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S03E12

I go berserk and my eyes go glazy,
I get so mad I could stab a daisy!
(But I won’t, cos that’d be… stupid.)

The interlude series says farewell with a sweet-natured microcosm of everything that always makes the show watchable… Party on, Horrible Histories, party on.

In this episode:

Song: Celtic Boast Battle — Mat and Jim as the quick-witted combatants, with Ben on beatbox and Larry on general inappropriateness.

Recurring sketches:

Historical Pet Shop — Greek

HHTV News: Isthmian Games — “Well, the bad news is, your prize is just a celery hat.” “So what’s the good news? “The good news is, I bought this delicious Greek dip. Mmmm… now that is rich.”

Cliff Whiteley — Stonehenge… But Why? (“Love the place. Favourite ‘henge, hands down. Got a piccy on the wall and everything.”)

Horrible Points of View — Stuart

One-offs:

Measly Middle Ages

Medieval Job Security — In the plague-riddled Dark Ages, a serf’s mere pustule-free existence was his ticket to better things… in the plague-riddled Dark Ages. Either way, this wasn’t gonna end well.

Dance Fever — A combination of spiritual stress and corporeal futility (and did we mention the plague thing?) somehow becomes the Ecstasy equivalent of medieval Germany.

Groovy Greeks

Festival News: Thesmophoria — Exploring the sacred mysteries of the feminine by… well, look, so we’ve all seen Clueless, right? Yeah, picture that, only with quite a bit more sitting in dead rotten pig to make crops abundant.

Cut-Throat Celts

Poetry in Motion — So there was this ancient Irish king who was so annoyed by his court poets he had anyone who dared to rhyme words banished… and if you can’t figure out how it goes from there, you may want to go lie down for a little bit yourself.

Savage Stone Age

Stonehenge vs. the Pyramids (animated) — Yep, they’re contemporaries. Thus explaining why the Egyptian native bearers didn’t exactly freak out with awe when the European archaeologists showed up to excavate their tombs.

Angry Aztecs

Aztec Hi-Tec All-In-One Cactus — It’s a sewing kit, it’s a meal kit, it’s a roof-mending kit, it’s even a winemaking kit! “There’s nothing you can’t do with a cactus — apart from use it as a seat…”

Chuckle Resin — “Tree, seriously, you’re making me eat tree?!” Calm down, Ben, in all cultures including your own chewing gum’s been derived from tree resin since ancient times… the crushed insects are new, though, I grant you. “Oh, that’s OK then! I love crushed insects!”

Slimy Stuarts

The Man Who Stole the Crown Jewels — Charles II, aka The Man Who Spent His Youth Hiding in Oak Trees, grants an audience to the one man in England who has an even more implausible tale to tell. Loveable roguishness proceeds to abound. (“You must come ’round to the palace for tea! You can regale us with your funny stories!” “I’ve got a fabulous one about the time I was plotting to kill you!”)

Field Notes:

