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S04E10

So the Normans built a huge wooden tower for a witch to curse the Saxons, and show them her bottom. The Saxons got revenge by burning the tower down… hence the old saying: Red sky at night, witches’ bottom alight!

The annual late-series lull is enlivened by long-overdue time spent with some of the show’s most memorably enigmatic characters… just not necessarily quality time.

In this episode:

Song: Bloody Mary — Sarah solo as that most angsty of anomalies: a pathetic Tudor princess. (Parody of: Kate Bush, Wuthering Heights)

Recurring sketches:

HHTV News: Mike Peabody Live — From just off the coast of the Isle of Ely, last Anglo-Saxon stronghold, 1071 (“So I presume there’s a Plan B, Your Majesty?” “Yes, of course there’s a Plan B!” “Which is?” “Right. But I think one witch ought to do it, don’t you?”)

Stupid Deaths — Pythagoras (Killed when his religious beliefs prevented him from escaping assassins through a beanfield… no, really. “Well, you’ve been stupid… or, rather, you’ve bean stupid! Hah!”)

Historical Wife Swap — Victorian Britain: The Tombleby-Pumblechooks of Mayfair (“Oh, dash it all, Parkins! We have guests, and there’s a crease in the newspaper!“) -vs- the Smikes of the London slums (“An’ if we kick the dead body out of the way, we’ll have somewhere for you to kip for the night!”)

Historical Dating Service — Saxon (“Can I ask a personal question?” “Sagittarius.” “Noooo, not that one. Do Saxons ever… bathe… at all?”)

One-offs:

Measly Middle Ages

Normanopoly — “The board game that lets you invade England alongside William the Conqueror!… and the great thing is, you can just make up the rules as you go along!” (“Well, I better build another church, I’m about to do something… reeeeeeaaaaallly bad! Heh heh heh…” “…You need to work on your evil laugh, boss.”)

Groovy Greeks

Diogenes and Me — In which the most famously crusty of ancient thinkers reveals the extreme unlikelihood of his philosophy of honesty and simplicity ever hitting the best-seller lists… (“Hey! Whaddaya think you’re doing?” “Oh, sorry, mate, I had no idea there was a naked man in that barrel… wait, why is there a naked man in that barrel?!”)

Smashing Saxons

Don’t Go Into the Woods — “OK, then… we must journey through the rocks!” “Are you insane? We can’t go through the rocks! Giants live in the rocks!” “Have you seen one?” “No… but I’ve seen things they built! Big, huge things!” “What, you mean the… rocks?” “Speak not of them!

Putrid Pirates

New! Keelhauling: The Ultimate Exfoliating Experience — The pirate skin care revolution!... Sharp barnacle-studded ship keel not included… but the introductory lashing is free!

HHTV Cribs: Inside Blackbeard — The legendary badass of the seven seas somehow decides to celebrate this by appearing on an MTV parody more frequently associated with the likes of Justin Timberlake. Truly, the Time Sewers work in mysterious ways.

Terrible Tudors

Whipping Boy — How do his teachers punish a Prince when they’re all commoners? Why, find a commoner to punish instead, of course.

Field Notes:

  • So here we are once again at that inevitable little valley in every HH series, into which the producers basically dump off all the stuff that just was never going to make the BAFTA hilight reel. By now it’s practically become a tradition in and of itself — and it can be equally interesting, in its own way.
  • Especially so in this series full of elaborate experiments, wherein creative failure translates mostly to the pieces that rely too much on the tried-and-true schticks. Which obviously isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. Most everything here would’ve quite possibly been the hilight of, say, mid-Series Three — but now, when the standard is soaring to new heights, they fall with a clunk… one not un-reminiscent of a fake snowball, in fact.
  • Thus it’s kind of ironic that ‘Bloody’ Mary I as interpreted by Kate Bush, ie. the ultimate in potential misfires, is the one thing in the episode that not only works but succeeds amazingly well. Both in style and substance — features some of the best pure songwriting of the series, in fact. And a great performance from Sarah… no, really. As it is the flailing gets a bit tiresome toward the end, imagine what could’ve been had she not thrown herself into it and made it work.
  • The execution is nice, too. Kind of a shame Alice couldn’t have had a crack at the vocal though, since real-life Mary had a much deeper, almost gruff voice. She was also renowned for her love of rich fabrics and bling; granted they’d be much harder to flail in, but it still would’ve made a nice accurate textural wrinkle, so to speak, and…
  • OK, fine, mostly what we’ve learned here is that I’m never going to be happy. But the more I listen, the more I’m convinced by the pure visceral rightness of the creative response at least. They’ve finally developed some real, delicate sensitivity where the Tudors are concerned. Not only limiting themselves to only the one brief maniacal smile re: the burnings, actually giving Mary a chance to hint at the moral complexity behind them! Good show! Have a cooky.
  • Giving William I depth and nuance, on the other hand, not so much on the agenda. Understandably, since having Farnaby’s grasp of non-sequitur loopiness around means you always want to get your money’s worth… and boy howdy, do they get it here. Even though I kind of miss the original magnificently elaborate costuming, not to mention Greg the loyal squire.
  • Anyway, sticking Gallic Simon front and centre has in turn has resulted in Ben having all kinds of trouble keeping a straight face, to the extent that it rather spoils the Peabody effect. Can’t blame him much for that, I’m sitting here tickled all over myself. And he does contrive eventually to get himself trapped in a burning tower with a witch showing her bottom, thus neatly and completely fulfilling all my MP needs for oh, say, ever.
  • It’s the sketch that has everything, in fact, except any real creative stretching. Besides which, it could plausibly be argued, a lot of potential for wild, dark, spooky weirdness in the atmosphere is going to waste. But again, an executive decision has been taken in favour of adorable quirkiness… and I still can’t complain. Esp. not about Martha in the pointy hat being all awkward at the camera. Damn but this troupe is good. Or charming. Or good at being charming.
  • Even were I inclined to grumble, the Normanopoly bit is up next, and it features Simon just full-on channelling Dr. Evil while Larry critiques, so. It’s the one sketch here that really deserved a showcase shot, being one of those lovely little clever cockle-warmers that result when the team — in this case most definitely including the f/x team — knows they’re onto a can’t-miss parody idea. As always in the case of the board-game spoofs, in several directions at once. (“How come I always have to be the wild pig?”)
  • The Victorian Wife Swap does dive full-tilt into the melodramatic atmosphere. It’s essentially a redo of the Georgian version as augmented by the producers’ enduring love for Victorian detail, as expressed via their much more detail-worthy budget — on three whole sets, yet! Throw in Martha’s beautiful water-blue costume and what we have here is at least a very acceptable Anne Perry-style pastiche. They even (finally) feature Ben as a butler, and Lawry coming perilously close to showstopping as a Devil’s Acre scrapper — what I was saying about road-show Dickens, last ep? Pretty sure I got your Ben Sikes right here, folks. Might have to feed him up a bit, but still.
  • All meaning that it’s a genuine shame that the Georgian WS was based around a wholly one-note concept that there’s no way even their new sophistication can upgrade. Mind, re: the Horrible effects of class division, they’ve definitely upped the ante; in fact, it could be very plausibly argued that this is what the S1 concept should’ve been, had not — I’m imagining — ‘ironing the newspapers’ lost out to ‘private orchestra’ in a very close vote, back in the original writer’s room.
  • Alas, past that you run into sociopolitical and/or philosophical territory that’s impossibly far out of the series’ scope, and the net result here is a historical edutainment getting all dressed up to deliberately run itself into a brick wall. I would suggest, from the comedy perspective, that when “Ewww, a poor person has touched this!” is still your surefire go-to punchline on the subject after four series, it just may be time to assume that you’ve done all you can and move on.
  • …Which of course the rat then basically does. Ohai Rattus, glad to have your snarky self back. I was starting to worry a little there… and am now just a teeny bit melancholy, instead. You know we’re coming to the natural end of the HH concept when Ol’ Excited Paws here feels confident enough to mock his own tact — and even more so when the audience is sitting there fully expecting him to do it.
  • Welp, that’s about it for the really bold experiments… oh, sure, there’s also Larry naked and pooping in a barrel, but it could be plausibly argued that’s just Larry in his element. Albeit with slightly improved accent I will admit. Anyway, my enjoyment here is in a great bit of verbal jousting between two guys not only obviously enjoying the chance to come out of the, uh, box for a bit, but the chance to do so with each other. Like the Armada bit, only, as Shouty would put it, slightly more cleverer.
  • Speaking of which, the Stupid Death meantime is featuring a dose of classic Willbondian complacent prissiness with a few extra sprinkles of random, which is cool… but is also the only redeeming thing about it. Much as with Bobsy Hale last ep, the show’s outsmarted itself with this segment to the point where the standard death-embarrassment-pun routine just isn’t cutting it for me anymore. Yeah, I know, it isn’t actually called ‘Fun With the Grim Reaper’, but really now. With the flowered apron, a standard has been irrevocably set.
  • By the way, hope you enjoyed that last bit of Jim being peed on, because the rest of the episode — save the ‘keelhauling’ interlude, which appears merely to result from somebody hastily grabbing off the Standard Sketch Ideas pile to meet Friday deadline — is dedicated to discovering just how long Howick can monologue in weaselly mode, before even his most devoted fans start wondering uneasily if they couldn’t maybe cut this review viewing short for once…
  • Look, it’s Jim. Of all the troupe, I can totally understand the producers over-relying on this sure thing, and for said sure thing to willingly co-operate with the compliment… except for the part where the ‘sure’ refers to ‘basically whinged his way to a BAFTA’. You want to make sure you have a smart, snappy context for something that’s otherwise going to remind you of that kid in third grade with the perpetual snot drip hanging off his nose, is basically what I am trying to get across here.
  • So the ‘Saxon fears’ business is overlong, equally over-stuffed with esoteric facts and comedy cliches, and over-reliant on things it shouldn’t be… considering all of which, for an impressively long time it also manages to be very funny. Thus incidentally demonstrating why I’m hugely excited about the troupe’s new projects: they aren’t typecast yet, exactly, but it’s definitely far past time they had the chance to see what they can do unfettered by heavily stylised expectations.
  • Like, for instance, Historical Dates. Which is somehow still a thing, despite the writers evidently — if completely inexplicably — having run out of fascinating historically romantic hijinks within only two segments, which is a record even the HPet Shop can’t touch. But boy howdy, folks, can those office tarts file… yes, both their nails and their folders, thanks for asking. OK, show, ‘fess up now, who’s been watching the Lifetime Original movies?
  • So it’s once again up to Jim as our latest hapless historical bozo on the make, who can’t even impress the lady who was all set to snog a Viking last time. Because, see, Vikings take baths once a week, whereas in Western Europe around the same time people didn’t, so much. You thought I was exaggerating, about the relying too much on the weasiliness to make a point? Hah. Also, feh.
  • Although, I suppose it’s nice to have a reminder that our Howick can play several different kinds of hopeless loser. Horrible Histories: the only children’s TV show wherein throwing a bit of sleaze into the mix represents positive character development.
  • Throwing a bit of random MTV-ness, however… Well, it’s likewise encouraging for both Jim and his audience to revisit his one major badass character in the midst of all this showcase snivelling. Under any normal circs, the swashbuckling-pirate-goes-Totally Radical schtick would be amusingly apt; however this is HH, and we’ve already seen Blackbeard the viciously menacing light-opera fan — also, the ‘You’ve Been Artois’d!’ sketch.  Another vaguely melancholy realisation of creative end times approaching: the inability to compete with your own past inspiration.
  • Mind, I was cheered up not a little by the sign reading ‘Booty Room’ —  also, by the much more characteristically engaging little ‘ow!’. Wonder if that was ad-libbed?

