I had just ten years on the throne — do you remember that?
No, all that you remember is…
I was really fat.
An episode-length lesson in the ways well-intentioned ambitions can be memorable for all the — awkward — reasons. Luckily, that also happens to be a pretty good description of King George IV…
In this episode:
Song: George IV: Couldn’t Stand My Wife — Jim as the Prince Regent/King George IV, Lawry as King George III
Historical Shopping Channel — Pirate Hour
Computer Game: The Real Tomb Raider (“NO zombies! NO mummies coming back to life!” …and more to the point, no Harrison or Angelina.)
Scary Stories — The Curse of Tutankhamun (“I mean, if it’s not a real ghost story, why not get John Barrowman? Or Ant & Dec?!”)
Bob Hale — The Crusades Report (“We apologise for the technical hitch we appear to have with Bob today…”)
Unexpected Treasure — Things that don’t come up often on Talk Like a Pirate Day: once you’ve hauled in the loot, yo-ho-ho, how did the fifteen men divvy it up?
The Incan Family Players: Live Like an Inca — Or, y’know, sort of a rough approximation of an Inca. With a few pieces inexplicably borrowed from nearby cultures. Also, those hairdos. But hey, did we mention they had llamas?!
Incan Rites of Passage — Oh look, it involves a llama sacrifice! And by this point, most of the audience is probably helpfully volunteering to hold the knife!
Congratu-very-lations at Last — ‘George IV learns of his father’s death’ is one ride-the-pony move away from a world-storming dance video… until his butt gets involved. (“Um… you know what might help, what if you wore a corset?” “I AM WEARING A CORSET!!“)
Measly Middle Ages
New! Old Crone — “You’ll wonder how you ever survived on a Crusade without one!” (Warning: Old Crone is very old and may not even survive the journey. Always read the label.)
Awesome Agent Moses — Sometimes, the life-or-death fight to keep the flame of humanity and equality alive just really requires you carry around a chicken.
Poop for Sale — Roman toilet cleaners out to make some extra cash… which goes about as well as you’d expect. (“No thanks, I make me own.”)
How to Behave at a Roman Dinner Party — In which the ‘very height of civilization’ turns out to resemble that of your average four-year-old — only with even more strategic upchucking. (“Well done… that’s my feet, but well done.”)
- So… in one of life’s fun little co-incidences, we’ve reached the part of Series Two when I get to be the cultural insider. (No, I’m not American myself, but trust me on this. As we Canadians like to put it, when there’s a elephant in bed beside you, you’re naturally aware of his every move.)
- Starting with with the ongoing — and, judging by the quality of the execution, hastily-slapped-together — conceit that the Mesoamerican content is an exotic, alien interloper, being beamed from… some sort of pyramid… somewhere… via powerful Von Daniken-esque antennae. All of which leads me to wonder — why include the South American continent at all, exactly? Even if we concede the attempt to widen horizons past Western Europe, then why the Incas/Aztecs?
- Again, given the unquestioned conscientiousness of the HH production team, I’m willing to assume there’s some sort of obvious connection to Mesoamerica I’m missing here, which some thoughtful UK reader will no doubt explain to culturally-ignorant me at length shortly after post date. But until then, I’m going to go with the theory that somebody on the same production team has an ungovernable llama fetish and figured this was the safest way to work it out. ‘Cos really now, guys.
- Then there’s their take on the antebellum American South. Which is… a bit harder to wax sarcastic over. Sure it’s not incredibly nuanced, but then trying to work the funny closer to the reality — as per Series One’s experiment with Nazism — would…it just… nobody wants to deal with that. (Hence why Quentin Tarantino won an Oscar.) So the bumbling-but-right-hearted cartoonishness here can be easily excused, especially given that Harriet Tubman’s story is undeniably the most kickass angle possible to approach it from — also that our Dominique is clearly determined to be far more than the local token of diversity, and more power to her.
- Still… Jim, we can probably get along from here without your Colonel Sanders impression, ‘k? Your average plantation owner may have been morally blind, but they were capable of noticing when being fooled twice by the same damn woman within thirty seconds. Your slaves also need to hitch up their American-ness a bit — I’m still onboard re: dropping the then-authentic-now-unfortunate dialect, but staying within the same continent should’ve been doable. (Protip for any freshly-inspired future UK screenwriters: ‘brilliant!’, in America, has no use except as shorthand for ‘British!’. Go with ‘great!’ instead.)