  • So here we are at the end of Series Three: the distilled and collected Essence de HH, in one convenient thirteen-episode package. If not a wildly fascinating innovative romp from the reviewer’s POV, still the perfect backdrop against which to have swept their first BAFTAs and held a wildly successful Prom and just generally firmly cemented their status as a modern classic of (technically at least) children’s TV.
  • That they were working basically laterally, from a creative standpoint, is still interesting inasmuch as it becomes a process of refining what was working from previous series and throwing out what wasn’t… well, mostly; see the Return of the Mesoamerican Pyramid Beam-In below, also the Scary Stories from previous weeks. On the other hand: Historical Masterchef, the HParamedics, the return of George IV & Charles II, and did I mention the music? Because it really was incredibly awesome.
  • In fact, this is how I now think of S3 after this in-depth closeup: several very cool sketches and some incredibly awesome music. Which, yeah, is sort of exactly how I thought of it before. But now I have reasons.
  • Including, definitely, this week’s tune. By way of leaving viewers once again with a don’t-forget-to-miss-us flourish, we are presented with Jim and Mat — the same guys who last ep were babbling happily about top hats — for aaaallll the fearsomeness. And the hell of it is, it works! Really. With the help of songwriting that demonstrates just how neatly and completely expert that process has become, the Boast Battle somehow manages to be a comprehensive lesson in gangsta styling while still being cuddly enough not to give the gradeschoolers any ideas.
  • Had Disney decided to produce The Story of Gang Warfare circa roughly 1956, this is exactly what it would’ve looked like, is what I am trying to say here. Right down to the Mutt-and-Jeff thing with one tall bearded guy and one pudgy little guy painted blue (in not-entirely-unrelated news, my Howick plushie will now be coming with fabric paint and a washable surface).
  • The rest of the f/x, on the other hand… yeah, they were doing surprisingly really well with the stabbing, right up until that cut back to Jim apparently trying not to lose a file folder under his arm as he beats feet. Also, according to Jim’s dance moves, frogs are reptiles now. And Larry… oh, Larry. What can you say at this point? I am thinking that it’s fundamentally a sort of a Pavlov’s dog thing. Start up the music and watch his inhibitions vanish.
  • Oh, so the Historical Pet Shop wasn’t going away just yet, sorry. Soon though, right? Athough, frankly, I must admit that if they all had involved Jim and Martha thus together I might’ve been inclined to be sorry they’re gone, especially in combination with the thought experiment explained via squeaky toy. There’s a weirdly irrelevant performer intimacy going on here — culminating in Martha clearly just barely holding it together at the sight of Jim in a toga. Sort of torn re: whether I want to know or not, really.
  • “I’ll be up in a minute!” — yeah, and three segments later I’m increasingly convinced that our Historical POV host has Ma Bates up there waiting. Come to think on it, this whole setup looks rather alarmingly like the glimpse we get of Death’s home life in the Halloween special, complete with wildly unnecessary middle-class fussiness. They were really building something intriguing here re: Horrible entertainment choices, and I’m really sad that I’ll never get to find out just what the deal is with that floral arrangement, at least.
  • Anyway, this is easily the best of the three POV pieces we do get… except, hang on, didn’t he handle complaints from the Stuart Era just last segment? Just how much do they have to dose the poor guy with to keep him going, anyway? Enough that he hears taxidermied people calling him upstairs? (In reality, of course, they’ve just aired the two segments out of production order. One benefit of technically being kiddy TV: v.short viewer attention spans, either real or conveniently attributable.)
  • Wow, genuinely lush-looking robes on Simon in the plague sketch there… actually, rather lush-looking and -sounding Simon all over, come to rewind that a few times. This wouldn’t be a huge selling point for me usually, but there’s literally nothing else on offer here but ridiculously engaging and attractive people, so hey, bring on the closeups. By now — speaking of refining what works — the troupe can in fact rescue a formulaic sketch merely by existing. Even so, in this case they had to haul in Farnaby and Baynton to make it work.
  • Which is actually kind of cool, inasmuch as it finally gives Mat a plausible venue towards combining his clownishly funny with his disturbingly vulnerable: the reliable ol’ poor-schmuck-convinced-against-his-will schtick, first seen in the earlier ‘sausage smuggler’ bit and refined here to the extent that the result is almost preternaturally adorable, not to say a perfect foil for Simon’s florid obtuseness.