95% Accu-rat:

  • Devoted readers — and by this point I am fully defining ‘devoted’ as ‘willing to put up with my ongoing Tudor obsession’ —  will recall, or at least be willing to go back to check, that the actually sad, rather poignantly strange career of Bloody Mary I has been covered herein on-and-off throughout the Series Three reviews, most specifically in S03E02, 03 & 12. There’s an awful lot of Horribleness within the poor girl’s career, basically.
  • It wasn’t always thus. Back when Henry VIII was still hopeful of giving her a few brothers by her mother Catherine of Aragon, pretty, dainty, precocious little Princess Mary was his avowed ‘chieftest jewel’. By which he mostly meant ‘marital bargaining chip’ — she was betrothed within both the French and Spanish royal families before she was ten.
  • Queen Catherine, meanwhile, took a more personal approach, seeing to it that her daughter was educated according to the very latest — and surprisingly enlightened — theories, commissioning curricula from the likes of Vives and Erasmus. Always meanwhile ensuring that Mary also grew up a good daughter of the Catholic aka ‘True’ Church — which back then of course wasn’t a problem, given that her dad was busy earning the title of ‘Defender of the Faith’ from the same source.
  • Aaaaaand then he met Anne Boleyn, and the Happy Families thing just went all to hell in a handbasket. This is where the over-the-top angstiness of Kate Bush becomes an inspired stroke, because for Mary, emo was about to become a full-blown lifestyle. By then in her teens, she staunchly supported Mum during the famously messy divorce proceedings. For which dear old Dad — never more creatively tyrannical than when avenging what he saw as betrayal — had her declared illegitimate, stripped her of her household, downgraded her to ‘Lady’ Mary, and forced her not only to take La Boleyn’s vicious insults (including death threats) but actually to serve as lady-in-waiting to her infant sister Elizabeth.
  • This went on for some few years, during which Mary the promisingly vivacious marital prospect faded into a sickly, sad, frustrated woman whose sole comfort was her faith. As mentioned in the song, she did indeed try to be good; it was rumoured that she was actually entirely innocent. (There’s a story of her father — after she’d been restored to court thanks to the good offices of Queen Jane Seymour — sending a courtier over to whisper naughties in her ear to test this theory, and hugely enjoying her subsequent panicked blushes.)
  • Trouble with all this was, as the song also effectively conveys, she also entirely lacked the instinctive knack for reapolitik that characterised her clan. Again relying on Mum’s example, she preferred to be guided by her conscience, which was in turn influenced by the conviction that God had kept her alive solely that she might someday bring England back to the True Church.
  • Which subsequently, as you might imagine, helped seal the fate of the around 300 Protestant ‘rebels’ who burned at the stake during her eventual reign. Back then, far from being a sign of homicidal mania, this was considered fully compatible with a pious, even generous conscience. See, the poor deluded wretches were headed to eternal burning anyway, so facing them with the prospect was considered a kind warning — or, if they stubbornly persisted on their way, a warning signpost for others.
  • Pythagoras and beans, on the other hand, probably a sign of mental instability… although with your brilliant mathematician types, you can never tell. The details are fuzzy, but he did set himself up as the leader of what was imaginatively known as ‘Pythagoreanism’ — cult-founding being considered something of a fashionable hobby, in ancient Athens — and its commandments did indeed include being extra-finicky about the Fabaceae. Although his actual death by legume avoidance isn’t anywhere close to authenticated, not least because it sounds more like it was grabbed off the reject pile of O.Henry-style irony.
  • The really fun part is looking this all up and discovering that modern scholars are fully locked in a hot dispute over why, exactly, the lien on lentils. Seriously. Their papers include lines like this: In a recent scholium Professors Robert Brumbaugh and Jessica Schwartz argue that the Pythagorean prohibition of beans is best understood as a commonsense injunction aimed at preventing acute hemolytic anemia in individuals with a hereditary deficiency of glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase in their red blood cells. 
  • Given all of which, I’m pleased to report that the consensus among cooler heads is pretty much what you were thinking: beans are kind of… incompatible… with keeping your mind on noble motive and higher thought. Y’know, the musical fruit gets a bit distracting. It’s even been proposed that the Pythagoreans feared that they might, uh, expel their souls with the rest of the gas, so to speak.
  • Blackbeard, also covered in previous installments, ie. S02E06. I did just think to check on something the skipping of which has been bugging me since then: but I regret to report I can confirm only ‘three brace’, or six total, pistols of the twelve, and then only in times of battle. As consolation I offer this delightful little tome by Daniel Defoe, A General History of the Pyrates, from Their first Rise and Settlement in the Island of Providence, to the present Time [ie., 1724]. Blackbeard is chapter III. The facing illustration is not to be missed.
  • Edward VI’s whipping boy (formally ‘proxy for the correction of the prince’) was in reality Barnaby Fitzpatrick, son of the Irish Baron of Upper Ossory. As shown, they were good enough buddies that the threat of proxy whippings actually worked on Edward. Barnaby was a sunny-natured type who held no grudges, and in fact seems to have been a nice balance for the priggishly pedantic prince in more ways than one. A charming fragment of their correspondence survives, with Edward writing:
  • “Shortly we will prove howe ye have profited in the french tongue, for we will write to you in french. For women, as far as ye may, avoid their company. Yet, if the French King command you, you may sometimes dance. Else apply yourself to riding, shooting or tennis, with such honest games, not forgetting sometimes your learning, chiefly reading of the Scripture…”
  • To which Barnaby replied: “Ye make me think the care ye take for me is more fatherly than friendly…” Yep, there’s a total Tudor buddy movie in here somewhere.
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Posted by on August 11, 2013 in Series Four

 

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S04E04

My home was in Plymouth, let’s call this New Plymouth!
I got an ideer, let’s call this New Hampshire!
I’m from Newcastle, can we call this New Newcastle?!
…Nahhhhh.

