most engaging. Meaning they may be the closest the show has ever come to intelligent comic anarchy without actually ripping Python scenes off wholesale; at least they merge historical fact with funny more deftly than most any other sketch.
  • Oh, and can’t forget kudos for the ‘patient’, remaining heroically unconscious through all that, uh, stuff. Not real, no — but imagination can be a powerful thing, when your eyes are closed…
  • … or sometimes even when they’re not, as the not-so-glorious-except-where-the-funny’s-concerned Stone Age hunt demonstrates. The deliberate application of modern disbelief to nostalgic past-time glamour is something the show will play with more and more as they gain comedic confidence (and concurrently care less and less about being earnestly educational), and as comedy it will never not work beautifully.
  • On the other side of the ‘will it work’ thing… the (not-so) Scary Stories. Hrm. Well. The milieu evokes rampant affectionate tolerance in this reviewer, due to its resemblance to a beloved sketch comedy of her youth, the Hilarious House of Frightenstein, which featured a very similar concept (using nursery rhymes, if she remembers correctly). But she is fully aware this is a minority POV.
  • Truth is, it’s always hard to integrate Big Names into an established sketch show in general, and the heavily stylized, character-driven HH format in particular. Hence, usually, these self-contained ‘presenter’ roles wherein the BNs can safely do what made them famous. And David Baddiel, bless him, is already working it like there’s no tomorrow.
  • Which there really isn’t — because there’s literally nowhere for him to go within the concept, save to storm off the set for good, and it’s odd that the veteran HH writers didn’t realise it. For now, though, Vincenzo Larfoff and his power fez merely represent some of the more sophisticated character comedy in the show’s history. Besides which his delusional pretensions will shortly hack off his f/x crew, so that’ll be good for a further couple segments’ worth.
  • Stupid Deaths, on the other hand, is the crowd-pleasing satire that just keeps on giving – especially to producer Caroline Norris, whom (I forgot to mention earlier) gets a cameo as the sooty-faced woman in the expanded titles. We’re also treated here to one of Death’s most endearing traits: his ability to appreciate real cleverness on the corpses’ part. It’s not personal, or anything; just cosmic business. To paraphrase the Reaper himself, I do love that level of detail, I really do.
  • Related question: given that the skeletons were clearly a last-minute add-on, does that mean Simon’s interactions with them – and, it follows, potentially everyone else — are ad-lib? At any rate, yes, the bony sidekicks are back, albeit their wigs keep switching and changing colour. No idea where that’s coming from, unless they’re supposed to be rotating guest judges…
  • …did I just try to explain why the skeletons’ wigs aren’t consistent? I may have been at this too long.
  • On the other hand, the historical patchwork underlying the Will Somers sketch, (see below), is very much worthy of comment; one of the few times the show outright works facts into a fictional frame. Reality may well be stranger, etc., but it’s never quite this pat to the purpose. Great, great sketch, though — like Nero’s probably one of the best of the series, and well-matched with it. “Skilful use of the tension inherent in a comedian working to get a laugh to illuminate the insecurity of the ruled under the ruler, as expressed in fart noises”; if I ever write a masters’ thesis, that is so the first header.
  • ’Awesome USA’, huh? Right, while I’d advise not encouraging them too far, it does fit the rhyming scheme, so still not complaining… except that I think we’ve discovered Willbond the accent ‘spert’s Kryptonite, and it is wearing a cowboy hat. And we won’t even discuss the effect on Jim and Mar… oh, screw it, they’re having entirely too much fun to stop now, and so am I to care what they sound like. Ben does make a surprisingly convincing Billy the Kid otherwise.
  • Cliff Whiteley is an interesting concept, albeit a tad over-produced for the value. It also has a built-in credibility problem, given the need to position Cliff as an experienced, streetwise historical shyster whose actual knowledge of history would nevertheless be dubious on a primary-grade level — swallowing Wild Western myth-building whole, for instance, or (in an unaired segment) unaware that the Royal Family has German roots. Especially is all this worrisome since — as a later segment will indicate — Horrible Histories, the TV show, very much exists in the Whiteleyverse.