  • While I’m on about Mat and perfect foils, I must give props to the silky-voiced and supremely funny — two things not often found combined — Rhashan Stone, HHTV Sport announcer and sometime Egyptian architect among other things. He’s done yeoman’s service this series especially, and I’ve not mentioned it once, totally my bad. I love him in the Isthmian Games sketch not only for the ‘now that is rich’ bit but for being a perfect backdrop to Mat getting a rare chance this series to let his face run completely riot
  • Check that: there was also Charles II, and Mat (along with the writer, clearly) is still in complete excited-puppy mode over this. Possibly because this is Charlie’s big chance to think with his actual brain, rather than… well, you get the idea. Helping him along is Simon, and at one point Ben in jester’s bells, and it is all just this impossible swirl of sweetly charming that defies any rational attempt to pin down what makes it work. I’ve watched it like, ten times now at least, and still no luck. I do however seem to have a permanent goofy grin plastered across my face.
  • Oh and hey, dig Dominique in that groovy ‘fro! Also, welcome to the first HH sketch to feature exactly none of the male cast, and perhaps not coincidentally a lot of excited squealing. Seriously though, I’m not gonna complain too much; it’s not my thing, but it is a well-put-together mashup of offbeat subject and familiar stereotype, and actresses wise enough to go for the affectionate rather than shrill parody add a few redeeming layers of smart and clever.
  • I have sometimes wondered why the show doesn’t cover more Irish history… and having now had a chance to listen closely to the Irish poetry sketch I’ll be considering that one answered, thank you. Seriously, Rickard, those little groans you’re hearing aren’t your juvenile audience, they’re leprechauns. And they are currently wondering why, in a country that frowns on Lucky Charms cereal for being offensively stereotypical, they still have to listen to your brogue.
  • Watched on the firm assumption that it’s a one-off, though, there’re still rewards to be had. Like for instance Jim all-but-warming up for Hippie Viking Paul Simon, which makes Mat’s sceptical reaction to him absolutely freaking hilarious in hindsight. Also Ben gets a chance to haul out his clueless blustering monarch stuff, which never fails to raise a smile — especially when said stuff is correctly accented, which in this case may actually have raised a tear of gratitude.
  • So of all the recurring characters to revive for no apparent reason, they go with Cliff ‘Whallop!’ Whiteley. Great. I could be watching a Caveman Art Show segment right now, show, but noooooooo, I have to sit through your apparently endless supply of ‘early man’ gags.
  • That said, the overall premise of this CW bit is genuinely witty, and handled with a gently appealing good humour, esp. as a followup to the fun but rather bluntly factual animation. It’s overall a fascinating and important enough subject that I’d rather have seen it all treated as standalone live-action, but am still not complaining. Encouraging kids to think outside their national, cultural and racial boxes: teaching history, ur doin it rite.
  • On the subject of more inexplicable decisions in that arena, as noted, we’re suddenly back to treating the Mesoamericans as some sort of outlandish artifact being beamed in from a David Icke daydream. Because the song clearly wasn’t enough evidence that this is an unusually exotic culture. A desert-oriented people somehow making use of cactus is just way too weird, man.
  • This is all especially irritating because so unnecessary; the sketches themselves are already everything that is quintessentially HH, silly and funny and fascinating all at once, not to say featuring cactus pulp that looks interestingly like leftover Flubber. One would think that the principle ‘you have Ben and Larry trying desperately not to laugh at each other, you already have everything you need for supreme viewer happiness’ would be a major guiding production lodestone at this point.
  • The Dance Fever sketch. Yes. Whoa. OK, Mat, I’ve been putting this off, on the assumption that your on-camera dance moves are something learned in clown class (How to Come as Close as You Can to a Seizure Without Actually Attracting Paramedics 101, was my specific guess) but I’m starting to consider the possibility that this might be your usual music-moving MO in actual and possibly mixed company, and, uh, yeah. Whoo-boy. I think you may be the first human being ever to have figured out how to look exactly like a Guitar Hero avatar of yourself, if that’s any consolation.