In a bit of have-to-believe-it’s-intentional irony, wanna-be Americans reach their new world just as the show settles comfily into mining their backlog of surefire funny…

In this episode:

Song: It’s a New World — Mat, Martha, Larry aka William Mullins and Ben (in decreasing order of credibility) reveal the Pilgrim Fathers as hardcore, man. (Parody of: Empire State of Mind, Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys)

Recurring sketches:

HHTV News: Mike Peabody Live — From the Norman siege of Palermo, 1064 (“This looks like a disaster, Sir Robert! Most of your men have been bitten by spiders!” “Well, no, I haven’t — I just like dancing!”)

Stupid Deaths — King Harold’s Brothers (“So let me get this straight: The Normans were losing, until you two ran down a hill… causing the end of your brother King Harold, the end of Saxon rule in England, and in fact, the end of the Saxon era altogether?!” “Yeah, in a nutshell…”)

Words We Get From the — Normans

Dodgy War Inventions — No.81: The German U-Boat (“It was the perfectly designed fighting machine…” including a sleek, modern, and — as it turned out — rather over-complex toilet: “It’s supposed to be a white flag, only… ja, long story, sorry…”)

Historical Apprentice — Team Neanderthal -vs- Team Homo Sapiens (“I’ve had some primitive types around the table over the years, but you lot take the flamin’ biscuit! Two words: Beard. Trimmers.”)

DI Bones: Historical Crime Squad — The Victorians and Something Funny in the Water (“Ah, yeh, that’ll probably be the cholera.” “Note to self… get a desk job.”)

One-offs:

Groovy Greeks

The (Theoretically) Fighting Spartans — Despite their leader’s best attempt at Gerald Butler’s hair, the legendarily dedicated warriors notice a weak spot in their awesomely unified battle front.

Pausanius: A True Story (movie trailer) — The epic story of how a great Spartan general managed to severely underestimate the shrewdness and cunning of his own people… who were freaking Spartans, did we mention that? (“How dare they accuse me of siding with the Persians! Just for that… I’m gonna side with the Persians!”)

Awesome USA

Colonisation, Colonisation, Colonisation — “This is such a lovely spot! I wonder why the native Indians don’t live here!” “Well, it could be something to do with the swamp… Could be to do with the lack of drinkable water… Or it could be the *slap* mosquitoes…” “Yes, well, at least none of us have caught any nasty diseases!” “Erk…”)

Woeful Second World War

Don’t Wake the Fuehrer — Detailing how the German reaction to D-Day was delayed thanks to his guards’ reluctance to disturb ‘Mr. Grumpy Pants’ at his nap. (“But if we wake ze Fuhrer, he will… why, he will… get in such a paddy!” “Ooh, such a paddy he will get in!”)

Vile Victorians

I Scream — Back by probably-not-very-popular demand, the show’s fascination with Horrible things that happened to milk pre-pasteurization! Now with bonus cute innocent child!

Field Notes:

  • So yeah, we appear to have reached the point in Series Four where the remarkable is starting to show a distinct resemblance to remarkableness past. Which, as demonstrated last episode, is not by any means a bad thing; not only because it’s one way at least to ensure both audiences old and new will be equally delighted… but because when they do decide to get all innovative and clever, the results tend to involve things like Larry as a hip-hop Pilgrim with a shoe fetish.
  • Now, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that concept didn’t delight many, many people. What I am possibly saying is that these are the many of the same people who openly declare they have crushes on Bob Hale, so you can consider yourself fairly warned. Friends don’t let friends wander into an HH rap parody alone, y’know?
  • Actually, thanks to the smouldering he can fake the angsty posturing fairly acceptably, I’ll give him that at least — right up until he unfortunately abandons it at a key moment in favour of his inevitable Plan B: straight over the top and hope for the best. Yeah, so that doesn’t really work when living up to Jay-Z, Rickard… as you can tell when Ben’s calling you out. What the hell, was Jim off sick that day? (Paper-cut tongue from licking wedding invitations, maybe?)
  • The whole thing is an unusually un-self-confident mismash of satirical stylings — as if even up to the moment of filming they couldn’t decide whether to play it silly or straight, so just left it up to each individual performer, who in turn picked a really bad time (quite possibly out of embarrassment) to for once not tune into the others. Luckily for a genuinely decent concept, it’s eventually held together by Mat and Martha being brilliant along much more standard lines (and can we just take a moment to marvel once again at Mathew Baynton, ‘quality rapper’) besides some passably clever wordplay and Ben… wearing one of those wigs with the curls clustering round his face. Which definitely helps.
  • This apparently being official Let’s Mess With Willbond Day, musically speaking, we also get Mike Peabody learning that even the natural world is out to get him. Dear, dear Ben… quite honestly, I think this is about as far out of his comfort zone as HH has ever chucked him, and that would include both the time they required him to cope with a full-grown python round his neck and the one where he was forced to bathe in the North Atlantic in mid-October for a two-second throwaway bit.
  • Really you have to wonder if the producers don’t see pushing Benjamin’s buttons as sort of light entertainment… which sounds like an awesome idea, actually. I’d buy tickets. Still can’t help but feel a bit bad for him here, though. At least snake-wrangling makes for a decent story at the pub afterwards, and doesn’t involve getting shamelessly upstaged by a Farnaby to boot.
  • Dear, dear Simon. Also seen here overseeing easily the most epic SD ever — big week for epic military disasters altogether, come to that. Much love for how Death just lets these two stand there and dig themselves in deeper. Of course, on the evidence, this may be because the writers were suffering from punner’s block that week — no, the punny songwriters are different people, although I will concede Larry’s creativity works in mysterious ways. Generally speaking, though, when you have to resort to visual aids to get the wordplay across, you’re working too hard.
  • (Incidentally, I’ve been putting this off, but… does anyone else think the opening/closing SD titles could stand an upgrade? Not the song of course, but the visuals are starting to look decidedly… I dunno, early-series-ish.)
  • On the further subject of Simon’s adorableness… OK, so you remember how back last series they had the other Location, Location Location takeoff, and I was all “gee, too bad they didn’t take it any further, this would’ve been a great parody vehicle for settlers vs. Native Americans”? Yeah, so can we all just focus on the bit where I’m really prescient, there? Thanks.
  • Because, no kidding, I totally was.The Native POV is noticeably absent, but the Jamestown sketch gets the point across anyway — proof that valuable lessons have been learned from the Mesoamerican experiment. It’s as purely fun a romp as the series has ever produced, the result of a bunch of seasoned performers just having a great time with a series of surefire running gags — the signpost with the crossed-out ‘pop.’ is especially fun — as led by positive oodles of classic Proper Upper-Class Farnaby. The phrase ‘what’s not to love?’ was totally invented for this point in the show’s evolution. I am only disappointed that they didn’t give them actual arrows, albeit I can see where they’d have reason to worry about Ben’s aim.
  • Unlike, for instance, the Historical Apprentice writers, who have settled to their reality-TV-trashing task in much the familiar manner — which I picture as the writers sitting round a dartboard with the current parody target’s logo on it and assigning the quips based on where the darts land. (“Why not fire Grunt? He already dead!” being an example of a treble-twenty.)
  • The fact that the target for once seems reasonably shrewd, if not actually clever, himself — or at least, that the concept is based off that illusion — seems, interestingly, only to have roused team HH further to the challenge. And it has thus far paid off handsomely. The whole sketch resonates with the joy of  writers released back on familiar ground and loving every minute of it…
  • …plus, did I mention there was moar Simon? And that he has a shrew? And that Smug Caveman Ben inquiring “Sorry, what is wheel?” is well up the running for Most Incredibly Adorable HH Moment Ever? Oh, and while I’m on… erm, look, I know I don’t have a ton of credibility here, but is Lawry’s character supposed to be coming off as faintly sticky-palmed, or…? ‘Cos frankly he’s creeping me right the hell out — yes, even more than usual. I think it’s the glasses.
  • OK! In case you were wondering about the rest of the Most Adorable Moment finalists, there are, like, at least another two dozen here in my New Most Favourite HH Sketch Ever: Mat and Jim playing SS guards with much the same sweetly campy abandon as they play the Historical Paramedics. The little ‘ADOLF’S ROOM’ plaque on the door behind them is totally making the MAME shortlist.
  • Seriously, if you haven’t seen this thing, your ability to experience joy is woefully incomplete, even if you’ve already seen all the HParamedic bits. This one goes above and beyond, starting with Mat getting a chance to let his face run riot — no, new-and-enlarged audience, that’s not Silly Putty, that’s his actual face. Elsewhere… erm, if I say Larry makes a surprisingly competent hardcore SS officer — accent and all — does that count as a compliment?
  • Oh, and howdy Jalaal Hartley, sorry I’ve missed you up til now.  Jalaal, folks, will be the most prominent of this series’ new set of Random Character Guys, the result of the expanding number of roles for same I mentioned last review. Evidently the producers were concerned at the lack of ridiculously attractive brunet types. I can sympathise.
  • On that note, welcome back DI Bones, with bells on. The writers’ love affair with the relentlessly dour DI is back in full swing, and this time it comes along with their other love affair for Victorian poverty, with just a dash of their enthusiasm for Mat falling over. (The unexpectedly dissolving into doe eyes at key moments, however, that’s pure instinct. On the off-chance you haven’t seen the highwayman song vid before now, new and by now probably totally bemused audience, this sketch provides a handy microcosm of The Baynton Experience.)
  • Personally, the whole thing intersects my favourite media to the extent that I desperately wish DI Bones would appear more often. Like maybe in his own spinoff series. With Larry playing a different hapless bozo nemesis each week… although not Liverpudlian ones. Seriously, how does a man go from a note-perfect ripoff of Ringo Starr to whatever he fondly thinks that accent is? And we’re not even going to get into Martha’s attempts. I think they encourage each other.
  • Which brings us well enough around to the Pausanius bit. Inspired officially by the Stupid Death from S01E12 (which reminds me, I never did get the ‘Viking bitten by the severed head of his enemy’ opus, also based on an S1 SD. *tiny sigh*). Unofficially, by the show’s ongoing insistence that Mat somehow remotely resembles a ferocious warrior battle-hardened from birth. And no, show, the improved makeup budget doesn’t help your credibility any. ‘Fess up now, you just fell in love with the idea of that cliched ‘golden’ lighting washing across all the heroically-furred chin thrusting, didn’t you?
  • Hey, y’know, also very impressively masculine — dare I say 300-esque — facial hair on Spartan General Jim there! Also, nice use of camera angles to disguise the physical discrepancies with the original! Could it possibly be that the show has finally learned its lesson about… *checks Jim in next episode’s sketches*… nahhhh. I do anyway enjoy how they cut from his inspiring speech to the standard, like, eight warriors, indicating that they may at least be developing a sense of humour about their lack of an extras budget. It all adds a bit of interest to what’s otherwise, yeah, Lawry being Lawry, whatever. Can we just have a sketch where he murders something soon please?
  • Finally, random bit of trivia that may amuse only me: this is the second time in as many series that a rampaging Larry’s been soothed by seafood. I have… no idea whatsoever what this means honestly, but fanfic authors may have it for free.