- As for the third controversial point raised within this ep: Lawry as George III does not and could never measure up to Simon’s version. Not open for discussion, folks. Not that this diminishes the value of Lawry’s performance; he’s pulling out every tic and twitch at his disposal, which is actually pretty true to the reality of poor George’s affliction, and thus under ordinary circs would be… entirely adequate, and even charming.
- It’s only that he’s up against Simon’s particularly extraordinary command of crazy, which is like trying to dispute Einstein’s theory of relativity; it’s possible to have fun in the speculation, but the weight of reality itself is against you in the end. Literally, as it happens, given that there exist recordings of the Prom version of this episode’s song, not to mention the inset sketches produced specially for it.
- Now that that’s settled, we can get on to the stuff universally acknowledged to be wonderful, ie. that same song. Or more specifically, Jim’s performance thereof — and in the lead-in sketch, in which we meet the Prince of Whales in all his sniveling, superficial yet strangely poignant glory. Just when you’re starting to worry, the show offhandedly reminds you that they have available a performer, and vocalist, able to turn what could’ve been one-note childishness into a full-on festival of fun comic nuance. And you instantly resolve to never, ever doubt them again…
- …of course, you’re also pretty sure they’ll be easing off the llama obsession from here, which also helps a lot. (As do the clever little homages to Indy and Angelina/Lara Croft in the computer game). But mostly, it’s about the comic-nuance thing. I especially like the detail paid in re: making the song just Lite-FM enough for satirical comment, yet substantial enough for the genius to shine through. Lyrically it’s maybe a bit too heavy on the ‘I did design‘ –type forced scanning, but I suppose for once that’s true to the period.
- Basically George IV represents the apotheosis of Jim’s talents in the same way Charles II did for Mat earlier… you can tell, because the Happy Dance of Hey Dad’s Dead. Improvised of course, because no scriptwriter could possibly have seen that coming, let alone what appears to be a very authentically nonplussed Ben. You can just see him mentally resolving to never work with children, animals or inspired Howicks ever again.
- Apropos of which… now five of the six have an iconic royal alter-ego, and Lawry has Cromwell. Meanwhile Larry has: Bob Hale. This tells you everything you need to know about our Bobsy, really. Except that he’s received the first, and most dramatic, of his annual age-lifts… which in turn coincide/contrast with his level-ups in manic irrelevance. Since meth is a non-starter, my theory involves Bob’s selling his soul for his historical expertise, on the installment plan (I have a lovely sub-theory in which he finds the contract while lost looking for after-shave in Wal-Mart), and gradually becoming ever-more-aware that he’s got nothing left to lose.
- In related speculations, I note that his creator — as an offshoot of his role as go-to for all generic types — has somehow also become The One Who Inevitably Works With Children and Animals. Oh, and can’t forget being slathered with poop, because the writers sure won’t; which becomes several different types of amusing when you remember Larry is one of the writers. Not saying a decently-accessible masochistic streak is helpful re: working on HH… I’m just saying.
- The general extent to which everyone’s personality quirks are starting to shine through is also on loving display in the ‘Pirate Treasure’ sketch. As is is the general level of fun everyone had, being healthy young males wearing swashbuckling costumes and yelling ‘Arrrrrrr!’ a lot. The ending is a bit of a letdown — it feels bizarrely like Mat actually did cop out, leaving the rest unsure how to fill the gap — but s’ok, the pirate sketches are still the gold standard for the HH format: intrinsically fun, funny and interesting. (Especially Mat clearly putting some thought into whacking Larry, in light of the ‘no need to bully me today’ scene in the Series Three outtakes…)
- One minor weirdness, as per the ‘Pirate Shopping’ bit: forget it, show, that is so not Black Bart. Or if it is, I fail to see why his reputation needs to be stomped all over just because you couldn’t be bothered to respect your own continuity. Therefore, I hereby dub this guy ‘Captain Fancypants’, and now feel much better about him being snaffled by someone named ‘Cutlass Liz’.
- Apropos of fun, Ben’s having way more of it than you’d expect starring in his own private laundry-detergent advert. I totally approve of this, also note with interest that those are one more thing both sides of the pond have in common… along with (of all things) 50’s social conditioning through hokey filmstrips. Could’ve made a great recurring thing out of that, esp. with Larry as host.