95% Accu-rat:

  • So, yeah, dancing mania. A fascinating phenomenon, and not just confined to Strasbourg. In fact the earliest recorded outbreak happened in 1374, and the last somewhere in the 17th century… and still nobody knows what happened. I mean, given that everyone’s pretty certain Grimm’s tales weren’t actually a documentary. Thing is, though, you’ve got apparently-entranced people prancing around 24/7, yelling, sobbing and singing, sometimes naked, sometimes making rude gestures, and — why not? — sometimes becoming violent at the sight of the colour red… you do start to wonder
  • Personally, as mentioned above, I’m all for the ‘it was the freaking Dark Ages, this made as much sense as anything else’ school of thought, but must admit some of the other explanations are a lot more morbidly spectacular, including mass ergotism (remember Larry twitching uncontrollably last series? I mean, as a result of ergotism particularly?), mass encephalitis, mass epilepsy, mass spider bite (hence the ‘tarantella’, a dance originally thought to cure this specific manifestation)…. Mass demon possession, that was of course a big one.
  • From the yep-they-weren’t-making-this-up files, vol 347: The Festival of Thesmophoria. Actually a sort of religious cult of the type that often cropped up around specific ancient god/esses, in this case Demeter, goddess of the earth and hence the harvests thereon. Those of you currently nodding thoughtfully and thinking ‘boy, I bet there’s a lot went on there even HH couldn’t show,’ you may now give yourselves a cooky. Or a ‘male genital organ made of dough’ and decorated with a pine branch, as you like — although I might just mention it’s been in that pit for three months along with the dead piglet.
  • Details are a bit fuzzy — Greek women weren’t commonly taught to write, remember? — but essentially, what you had here was a sort of classical version of Sex and the City, in which women could let their hair down and get in touch with their inner inappropriately sassy babe: The remains [of the piglet] were thought to have magic properties and, if mixed with cereal seeds and sown in the fields, to ensure a good crop. These procedures brought the women into contact with death and decay: this was the subterranean element in the cult. But it also brought them into contact with fertility and the erotic, via the dough models.
  • …oh, and the pig thing? When Demeter’s daughter Persephone was abducted by Hades, the ‘swine of the pigman Eubulis’ somehow disappeared into the earth with her. Because ancient Greece. The more you know.
  • Incidentally, about Stonehenge: the official website would like you to be aware that it — or actually they, what you’re looking at is actually three of them, built over a millennia on the same site — was actually pretty damn impressive, thank you very much. Thirty million man-hours’ worth of construction is not hay. The website is surprisingly tactful on the subject of its purpose, but it’s generally believed to have involved some sort of monumental or religious significance, because duh.
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Posted by on June 10, 2013 in Series Three

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

S03E09

To win at war, make crops grow more, to cure our kids when ill,
The sun to shine, this song to rhyme, more victims we must kill!

Wondering where the Aztecs got to? Well, wonder no more. As it turns out, human sacrifice is a lot more entertaining than llama ditto… how to tell if you’re a serious HH fan: if that last sentence made sense.

In this episode:

Song: Aztec Priests’ Song (Ain’t Stayin’ Alive) — Larry, Mat and Jim as the terrible tooth-licking trio (Parody of: the Bee Gees, feat. Stayin’ Alive)

Recurring sketches:

Historical Pet Shop — Victorian (“I have never been so insulted by a woman with a frog!”)

Computer Game: Splat That Rat! — …Or at least, as much of the game as they can get through before the host objects on, erm, rodentarian grounds. (“A line of decency has definitely been crossed here! If there’s any more like this I’ll…I’ll be writing a stiff letter of complaint to the Daily Mail! You know I will! You know I will!“)

Come Dine With Me — Medieval (“Next guest is Derek, who commits the ultimate social faux pas of dying of the plague the moment he steps through the door!”)

One-offs:

Vicious Vikings

Author of His Fate — Monks-vs-Vikings, interlude: A literate brother convinces some decidedly illiterate raiders to spare him so he can record their ‘heroic exploits’ for all time… unfortunately, the reviews are savage. Literally.

We Sell Any Monk — “From our new market city of Dublin!… Fat ones! Slim ones! Bright ones! Dim ones!… One to read! One to write! Not much good in a fight!”

Vile Victorians

The Victorian Traffic Report — Much like medieval ditto, Victorian streets were also awash in poo. Because horses. Next!