95% Accu-rat:

  • So the spider-bite dance turns out to be the tarantella — yep, that fun’n’snappy Italian folk dance. Something to ponder, next time you’re considering the practical value of dance lessons: About the mid-fifteenth century, the people of Taranto, Italy, decided (…somehow) that dancing really really fast was the cure for the bite of the local species of wolf spider. Which they had previously dubbed the ‘tarantula’. Special bonus lesson for the day, kids: when once medieval Italians got hold of a good name for something, they didn’t fool around.
  • No, of course it didn’t actually work. But it was a lot more fun than anything else you might be doing to deal with the “swelling, mild pain and itching” that actually results when the local ‘tarantula’ takes a fancy to your ankles. (To be fair to Robert and crew, it’s suggested they possibly ran into a more virulent variant.) However the bit here seems to be conflating the much later, more serious tarantella craze with the biohazard during the siege, that in reality were usually treated much more boringly by ‘hot compresses’.
  • Poor William Mullins, shoemaker: forever enshrined in HH lore as the vain, impractical, over-civilized Mayflower colonist who brought along nothing but 126 pairs of his product… plus 13 pairs of boots, thank you Bobsy… to a rough and ready new American colony that wound up struggling just to survive. Hah! Typical Euro-hubris, amirite? What a maroon!
  • …Except not really. Yes of course, as the song says, ‘a fishing rod, a plough, a pig or a cow would’ve been a much better idea,’ but just a few seconds’ further reflection (perhaps aided by this admirably sensible blog post) will attest that in a situation like this — notably devoid, as the song itself goes on to emphasise, of any type of manufacturing infrastructure let alone knowledge — lots of nice sturdy shoes, also boots wouldn’t exactly be hay either. So to speak.
  • As a bonus, under eighteenth century conditions, they’d also be much easier and more reliable to transport. Remember, these were people who could barely get themselves across the ocean in one piece; frankly I’d rather trust the guy who didn’t think bringing in the leather on the hoof was the better idea.
  • In essence, Mullins was no more shortsighted than anyone else on the Mayflower, and quite possibly a lot less so than most. Basically just a reasonably shrewd businessman who saw the whole thing not as an adventure but as a sales opportunity; his way of recouping some of his original investment in the venture. And he ended up giving his life for it, that first winter in Plymouth colony. In his will — which is how we know about the footwear in the first place — he requests that they be sold to the colony for the then-astronomical sum of forty pounds total. Snigger all you like, but that there is dedication.
 
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Posted by on July 8, 2013 in Series Four

 

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S03E08

You’re on form today, your Majesty! That’s the third cowardly animal you’ve heroically almost hit!

The series diverts from the recent brilliant-music-and-borderline-skits formula to bring us… very decent skits and borderline music. Not a bad tradeoff, really.

In this episode:

Song: The Suffragettes’ Song — Martha as Emmeline Pankhurst, Alice as Milly Fawcett

Recurring sketches:

Stupid Deaths — Henry I (Died of an over-effective purge after a meal of lampreys — “Ooh, did the eels make you ill? Did they? Huh? Hey? Hmm?”)

HHTV News: Mike Peabody Live — From the Storming of the Bastille (“Are you the Governor of this prison?” “No!” “Now, that right there is the Marquis Bernard de Launay, Governor of this prison…”)

Words We Get From the — Saxons

Historical Headmasters — Tudors

HHTV Sport — Tudor horse racing (“Really, Henry! There ought to be a law against using small children as jockeys!” “Hrm, yes… better ask the King about that… hang on a minute, I am the King! NO!”)

One-offs:

Measly Middle Ages

Killed Out Hunting, So it’s Said — Wherein William II learns that, amazingly enough, surrounding yourself with armed and disaffected nobles in a remote area is not necessarily conducive to royal longevity. “Oh dear, I appear to have accidentally shot the King. That’s bad, isn’t it?”

Fabulous French

Madame Tussaud’s Make Show — Yeah, so your fun day out with wax Elvis is building on the lifework of a woman who raided cemeteries and sanatoria to make death masks of guillotined enemies of the State. Sweet dreams, kiddies!

Smashing Saxons

Kidnapped! Part I (movie trailer) —  In a Saxon world ravaged by war… nothing is forever. *bonk* “Hey! That was a new helmet!… And I’m quite annoyed about you kidnapping my wife, too!”

Kidnapped! Part II — In the dark age of the Saxon world, a man would pay the ultimate price to get his kidnapped wife back. “Half-a-penny?!” “Won’t take it? Ooh, that is too bad. Guess I’ll just have to start over with a younger, prettier, less naggy wife! Sorry dear!”