95% Accu-rat:

  • Right, so, seriously, Spartan love. The song fudges a little (about the only part of the production that does); what was ‘banned until you’re thirty’ was marriage, as in to the opposite sex, to provide children to keep the State strong and thriving. Until then… well, they spent their entire adolescence through young manhood cooped up in close proximity with other young men they were taught to rely upon absolutely as comrades-in-arms; you do the math.
  • Much has been written regarding the general Greek attitude to homosexuality, and in particular pederasty (and thanks to the Alexandria sketch much has likely been looked up prior to this), so I’ll just say here that the Greeks regarded love of all kinds much as they did anything else: as not so much a question of morality as artistic expression. Also, that actual sex didn’t necessarily have anything to do with it.
  • On the subject of the Tudors, as ever, I can provide details. Let’s break this down: a) Yes, Henry VIII had a famous jester named Will Sommers (or ‘Somers’), who could get away with an awful lot in the royal presence — although he once nearly lost his head at the royal hand for daring to be rude about Anne Boleyn. b) Yes, Queen Katharine — the otherwise wholly unremarkable, giggly young result of Henry’s midlife crisis — did sleep around, although apparently with only the one man after her marriage. c) Yes, life was a job lot simpler for everyone nearby when Henry was in a good mood.
  • And d) this is the important bit — no, a) didn’t break the news of b) to c). What actually did happen was Archbishop Cranmer (a prominent Protestant in opposition to Katharine’s powerfully Catholic Howard family) wrote a letter, and placed it where Henry would find it after evening prayers. Whereupon Henry did call for Katharine’s execution; that is, understandably humiliated and furious with it, he burst into tears and started yelling for an axe. They finally calmed him down enough to let it go through proper investigative channels, but he never did see her again.
  • That crazy Wyatt Earp, always playing fast and loose with the truth — possibly including, as it happens, when telling Cliff Whiteley what ‘really’ took place at the OK Corral. The details of that day, from the motives of the participants up to and including who had guns when, are still very much in dispute, and even scholars of the period agree the real story will never be known. (I’d *ahem* suggest the really excellent The Last Gunfight by Jeff Guinn to those interested in an in-depth overview of the Earp clan in general and their antics at Tombstone in particular.)
  • Oh, and Pearl Hart: also absolutely worth reading up in detail. Not just because — as I just discovered myself — she was Canadian-born, only a couple hours down the road from where I’m typing this (actually, the next village over from my hometown). Quite the fierce and resourceful participant in not only the Wild West but the general female mythos of her time, was our Pearl.
  • On the other hand, yes, the Pony Express, in reality much more evanescent than the romantic ideal — a characteristic it shared with pretty much all the ‘wildness’ associated with the western USA in the 1880’s, wherein the guiding principles weren’t the romantic notions of personal freedom, but the prosaic realities of money and political power.
  • Meaning this particular aspect of it wasn’t particularly mourned at the time, either, because frankly, as shown here, you couldn’t come up with a less efficient postal system if you’d actually set out to make all the lousy-service cliches come true in one stroke. As per Mystery Science Theatre 3000: “The Pony Express: When it absolutely, positively has to be there in… three-four months or so.”
  • The Nero sketch is accurate as far as it goes… which is to say, just a little bit too far for most viewers’ stomach contents. Although, interestingly, one contemporary historian suggests Poppaea Sabina was really a rather nice, thoughtful lady, who urged her Imperial husband to show mercy to the Christians.
  • But hey, it’s Emperor Nero. You just know he’s not going to delegate a detail like kicking his wife to death (and why would you specify ‘kicking’ to your hitman anyway?); he’s going to do it himself. In the stomach. While she’s pregnant. Usual disclaimers about sourcing apply, especially to whether it was intentional and/or how remorseful Nero actually was… none of which make it a pleasant story by anyone’s account.

Posted by on February 24, 2013 in Series Two


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