Terrible Tudors

The Price of Confusion — A savvy seaside merchant confirms to a naive traveler what the rest of the world has suspected for quite some time now: pre-decimal British coinage was pretty much made up as they went along.

Silly Tudor Laws — Another mini-Blackadder episode, in which a nobleman is forced by Elizabeth I to first wear a woolly hat, then remove his sword-impeding cloak, and then his royals-only purple doublet… leading inevitably to: Cecil, there appears to be a naked man in our throne room….”

Angry Aztecs

Aztec Gardener’s World: Live From Ancient Mexico — “So to make an irrigation system we’re going to need a bow, and plenty of arrows… some red paint… and of course, a person to sacrifice. An enemy warrior is best — but an annoying assistant will do.”

Aztec Whodunnit-O — “This year’s must-have board game! With thousands of sacrifices to the sun god every week, it’s a game you can play again and again!”

Frightful First World War

Inspecting the Troops — When soldiers are being slaughtered by the millions year after year, eventually the recruiting offices stop being so picky about stuff like, say, age and/or gender…

Rotten Romans

Tabellarii Messenger — Rome’s Premier Mobile Slave Service! (“Always there for you! And at the bargain price of a little food and water a month, you can enjoy unlimited messages!”)

Got to Be Smuggling Something — Trying to get unauthorized weapons into Rome: as it turns out, not something you want to attempt around lunchtime. “Wait, wait! It’s not really a sausage, it’s more of a frankfurter!”

Field Notes:

  • And thus we have arrived at possibly the most unique — and uniquely polarizing — tune in HH history… also, of course, some very chuckle-worthy sketches, but still. In a series full of “brilliant song, and oh yeah, there was also an episode…” moments, the One With the Psychedelic Disco Aztecs stands out because, frankly, once you’ve seen that video the entire rest of the show feels anti-climactic for awhile.
  • Personally, I unreservedly love the whole production and squeeze it and call it George. Because it has the absolute courage of its comedy convictions, because within them it is brilliantly intuitive — hey, a cruelly decadent culture fascinated with shiny things, what other genre you gonna call? — and deftly funny with it…
  • …and because, well, Larry. It’s his first and thus far only musical lead, and anyone even remotely familiar with the show knows by now how Rickard reacts to this kind of major chance, yes? Right, exactly that, complete even to the smouldering gaze at the end. And — although technical details don’t really apply — impressively not-vocally-cringey to boot. Of course it also hits square right in Mat’s performance zone and, rather more startlingly, Jim’s vocal ditto — those high notes are impressive, even for him.
  • So yes, in comedy terms at least there is something irresistibly over-the-top ridiculous about a culture in which even a placid garden show requires WATERING THE SOIL WITH THE BLOOD OF INNOCENTS. Especially when same is formatted as one of Ben & Jim’s classic demo sketches. The central gag may be contrived — and it might just be worth noting, the ominous Red Spot ends up nowhere near the annoying assistant’s heart — but watching these two together behind a table is never not worth it.
  • I must also take a moment to display heartfelt gratitude to the makeup team, who evidently have done some research between series, let’s just leave it at that. I’m not completely sure how authentic the replacement is — let alone how they got it up Ben’s nose — only that it can’t possibly be mistaken for blackface, and thus I am one happy North American reviewer.
  • Of course, the spectacle of Willbond the wannabe Hispanic will never not be hilariously awkward anyway; I’m trying to picture a scenario in which eager young Benjamin W. envisions a career that will involve wearing that costume, and I’m failing miserably. Ditto, come to think of it, for Jim and that Dutch-bob wig.
  • Anyway, Ben recoups in the Tudor money bit; casting directors looking for the villain of their next implausible action movie take note, Willbond has that ‘looking suave while rattling off a pointlessly complex monologue’ thingy nailed. (Bonus costuming advice: he looks really good in dove grey. You’re welcome.) At the very least, when he inevitably gets his BAFTA nom, this and the ‘Causes of WWI’ are totally the clips they should be playing.
  • Meantime, the Aztec board game bit likewise does a nicely clever job of getting the whole wildly mundane “if this is Thursday, it must be time to rip the hearts out of more hapless prisoners” thing across, with for the non-UK viewer bonus insight into what marketers think the average suburban British family considers quality time with each other. This turns out to be rather interestingly tea-and-crumpet-stereotype free, although… uh, so you lot really do call it ‘Cluedo’? You don’t think the extra syllable might be just a weensy bit unnecessary? No? Right, just checking.
  • Speaking of unnecessary…  The 2nd Baron Rothschild is back, everybody! He and his menagerie have worked their way up patiently through three series, from a mention, to an animation, and now here he is in the flesh! Even the Wiki episode list has noticed this by now! Let’s give him a great big hand!…
  • …yeah, I don’t get it either. At all. My best guess — which I tend to run in my head anyway as a more amusing alternative to one more HPet Shop bit — involves somebody back in the BBC boardroom with a childhood nostalgia for zebras, and the production crew’s increasingly desperate attempts to simoultaneously keep both him and the audience happy: “Look, Ben, we’ll put you in the extra-shiny suit, and you do the Henry VIII voice, OK? And Larry, you distract from the side… What? I don’t know, um, something with side-whiskers.”
  • Or we could just go with the much more artistically appealing ‘satirical comment on relative human/animal empathy’ angle, seeing as how this sacrifice-n-slavery-filled episode also features Rattus finally boiling right over at the treatment of his ancestors. I am at any rate guessing this would not be a good time to mention a) that he’s even more adorable when he’s bristling with rage and b) all those other skits in which rodents bought it without a squeak from him.
  • About that ‘We Sell Any Monk’ sketch… I gather it was one of the big fan-favourite hits from S3, so the reason I’m sitting here totally baffled is because it’s clearly parodying something UK-centric, yes? Involving your version of entrepreneurs overcompensating for low commercial budgets by being as insanely annoying as humans didn’t even think was possible? If so, I understand, and even sympathise… but I also hate those commercials so much that even Jim (in hilariously denim-y armour) can’t compensate.
  • Oh, goody, new and exciting ways to demonstrate how cheap life was in the WWI trenches! And hey, just for fun, let’s ensure that Mat’s uniform is two sizes too big for him, that won’t help the viewer’s increasingly morbid sense of doom at all!
  • Still, it is a pretty clever plot twist, as these sketches go. Also, it features the return of Major-General Chucklehead, which totally works like a little ray of sunshine cutting through the gloom. I’m honestly starting to enjoy Simon more when he’s doing restrained than full-on crazy; much more engagingly unpredictable.
  • So I’m thinking anyone still concerned with how familiar the HH crew is with the world of online fandom in general and fanfic in particular may want to re-watch this latest monks-vs-Vikings bit — “Write about my biceps!”, featuring both Cosplay Warrior Ben and Nordic Larry — because the answer is at least possibly, not to say amusingly, ‘very’. I suppose the parody target could be considered generic romance novels… but that raises a whole new set of hilarious side questions re: sheer authenticity.
  • On a not-exactly-brighter-but-definitely-less-fraught note, while the Medieval Come Dine With Me covers too much familiar ground to be really memorable, I do cherish the whole zany-Perrault-parody vibe of Martha’s ‘Lady Cranky-Portcullis’ , especially as pointed out the snarkily aware narrator. Sort of Shrek-esque, only refreshingly free of the stench of commercial desperation.
  • Like, for instance, Elizabeth I. Great sketch, the Silly Tudor Laws, not least for what’s also hands-down the ultimate best use of Ben’s smug ever. (The little tiny “Ta-dah!” — that there is comic skills, people.)  The whole thing basically runs on everyone’s personality come to that, up to and including Saucer-Eyed Larry the guard; because when you give it a second’s thought, it makes no sense whatsoever that they wouldn’t get it all over — hat, cloak, purple — in one shot.
  • I would however forgive much more for the increasingly rare glimpse of Mat being purely Mat. Pity having to cover that hair with the woolly hat, but the “I thought it was rather fetching”… yeah, nice to have you back, Baynton. (Incidentally, the the outtake from the ‘naked’ scene, as included on the DVD, makes a priceless bonus treat: “Now, Mat, if you’ll just put your fingers back on your nipples…” “Well, THAT’S a direction I never thought I’d hear.”)
  • Apropos of which… the Tabellari messenger service bit… sure, why not? Victor Borge’s ‘animated punctuation’ routine could stand the updating — particularly, the addition of emoticons. May I just suggest that Mat has now officially more than earned back whatever that miming course particularly was worth, and probably the rest of the clown school cost on that one “Heart attack! Sad face!” bit. I especially enjoy the little incoming signal… oh, and Ben the ‘upgrade’. Yep, fangirls — they know. Oh, yes, they know.
  • Wow, quite the little Bag of Weapons Holding our sad-sack sausage smuggler has there. Exactly how big is this invasion force, anyway? And why on earth isn’t Confidentius there pulling this off himself? Yes, overthinking again, I know, but I can’t help it, Mat does such an unsettlingly effective job of playing vulnerable that it forces the viewer to deal with it in reality. This is one of many reasons I’m seriously intrigued by his new series, The Wrong Mans.