Vicious Vikings

Winter Cooking With the Hairy Vikings — “Oh, I love a bit o’walrus!” “Yes, LOVE a bit o’walrus!”

Aethelred the Unready Online — Poor old Aethelred; in his day the Nigerian scammers skipped the compliments and went straight for the swords. Because, y’know, they were Vikings.

Field Notes:

  • Yeah, so it had to happen sometime. Twelve songs a series, they can’t all be masterpieces… especially when the first seven have set the bar at somewhere approximately ‘beyond amazing’. But I am sort of sad that the first comparative flop had to involve the Suffragettes, who — as you can still tell, if you concentrate determinedly on the song hidden under all the flashy poses & filters — deserved much better than this. It remains the only HH video that I can’t at all figure out where they were coming from.
  • Although I can take a stab at the musical inspiration… I think. I’m kind of hoping I’m wrong, actually, because the last time I could be said to be surfing the musical cutting-edge was around 1992, so that the stylings here look vaguely familiar doesn’t say a whole lot for their hip fierceness. Although as far as I can tell Kylie Minogue is still a viable preoccupation within the British segment of my Twitter feed, so maybe that whole ‘sassy girl with a synthesizer’ thingy just made that much more of a splash with you lot than it did in North America.
  • At any rate, whatever the cultural gap, I’m still not impressed enough to build a bridge. It’s an impeccably catchy song, and I like the idea of the dismissive male response as counterpoint to the fierceness… if only the fierceness had come across as real. Making the flash the focus glosses over the point — the same one the show made so admirably with Boudicca and the WWII girls: these were, first and foremost, human beings.
  • And the British suffragette movement was nothing if not human — flawed, furious, just enormously outraged that they couldn’t have basic rights as people. Everything, in fact, but flashy. (For a much more satisfying example of this outrage acknowledged, check out Schoolhouse Rock’s deservedly classic Sufferin’ Til Suffrage, which hauls in rock legend Essra Mohawk to recast even the comparatively milder American struggle into Boudicca-esque terms.)
  • Speaking of basic humanity… very basic… Lord, do I love the ‘Kidnapped’ sketches. Up to now — and, it must be said, afterwards — the parody movie trailers haven’t really been taking full advantage of the format, but this right here is the expert version. Just wonderful mock-epic stuff that skewers scenery, narration, drama — the whole package — as effectively and effortlessly as if they were butterflies. Simon is of course the perfect would-be Magnificent Bastard, and equally of course Jim is all over the sad weasely stuff… and, erm, Martha’s developing quite the nice line in naggy wives. Even random bewildered Larry on his stool couldn’t be improved upon.
  • So yeah, some performers are drawn to Shakespeare; others are naturally badass action heroes. Ladies and gentlemen, Mathew Baynton: absolutely peerless at faking digestive issues. (In related news, I also occasionally wonder how the f/x guy in these situations explains the long hard day he’s had to his family. If they have school Career Day in the UK, I bet he’s a real hit.)
  • Honestly, this death seems much more pitiable than stupid, unless of course you’re twelve, and… sorry, major demographic target, I do keep forgetting. Carry on, everyone. Mind you, this is the same SD that features Death holding a staring contest with Louis the (actual) skeleton, so I can’t really complain my satirical needs aren’t being served anyway.
  • The brown note also shows up in the latest .com sketch, but only as the tagline to a much more ingenious parody. The focus in this one is less on the details & more on the concept of ineffectual Aethelred as equally hapless cyber-scammer target — which turns out to be fully deserving of the attention. Also, they’ve found a way to work Nordic Larry in there, which makes everything better, especially when it’s signed ‘yours very trustworthily.’  It’s sort of like Ben and Scottish, only tilted about 45 degrees off plumb.
  • Otherwise… yeah, well, the details aren’t exactly neglected. Stained-Glass Windows XP… Norsebook… the ViPhone… ‘Pay up, pal!’, I especially enjoyed that one.
  • Big episode for Larry altogether: finally he gets his shot at royalty… ooh, ‘shot’, probably bad choice of phrase there, sorry. But yes, for a brief shining moment Rickard is the King. And, as is much more characteristic, also has seriously bad hair. Nobody here mentions possible motives for William’s mysterious death, but being trapped in view of that bouffant for years earns my retroactive sympathy for sure.
  • Anyway, as royal sketches go it’s a great, cheerfully snarky example, although I do have the nagging feeling it could potentially have been much more had Mat and Simon been given a crack at each others’ roles. At least Mat gets a chance to put that new and sweetly reasonable normalcy to really good use…
  • He also gets a decent chance at the old Gallic campiness in the Toussaud sketch — I do like how the prospect of losing his head is enough to startle him almost out of the accent, and for that matter does startle him into more digestive distress, up to and including fainting away entirely. It really is a knack.
  • Meantime, either Martha is way overdoing the insouciance or my serious reading on the Revolution is getting in the way again. I’m willing to concede it may be the latter, but not that accents are totally her equivalent of when they ask Ben to dance (…although still an improvement on Larry’s). While I’m on, I might as well note that the Caveman Art Show skull was more convincing than the supposedly pro models here…
  • …And now I’m all sad, because the Caveman Art Show is gone forever. Thank goodness there’s still Mike Peabody, who may have fuller access to hairspray but isn’t much better at figuring out what hit him. This one is probably my favourite Peabody skit — insert Ben’s unerring knack for reaction into a series of reliable gags expertly played by the others, and the result is irresistibly funny all round. Besides which, seriously, very nice hair Ben has in this one…
  • …yeah, I seem to have developed a shallow streak, or perhaps it’s merely the ‘won’t somebody think of the readers?!’ bit of my brain trying to distract me from noticing that the ‘large mob of very angry Frenchmen’ actually comprises the standard ten or so people — one of which is Lawry, so really more nine-and-a-half. I do feel bad about constantly ragging on the miniscule extras budget, but I can’t help it, they keep calling attention to it, and it is hilarious. So, come to that, is the giant shiny plastic lobster smack dab in the middle of the camera.
  • Also, what I said once before about Lawry being convincingly French? Forget it. (Even if he is an improvement on Larry. Your drunk uncle at a party doing his Pepe le Pew impressions is an improvement on Larry). Convincingly psychotic, though, that I’ll still give Lewin in spades. I’ll likewise give props to revolutionary Mat, who has sensibly decided to give up the pathos and go straight for the swords — and the chocolatines. Great stuff, the revolutionaries just sitting there, watching interestedly as Mike flees for his life…
  • …Oh, and Rattus little ‘flat-packed guillotine’ — squee!
  • ‘Barry Canter‘, the turf reporter? Oh, ha ha ha. Now, show, what have I told you about the stupid names? I haven’t? Well, I’m warning you now, it can only end in heartbreak. Anyway, so I guess Henry VIII’s just your common or garden-variety big dumb Willbondian doofus now, huh? Complete with hunks of meat? Yeah… this is sort of depressing. Something off about this whole sketch, really; the timeline is for once roughly OK — save the hair — but the whole is just… I dunno… the King hanging round random racetracks in his college sweatshirt or whatever, not massively Tudor-iffic.
  • Although… ‘Cockfighting’? Well, yes, it was totally a real thing, strictly involving chickens, but… say, anyone still surprised that the entire collection of clean outtakes from this series only runs about three minutes? Yeah, didn’t think so.
  • Ben’s much better served in Tudor terms with his Historical Headmasters turn. To the point where there’s really no reason why this HHeadmasters bit shouldn’t’ve been the only one, it gets the idea across quite nicely, thanks… Except that Ben is really overdoing the screechy stuff. Seriously, Ben should not screech, like, ever, OK? Especially given that the dagger he’s screeching about is really, ah, Nerf-y. Putting those costumes under that fluorescent lighting was like the world’s worst idea.
  • Apropos of swordplay, the Saxon Words bit… Oh, brother, even for the ‘slip it under his armpit and distract ’em with growls’ standards of this show that has got to be the least convincing stabbing ever. At least aim for the general area of his chest, Lawry, you doofus!
  • So the fully adorable walrus-loving ‘Hairy Vikings’ are in reality a parody of… *returns from Wikipedia*… oh, boy. Yeah, OK, we’ll just assume you lot know what you’re doing and move on, there. Besides, I’m really enjoying these glimpses into the mundane (ie., non-lethal) aspects of the Viking culture — and of course, Jim and Simon, whom if they had a real cooking show I would totally watch the hell out of it. “I think we’re gonna need a bigger pot!” — nice one, Farnaby.