- OK, Rattus, it’s an easy mistake to make, but just so everyone’s clear prior to embarrassing themselves at their next pretentious gallery opening: Agent Moses = Harriet Tubman, incredibly awesome hero of the abolitionist movement who would occasionally motivate her terrified ‘cargo’ with a loaded pistol, telling them they would ‘be free or die.’ Grandma Moses = Anna Mary Moses, incredibly cute little old lady who became an American folk-art sensation at age 78.
- Oh, and Tubman’s newspaper distraction? It worked because everyone knew she couldn’t read, not the other way around. A white Southerner of the period, however easily amused by poultry, would never take a ‘negro’ woman for an ‘educated lady’.
- Right, the Incans… without further editorial comment, may I just point out that:
- Their average day did not, in reality, consist entirely of finding new and increasingly mundane reasons to sacrifice llamas.
- The beer (called chicha, and still brewed among many South American peoples to this day) was not made of human spit, it was made with human spit, ie. they would — and occasionally still do — chew up some corn to kickstart the fermentation process. A seemingly subtle distinction, but an important one, given that the alcohol thus produced would naturally kill off any residual ick. Think of it as the way the American political process eventually killed off any residual Todd Akin; in both cases the way is now much clearer re: enjoying a refreshing beverage.
- The mass heart-ripping — as the show will concede next series — was the Aztecs’ schtick, and to a lesser extent the Mayans’, not the comparatively peaceful Incans’. Ironically, in making that mistake the show missed the chance to hilight the uniquely horrific nature of Incan sacrifice, which involved literally fattening small children up prior to leaving them on a mountain to die of exposure.
- On the other hand, the show is if anything massively understating the loathing George IV felt for his consort. Caroline, Princess of Brunswick was actually his first cousin, and their home ties were extremely important to the elders of the House of Hanover. The kids, on the other hand, were frankly enjoying the English scenery — especially the giggly, good-natured part of it wearing low-cut blouses. So yeah, the whole thing started as “Son, why don’t you settle down and marry a good German girl?” and deteriorated from there.
- It was and is generally conceded that Caroline was not the world’s most loveable personality; it has been suggested that she suffered from a mild version of whatever afflicted Uncle George III. Her escort to England, Lord Malmesbury, recorded that she lacked judgment, decorum and tact, spoke her mind too readily, acted indiscreetly, and often neglected to wash, or change her dirty clothes. He went on to say that she had “some natural but no acquired morality, and no strong innate notions of its value and necessity. Or, as my Treasury of Royal Scandals puts it, a ‘crude, foul-smelling exhibitionist’, whose hobbies — after her inevitable separation from her royal husband — included sending ‘obscene and harassing’ letters to her new neighbors.
- Regardless of all of which — and a lot more she never bothered to hide — the public inevitably took her side in every effort her husband made to rid himself of her for good, simply because they couldn’t bear to think of taking the Prince of Whales’ part in anything. Jane Austen, summing up the general theme, sniffed in a letter: Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman and because I hate her Husband. (Which incidentally became a problem when the object of her hatred revealed himself as one of her *ahem* biggest admirers, for which etiquette demanded Emma be dedicated to him.)
- The show’s portrayal of George IV is an exaggeration based on that perception: as the man himself claims, despite his pathological self-indulgence, he was neither unintelligent, uncultured nor unkind… and frankly was quite the ‘stunning show pony’ for much of his life. As time wore on, however, it became increasingly harder to find any of it under all the chomping, slurping and… other stuff. The famous Voluptuary Under the Horrors of Digestion by James Gillray about sums up the result — note that among the bottles are remedies for venereal disease.
- Yeah, the Curse of Tutankhamun, pretty much entirely discredited for the reasons outlined. I mention it here mostly as an excuse to share this even more hilariously OTT cursed-mummy story, which is of about the same vintage and hauls in the Titanic for good measure.
- The Real! Tomb Raider business rather overstates the case, inasmuch as in the real reality, you’d have a brace of native labourers to do most of that grunt work for you. Your job would be basically to stand around barking directions and generally being all White Man’s Burden-y until there were signs of a significant discovery being made. At which point poor dear you also took on the wearisome business of taking all the credit and becoming an international celebrity. (One thing you would probably not be doing is wandering around in full formal dress — even Victorians knew not to wear black-tie in the desert!)