95% Accu-rat:

  • Right, the Aztecs — or as they preferred it, the ‘Mexica’ — and their unique need to keep the blood flowing (human, animal, bird, probably the odd iguana, they really weren’t picky) lest the forces of darkness overpower the sun ….no, seriously. I remain slightly disappointed that the show has never expanded further on the full-blown telenovela, only even less plausible, that was at one point the Mexican national religion.
  • While the nature and number of sacrifices is (of course) disputed, with more recent revisionist scholarship moving the numbers down from mindboggling to merely horrifying, no-one disputes that the Aztecs’ need to placate the bloodthirsty gods they envisioned as controlling the universe influenced nearly every aspect of their lives. I mean, that sun kept disappearing behind sissy little clouds and stuff! Clearly, it needed all the help it could get.
  • Enter the xochiyaoyotl, or ‘flower wars’: a sort of low-level ongoing series of skirmishes fought with surrounding tribes that had the dual purpose of sharpening up Aztec youths for real battle and… well, let us just say that all those POWs had to come from somewhere. Can’t you just imagine the Aztecs’ innocently wounded surprise, when the Spanish conquistadores did finally show up to vanquish them, that these same surrounding tribes didn’t instantly come running to offer help and succour?
  • Although in real life the victims were actually accorded great honour, to the point where, believe it or not, some of them went to the, uh, ripping block quite willingly. Ritual cardiac amputation would at least mean a relatively quick and painless death, and more to the point, ensure you were immediately resurrected to join the good fight against those aforementioned forces of darkness. Basically, Aztecs believed in a heaven consisting entirely of being leveled up to the most awesome World of Warcraft quest ever.
  • Oh, and incidentally, blood is actually a great fertilizer that’s still in use today — all those proteins and minerals and nitrogen and whatnot are just the stuff to make the garden grow… and, as it turns out, other animals, too. Just try not to think about that, next time you’re enjoying a yummy Big Mac, ‘k?
  • Just for the record (358th in an ongoing series): William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley. Not to put too fine a point on it, but he was already roughly Ben’s age by the time he and the 25-year-old Princess Elizabeth first made contact, and by this point… yeah, OK, I’ll stop being a killjoy now.
  • At least they got the attitude more or less correct; Cecil was generally distrustful of the handsome male courtiers his boss liked to surround herself with, and a little overt humiliation wouldn’t have come amiss… except that he totally would’ve foreseen the nudity thing & planned accordingly. Dude was a political badass.
  • …unfortunately, this meant that neither he nor ‘Sir William’ were actually bound by the woolly-hat law. After all, in Tudor reality — and as you may have gathered by how stupid they look with all the satin and whatnot onscreen — wool caps were entirely the trademark of the working-class, and thus, as per this actual page on Tudor Hats: …in 1571 a law was passed which ordered everyone over the age of six to wear a woollen cap on Sundays and on holidays in order to help England’s wool trade. Needless to say royalty and the nobility were excused from obeying this law.
 