95% Accu-rat:

  • The Peabody report is surprisingly faithful to the reality of the Bastille’s storming — absent the chocolatines and plastic lobsters of course. The grim ancient fortress was basically every forbidding medieval dungeon cliche made, uh, stone. It had for centuries functioned as the symbol of royal authority-slash-tyranny in Paris — Versailles being several miles down the road — given that it had traditionally been the prison into which the King bunged political offenders, which of course back then fully included ‘people who looked at him funny.’
  • Or at least it had done. By the time 14 July 1789 rolled around, there were actually only a few random prisoners being housed there, or as Wiki puts it ‘seven old men annoyed by all the disturbance’: four forgers, two “lunatics” and one “deviant” aristocrat, the Comte de Solages (the Marquis de Sade had been transferred out ten days earlier). And far from being the sadistic whip-wielding warden of legend, Governor Bernard-Rene, Marquis de Launay, was a minor placeholding functionary who came down with an acute case of ‘in waaaaay over his head’ shortly after the mob showed up.
  • Not precisely the stuff on which romantic revolutionary ideals are nourished, although the vainqueurs did their level best, joyously hoisting the Governor’s head on a pike and hauling the prisoners out into the yard to formally announce that they were now free from tyranny, huzzah! The prisoners’ response is not recorded, but probably involved the French equivalent of “yay…”
  • Fortunately for dramatic license, the Bastille also happened to be holding 250 barrels of gunpowder at the time, and hey, if you’re mad as hell and not going to take it any more, it’s handy stuff. So they seized that — and whaddaya know, suddenly found themselves in charge of Paris. The very next day the King was all “OK, OK, you win, I’ll recall (populist) Finance Minister Necker and come down there to discuss things personally.” And the rest, as they say, was history…
  • …as largely captured in wax by one Anna Marie Grosholtz Tussaud, who prior to starting up her London museum had one of the more colourful muses in creative history. Per Wiki: Tussaud was arrested during the Reign of Terror… her head was shaved in preparation for execution by guillotine. However… she was released. Tussaud was then employed to make death masks of the victims of the guillotine, including some of the Revolution’s most infamous dead such as Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Marat, and Robespierre. Her death masks were held up as revolutionary flags and paraded through the streets of Paris.
 
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Posted by on May 12, 2013 in Series Three

 

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S03E03

“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…”)

One-offs:

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.”
 
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Posted by on April 21, 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.
 
6 Comments

Posted by on April 21, 2013 in Series Three

 

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S02E07

Get back! I have a butter knife and I’m not afraid to use it… You! Get back, or I will spread you, I am not joking~!

The show returns to what it indisputably does best: being hilarious about Western European history. And there was much rejoicing. (yaaaaay.)

In this episode:

Song: Victorian Inventions — Ben and Alice as a music-hall act

Recurring sketches:

Ready, Steady Feast — Captain Ned Low’s taste for cruelty

Historical Dragon’s Den — Victorian Britain

Words We Get From the — Saxons

Bob Hale — The [English] Civil War Report (OK, that’s definitively established then, timey-wimey scholars: Rattus and the HHTV crew are operating in the same timeline.)

HHTV News: Mike Peabody Live — from the Battle of Marston Moor (“Yes, I’m afraid I’m going to die — OF THIRST! Hahahah!”)

Dodgy War Inventions — No.79: Romans Invade East Anglia on Stilts

Historical Wife Swap — Celts vs. Romans (All you really need to know: Simon as the primitive Celtic husband, Mat as the sophisticated Roman)

One-offs:

Measly Middle Ages

Feudal Family Feud — Back before authoritarian fathers had prize Cadillacs to trash… their angsty sons still had swords. (“No! Zat is my peas-ant!”)

Joan and the Angel (imagine spot) — “Sweeping up and darning socks I can do — military leadership, not so much!” “Well, He definitely said… I mean, I wrote it on my hand and everything…”

Putrid Pirates

Captain Cutiebeard — As it turns out, pirate tactics for luring ships in close involved frilly lingerie. In related news, the ongoing ‘pirate -vs- ninja’ Net debate just got REALLY interesting.

Smashing Saxons

New! Saxon Sign of the Cross — Sanitation via genuflection: sometimes, history is frankly about being impressed that the human race made it out alive…

Dance ‘Til Something Drops — … Case in point. Social life in the Middle Ages: being unable to tell whether your friends were happily boogying down or flailing around in the throes of ergotism-induced gangrene.

Field Notes:

  • If you’ll excuse a moment’s nostalgic digression… My first encounter with HH the TV-verse was in late 2010, via BBC Kids, a Canadian cable channel that picks up much of CBBC/CBeebies’ programming. So this was the very first full-length episode I ever watched, and — being at that time, for various reasons, in dire need of a wholly uncomplicated laugh — where I began to watch the show with real interest. I’ve obviously learned to appreciate the rest since, but in some important ways the back half of S2 will always be the definitive Horrible Histories for me…
  • … *blinks as mists clear* …And thus here I am, lo these years later, speculating on just exactly how a stick insect might get so closely — not to say spectacularly — in touch with his inner homicidal cannibal. Seriously, either they sent Lawry on a three-day bender, gave him a 5AM filming call and filmed the result (definitely without telling Dominique)… or I suddenly really feel the need to apologise for any and all snarky Lewin-related remarks to even date. Um, including that one I just now made. Shoot. I’m willing to upgrade him to praying mantis, would that help?
  • In a way, I’ve been setting up for these reviews from the start. BBC Kids has always been careful to air the show after 6pm — as was also traditional for the Muppet Show when I was a kid — with a ‘content may be disturbing to some’ disclaimer. So I’ve never assumed HH was designed for anything but an all-ages family audience, as defined by the Henson troupe, and so have watched with the same assured expectation of adult reward… and the show, it must be said, has rarely failed to deliver.
  • Hence, when confronted here with Cap’n Mat the Fabulous, all decked out in bustle and rouge and basically way more detail than needed to pull his ruse off from a distance, my natural instinct is not to giggle at the over-the-top clowning, but at the possible connection to his breakdown from the previous sketch. Not that I’m here to judge, mind; those long voyages, the freely available rum, the underlings who’re really into their poncy little sword routines… I understand.
  • What I’m really saying is, I kid because I loved this tiny perfect collection of all the (male) troupe’s signature schticks at first sight. In fact, if I do have a major complaint from this point forward, it’s that the pirate sketches will pretty much fall off the radar. Given that ninjas — and indeed robots — are non-starters as sketch ideas, also that only a few, clean outtakes make it onto each DVD, we’re losing a valuable source of pure playfulness here. (Yeah, there are still cowboys, but those accents… somehow it’s just not the same.)
  • Still, we’ll always have knights. Here, specifically, Ben and Mat turning out to be entirely adorable — and rather interestingly convincing — as father-son squires. And there is always the possibility they will be French, which accent will never get off the collision course with HH whackiness. Especially not when you haul Willbond the ‘accspert’ into the mix … also, suspiciously familiar staging over the castle ramparts. Quick, dad, distract him with an argument about swallow velocity! Fetchez la vache! 
  • Right, sorry, focussing — Oh look, Mat’s disarming Larry! Repeatedly! (“Arm or leg?” “Well, arm, I guess…” — slays me every time.) Not even trying to pretend anymore that normal is the expected result when these two collide, are they? Besides which, fun bonus material in comparing/contrasting Mat’s more formal command of pantomime twitchiness with Larry’s intuitive take — he does have a couple season’s worth of Bob Hale under his belt, after all.
  • So the ergotism sketch is the most openly goofy, ie. kid-friendly, of the lot. But if we’re talking the place where contextual subtlety definitively goes to die, I’m all about Mat as the Roman husband in the Wife Swap sketch – being so ridiculously sweet and charming and obviously green-lighted with the sadistic notion of finding out exactly how far they could mess with adult hormones while still claiming innocence… Pretty damn far, as it turns out, on account of you’re reading this.
  • Incidentally, now that it’s officially OK to believe anything of the production team, is anyone else getting the idea that the inevitable ‘fainting wife’ role in the WS bits was being used as a sort of ‘”let’s see what they’re made of” initiation for the female cast? Just me then? Yeah, figured. Still, it led to a very pleasant line of thought re: more possible HH hazing rites, up to and including the ultimate test: sharing a sketch with Simon for thirty full seconds without cracking.
  • His turn here as the Celtic ‘furball’ (hee!) would’ve been ideal; just when the pledge thinks they’re ready for anything enigmatically menacing, not to say unpredictably crazy… he abruptly shifts over to bluntly loveable straight man, and turns that into a full-on festival of irresistible giggles. All kidding about cast feels aside, when he goes to whistle up the finest in canine medical care, I really, sincerely just want to give him a huge hug.
  • Then, I will give another to Larry, for a generally wonderful B.Hale Report and for specifically describing Richard Cromwell as ”About as much use as a jelly pickaxe”. And finally, I will award one to the Angel Jim. I have a private theory that he is the sole BAFTA winner of the troupe out of three tries simply because — regardless of natural voter sympathy towards the younger nominees — it proved impossible to disregard Howick playing a celestial messenger who’s written the Holy Message on his hand “and everything”. (Although they were probably just a touch disappointed that the writing isn’t actually glowing. I know I was.)
  • The whole Joan of Arc sketch is remarkable much more for its casting than its hackneyed construction — of all the angles to approach one of the most impossibly romantic, implausibly literal melodramas in all of history, the feminist was easily the most limiting (if, yes, also the most accessible to the small fry). Still, Alice is her usual appealingly convincing presence, while Ben — amusingly, still wearing the armour from the previous French sketch — just about manages to rescue the obvious from itself. Well, him, and the hilarious ‘heavenly’ music playing over his darning.
  • Basically, the above re: casting applies more or less intact to the song — albeit of course with less heavenly Howicks. Which frankly is kind of a shame. I’m not a huge fan of these nationalistic ‘we invented!’ lists, for reasons discussed under S01E12 (and even less lucidly, if possibly more entertainingly, in the relevant YouTube comment sections.) To cite a specific problem here, I’m thinking Swedish subject Alfred Nobel, for one, would be a bit startled to discover he invented dynamite under the auspices of the British monarch.
  • It does have value as one of the few chances for direct comparison with Series One, ie. the song ‘We Are Greek’ — except of course, it’s no real comparison at all. There’s more care lavished on a single costume here than there was in nearly the entirety of S1’s musical efforts. Ben’s voice hasn’t improved much since then, but damned if he hasn’t got that Harrison-esque talk-singing thing nailed. He’s more inclined to generic smug than real showmanship, but that’s a small nitpick in comparison to the authenticity of the whole production.
  • My affection for our Willbond has always had a touch of academic awe mixed in; he is so exactly what North Americans have been trained (at least, in visual media; music’s something else entirely) to think of as ‘British’, and is so effortlessly able to lever his self-awareness of same through an entire PD James novel’s-worth of stock types. Also, every now and again he is able to bounce something like the ‘butter knife’ bit here off the cliches, and for a fleeting moment… no, still not quite huggable. But impressive, very.
  • OK… who named Mat ‘Sir Widebelly’? (‘Nathaniel Twonk’, on the other hand, I am so going to borrow if I ever get another hamster.) Seriously, I very much like the Dragon’s Den both as a concept, and a creative way to refresh the *ahem* overworked child-labour theme. It’s another pleasing sign of how far thought and care has advanced since S1.
  • In particular, I love how it’s the same Oliver-esque fantasy kid every time; really, the child actors on this show are something special. So… in amid all the nice authentic touches… why would you leave in such a distractingly modern broom?