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Posted by on May 19, 2013 in Series Three

 

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S03E06

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!”)

One-offs:

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.
 
4 Comments

Posted by on May 5, 2013 in Series Three

 

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S03E02

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

William!


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

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

In this episode:

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

Recurring sketches:

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

Words We Get From the — Greeks

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

Historical Pet Shop — Georgian

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

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

One-offs:

Nasty Knights

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

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

Slimy Stuarts

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

Gorgeous Georgians

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

Vile Victorians

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

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

Field Notes:

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

95% Accu-rat:

  • *Sigh* Y’know, show, I’m not saying you’re wrong to ensure Richard III gets all the sympathy for being the victim of a vicious propaganda smear campaign… merely that it’s a bit hypocritical to still be simoultaneously totally OK (at least, until S4) with going along with Protestant propagandists in painting Mary I as this horrifically ‘scary’ ghoul whom everyone ‘dreaded’.
  • In reality, most of Mary’s problems stemmed from her being entirely too nice, not to say naiive. She was entirely lacking the trademark shrewd Tudor political sense, preferring to rule according to the dictates of her conscience — which you can imagine how well that went over, even in the sixteenth century. Especially once the same conscience started insisting that she give ‘heretics’ a taste of fiery hell for their own good.
  • Didn’t help that she was in fact convinced she had been preserved by God Himself through all the indignities Henry heaped on her and her mother,  in order that Mary might bring England back into full accord with the dictates of the True Church — a perception that was only strengthened when, despite being formally declared illegitimate and stiff-armed out of the succession by Lady Jane Grey, she was hailed to the throne in a massive popular uprising.
  • This, incidentally, is why Jane is left off the song here: it was then hastily decided that Henry VIII’s will, which named his daughters ahead of her, had never been legally superseded because his son Edward’s subsequent codicil had never been ratified by Parliament (as all changes to the succession must be). Thus, along with all the other indignities that come with being all-but-forced onto the throne at fifteen and then executed for it at sixteen for reasons likewise largely beyond her control, Jane is officially only a pretender to the throne, who was never crowned besides.
  • Well, I gotta admit I was sceptical, but it turns out ambergris — now used mostly as a fixative for certain high-end perfumes — was totally a thing you sprinkled on your 17th-century breakfast eggs, and maybe also in your drinking chocolate. That is, once it was actually horked up by the sperm whale, then washed up on some rocks, then completely dried out so as to lose the ‘fecal’ smell… yeah, ‘phlegm’ turns out to be a rare instance of the show putting it kindly.
  • Anyway, the real thing has much more of a crunchy crumbly texture than shown here, and has in fact managed to impress at least one modern foodie connected with Gourmet magazine. It was also reputedly an aphrodisiac, which, y’know, explains Charles II’s enthusiasm — and also possibly his death; as the link explains his fatal stroke was sudden enough, and his affection for a pungent ambergris appetizer well-known enough, to give rise to theories that it was used to mask the taste of poison.
  • No, of course Elizabeth ‘Bess’ Throckmorton Raleigh didn’t hold dinner parties seated opposite her husband’s head on a stick! Geez, people. She was a strong-willed, intelligent lady, and by all accounts was deeply in love with her Walter — so after he was beheaded for treason she, um, had his head embalmed and kept it in a special red leather case instead. Which she in turn kept near her person more or less at all times, which I can see making afternoon tea a bit awkward. But not dinner parties.
 
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Posted by on April 21, 2013 in Series Three

 

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