95% Accu-rat:

  • So, Jeanne d’Arc. Yes, she really was an illiterate peasant girl, whose claimed first ‘vision’ (speculated to have actually been a result of migraine, epilepsy or similar) did indeed happen when she was somewhere between twelve and fourteen — again, it didn’t occur to anyone to record her birthdate at the time, so accounts vary, but fourteen is the traditionally accepted age — and whose first sally forth into the history books happened when she was around 16.
  • As the entire relevant portion of the Net has not failed to mention, the circs surrounding her death are a lot more… complicated, let’s say, than a kids’ show could possibly squeeze into one thirty-second visit with a puppet rat. She was initially captured by the technically French but then-independent Burgundian dukedom, who in turn sold her to the English Duke of Lancaster — the new French King Charles VII meanwhile ostentatiously twiddling his thumbs and hoping that if he kept quiet everybody’d just forget the whole ‘totally owed his throne to a peasant girl’ thingy.
  • Thus Joan was hauled off to a prison tower in English-occupied Rouen, where — despite several determined escape attempts — she fell into the hands of the French Bishop Cauchon of Beauvais, who was all about appeasing his current masters the Brits, so just sort of went ‘Ehhh, I have jurisdiction here, I think. Probably,’ and proceeded to show-trial the nineteen-year-old girl’s butt to the stake — but not before she had totally owned him under interrogation.
  • Per Wiki: “Asked if she knew she was in God’s grace, she answered: ‘If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.”…Church doctrine held that no one could be certain of being in God’s grace. If she had answered yes, then she would have convicted herself of heresy. If she had answered no, then she would have confessed her own guilt… George Bernard Shaw found this dialogue so compelling that sections of his play Saint Joan are literal translations of the trial record.
  • Hey, you know Captain Ned Low? The psychotic bastard renowned for getting into piracy mostly because land-based crime didn’t give him enough of an outlet for his sadistic urges? His flagship, the pride of whatever remained of his heart, was named the Rose Pink. Seriously. Also, I forgot to mention last ep, Blackbeard’s flag did indeed include hearts. Granted, they were being stabbed by a skeleton, who — the show rather interestingly doesn’t mention — is holding a wineglass in his other hand, raising a toast to the Devil.
  • OK  look, I don’t really have to explain that the stinging nettles would’ve been soaked and beaten to their component fibres, thus removing any stings, before actually being made into underwear, right? You in the back? Right, just checking. While I’m on, it’s worth noting that ergotism — otherwise popularly known as St Anthony’s fire — has been suggested as the possible cause of every convulsion, tic or twitch-based phenomenon throughout much of Western history, including witchcraft as mentioned last series and dancing mania as mentioned in the next.
  • When you come to think of it, in real life stilt-wearing never seems to go well outside Founders’ Day parades. Some things you figure would be obvious from the start…  At any rate, the concept of centurions tottering through the fens while the natives snickered all but compelled me to try and find more info — which didn’t go all that well. I’m willing to take the show’s word for it, but would not be entirely shocked if it’s based mostly off legend and inference.
 
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Posted by on March 17, 2013 in Series Two

 

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S01E10

He’s-a my brother, innit? I conquer ze country, I give-a him ze crown. I can’t buy him socks anymore — he’s got a wool allergy!

In which the show digs down deep… finds one last rich vein of historical comedy… and it’s in Sparta?

In this episode:

Song: The Plague Song (Ben as Corpse Collector, Mat, Sarah and Larry as Corpse Chorus)

Recurring sketches:

Ready, Steady Feast — Tudor Diets: Peasant vs. Aristocratic

Historical Hairdressers — Tudor Beauty Treatments

Computer Game: Warrior! — Roman Legionary vs. Celtic Warrior

Fractured Fairy Tales — The Pied Piper of Hamelin, the Middle Ages version (See, they were in the middle of a plague epidemic, and rats carry plague…)

This is Your Reign — Napoleon Bonaparte

HHTV News: Mike Peabody Live — from the Battle of Thermopylae

One-offs:

Rotten Romans

Sponge on a Stick (two parts) — On the bright side, we’ve moved up from animal to human toilet habits…

New! Viper Deodorant — “Do YOU smell like a barbarian died in your armpit?”

Vile Victorians

Genuine Victorian Slang — Surprisingly enough, not actually made up by Charles Dickens. (Bonus educational tip, kids: try listing this sketch in the bibliography of your next paper on Oliver Twist! Your teacher will love it!)

Great Victorian Inventions: The Car (animated) — True story: at one point engineers were seriously concerned that ‘horseless carriages’ would suffocate their riders, as the air was rushing by them too fast to breathe. That is, once they hit roughly around 30mph. Really.

Cut-Throat Celts

Better Homes & Severed Heads — You do have to admit, nuked-noggin decor probably cut way down on annoying Celtic telemarketers.

Groovy Greeks

This! Is… Wait! — Detailing how actual, normal humans would’ve reacted to being sent to Thermopylae… in other news, nobody ever accused Spartan warriors of being normal.

Field Notes:

  • Oh thank goodness, it was only temporary. Also, my profound thanks to Ben and Katy Wix, not forgetting Larry and Martha later at the Prom. The evolution of HH musical genius gets right back on track this ep, with what to this day is still one of the most offbeat, interesting musical things the show has to offer. So just imagine what it feels like when you’ve only been reviewing the first series for six weeks straight.
  • Seriously though, the Black Death as Danse Macabre…how awesome is that? Possibly not the most original staging idea ever, but — and this is very much the point — a brilliantly apt way to both be a historical comedy and avoid making light of 25 million agonizing deaths. (Also, to shoehorn zombies in there. I have a lot of fun imagining the potential outtakes from this one. “Brainnnnsss…”) In the annals of HH’s revelatory “Hey, we really could be a whole lot more than the source material!” moments, this one’s a doozy.
  • ‘Doozy’ is also a good way to describe Ben’s performance in the prep-for-Thermopylae sketch, although “I think I’ve figured out which script they used to get him to sign on” works too. Honestly, I’m not sure the man even realises he’s supposed to be giving a comedy performance here, or for that matter cares; he’s off in his own private 300, living the dream, rocking the Gerald Butler ‘do… except opposite Larry and Mat instead of comely servant wenches. Thus handily explaining why he also seems so convincingly ticked whenever they speak… or not, depending on just how deep into the Spartan experience he is.
  • It also helps the offbeat vibe to remember, when watching Mat’s final freakout, that as per what the show has just established ‘Mommy’ will be clocking him upside the ear and throwing him right back out into the battle. I would be making further snarky comments about how Mat’s continued failure to have been left out on a mountaintop at birth undermines everything the show is trying to establish about Spartans… but I’m too busy smiling at the aforementioned mental picture.
  • So yes, wow, Spartans, obviously still pretty darn cool in 2008-ish, when all of the writing would’ve started going down… shortly after which the writers, much like the rest of us, found the testosterone-crazed warriors increasingly hard to take seriously. By the time we arrive at Thermopylae, in company with ever-credulous Mike Peabody, they’re ready to have a whole lot of fun with the same phenomenon they straight-up celebrated just last ep. Watching Mike repeatedly being forced to assure Hellenic generals that their hair looks fine, this is another thing that makes my brain grin all over.
  • In this sketch even Mat’s unconvincing armour-wearing works in context — of course the pretty boy with the great hair is the king in this reality! And this reality is hilarious! So, hell, why not try the combo out in other realities too? In short, it’s taken awhile, but relentlessly earnest warrior-next-door Mat finally has a campy, adult archetype of his very own. This will become a trifle more obvious in the next series — as will a lot of other adult implications surrounding Mat — but for now, it’s just seriously funny.
  • Speaking of jacking up the adult content… erm… look, generally, I like the Historical Hairdressers sketches, I really do. Martha works the first of several feisty modern blue-collar gals with all the verve they demand (I gather her native accent is considered kind of annoying, but I rather like it). However… how do I put this… meth, is it a thing in the UK? At least, you do watch Breaking Bad? ‘Cos I’m looking at Shelly’s sore-covered face post-‘treatment’, and I’m not seeing ‘standard, if slightly gross, HH gag’, I’m seeing ‘convincingly authentic PSA’.
  • On the further subject of convincing… DAMMIT LARRY THAT IS THE MOST EMBARRASSING PSEUDO-IRISH THING I HAVE EVER SEEN SINCE THE TIME BOB THREW UP THE GREEN BEER AT THE GREEK RESTAURANT. Sorry, this one’s been building up through several viewings. I realise the man was likely excited at being upright onscreen for the first time in ages, but really, watching Lucky Charms commercials does not count as research. Mind, Jim and his Eye-talian accent aren’t far behind — you lot are just lucky the sketch itself is generally cute enough to dim the memory of Tudor Traitors on Parade. And that Rattus gets a darling little brocade armchair of his own. Squee!
  • I will refrain from commenting on the Roman toilet sketches, on account of I can figure out no way to do so without sounding like, well, a puritanical old poop. Just not my thing, kiddies, sorry. I’m a cranky grownup who takes much more glee in noting that the 2nd bit here was obviously meant to follow on from the main ‘communal toilet’ sketch — which doesn’t happen until epIsode 13.

95% Accu-rat:

  • OK, the naked Celtic warrior? Totally a thing. The reasons are disputed, and the frequency probably exaggerated by Romans interested in painting the enemy as wild irrational freaks in dire need of the civilizing Latin influence, but they did really charge into battle in the nude… so yeah, point goes to the Romans here, mostly.
  • Contrariwise I couldn’t find much info re: deadly snake as Roman man-grooming staple, but this recipe for a depilatory is intriguing: Resin, pitch, white vine or ivy gum extract, asses’ fat, she-goat’s gall, bat’s blood and powdered viper. Apparently the belief was that the viper, or asp, made its nest in lavender plants, which as a rationale for cosmetic ingredients is at least up there with “hey, this musk deer gland smells great!”
  • This isn’t a scientific forum I know — and very grateful I am for it usually — but the Plague Song lyrics always make me go ‘hmmmm?’ right around “Bites the rat and gives it germs…” In the interest of biological clarity, shouldn’t that be “bites the rat and picks up germs?” Otherwise, we’re missing a step in the transmission. I think. Yes, I’m a hopeless nerd.
  • According to most sources “half the people on the Earth/are simply blown away!” seems to be a rather massive exaggeration — although this was undoubtedly one incredibly, horrifically huge Very Bad Thing That Really Happened, so I doubt there’s much point in anyone being offended at a little post-millennial artistic license intended to get that across. The (impromptu?) revision to “Half the children...” in the Prom version probably helps though.
  • Speaking of exaggeration to make a point… the Tudor diet wasn’t actually that sharply divided along class lines, or at least not along the lines suggested here. A peasant diet would be much more veg-intensive, but the nobles did eagerly eat veggies too. In fact Henry VIII was known to have grown artichokes at Hampton Court palace. The real difference was that the upper-class had the ability (from which our modern notion of haute cuisine descends) to spend time and money on making food snazzy instead of merely sustaining. Hence more sophisticated preparations, like delicate salads and cabbage boiled with spices.
  • On the other hand, bunging random poisonous substances on your face (or, in the case of Victorian ladies and arsenic, in your face): totally the province of the rich, or at least those who wanted to appear so. The coveted clear, luminous pink-and-white complexion indicated not only aristocratic birth — ‘blue-blooded’ likely refers to the veins visible under a truly delicate skin — but innocence, femininity and purity: the historical Holy Grail of womanhood. (Olive skin was dismissed as ‘brown’ and thought of as a major defect — was one of the objections to Anne Boleyn, in fact.)
  • Right, not to put too fine a point on it, but: Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington. Aka the ‘Iron Duke’. Not a dude prone to breaking into jigs in public. (Although as the hero of all the papers after Waterloo he did star — along with his sons — in the Brontes’ earliest juvenile writings… which were more or less romantic fanfic. Seriously.)
  • That sketch’d overall be a lot more fun if they skipped the comic-opera accents and told the real story: according to my Treasury of Royal Scandals (don’t leave home without it!) the ‘Battling Bonapartes’ would, in fact, have made fabulous modern reality-show fodder. The only thing this clan could agree on is that their Nap was doing it wrong. Whatever it was. He thought he was running a realpolitik empire; they pictured it more as a sort of extra-glittery Mafia, in which everybody’s honour was being offended at once.
  • Oh, and Josephine — aka the ‘Great Whore’ — not impressed with her either. In fact, ‘strong-willed’ Meré Bonaparte and her daughters, in a move familiar to anyone who’s ever tried to plan a wedding reception, refused to attend the Imperial coronation over their fear of being one-upped by the scandalous (and middle-aged, yet!) Empress.
  • Everybody else spent Napoleon’s reign haughtily (and in at least one case, insanely) miffed that their baby bro was now treating them as mere puppets in his empirical schemes, to the point of wholesale refusal to take their advice, breaking up inconvenient marriages and/or abandoning them in the face of rebellious natives. Napoleon, on the other hand, was understandably ticked at what he saw as their ingratitude for his raising the whole dysfunctional, spendthrift, sexually irresponsible lot to the First Family of Europe. Something to remember, next time you start wishing you had a nice normal family like everyone else…
 
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Posted by on January 20, 2013 in Series One

 

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