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S01E04

I liked that arm! That was my favourite!

So there’s this sketch where Ben sniffs Mat’s hair, and some other stuff… helicopters.

In this episode:

Song: We’re Tudors (Martha as Elizabeth I, Ben as Henry VIII)

Recurring sketches:

Ready, Steady Feast – Dr. William Buckland: Famed eater of weird things

Stupid Deaths – Matthew Webb (tried to swim the rapids under Niagara Falls)

Dodgy War Inventions – No.16: Zeppelin Airships

Historical Hospital – Hippocrates, Father of Medicine

Bob Hale – The Roman Report

Oh Yea! Magazine – Tudor execution special

One-offs:

Smashing Saxons

Saxon Family Feud – “Like Eastenders, but with lots more blood!”… so apparently Eastenders makes a regular thing out of Saxon kings running around in poofy robes ineffectually demanding weregeld? I may need to start watching again.

Anglo-Saxon Ghost Hunt —  Essentially, if you’re in pre-Norman Britain, you’re living the Blair Witch Project 24/7. Except with Vikings.

Frightful First World War

TNT Hair Dye – Yep, how to become a literal blonde bombshell…

Groovy Greeks

Alexandria – In which Alexander the Great’s advisor Hephaestion learns that challenging the ego of a world-conquering tyrant and keeping your dignity is a distinctly either/or proposition.

Rotten Romans

Caligula’s Speechwriter – “So you’re saying, lose the whole chopping-necks thing completely…?” “I wouldn’t start with it.”

Terrible Tudors

Elizabeth the Nicknamer — Yeah, you know that one really, really non-PC co-worker who insists you’re all one big family and so keeps demanding $10 for random baby showers? Bess here was the royal equivalent.

Field Notes:

  • Aaaaaand welcome to the episode that launched a thousand fanfics — also, to be fair, quite a few other essential components of HH canon, including Bob Hale, Caligula and Elizabeth the First, albeit surprisingly petite-nosed compared to later appearances. Moot point now of course, but somebody may just want to explain to the makeup dept, the notion of people’s noses growing longer as they get older? Not really a thing.
  • Oh, and Lionel Walter, 2nd Baron Rothschild, known with varying degrees of fondness in HH lore as The Guy Who Drove Zebras Through London, Har Har Har. That is, I’m not particularly fond of him, and I haven’t really met anyone else who counts him as integral to their fandom, but damned if the producers aren`t head-over-heels for this mildly eccentric aristocratic zoologist. Or possibly just don`t keep track of the random mentions. I’ve counted four separate ones, which frankly would be about three past interesting even if they didn`t all reiterate the exact same details. (Along the same lines, get real used to Caligula’s story about killing the priest instead of the sacrificial beast…)
  • Speaking of benign eccentricity… time to meet Bob Hale, HHTV Special Correspondent and Larry Rickard`s very own shining comic achievement. Confined to a bad suit in front of what I think was originally supposed to be the weatherman’s map, forced to cover all the boring details the other sketches skip over, Bob`s legend will nevertheless grow into a wonderful Wonka-esque medley of catchphrases (“BUT NOT FOR LONG!”), whimsical asides, clever cartoons, Thing-O-Meters and of course helicopters. His enthusiastic cluelessness reaches Bob & Ray levels of endearing… yes, I know, but trust me, I’m paying Larry a huge compliment.
  • So… really expecting the kiddies to get the Eastenders reference, were we, children’s show?… Actually, y’know what, never mind, after last episode I’m thinking you might. Except that later on, Liz’s French suitor, the Duc d’Alencon, is fudged into a `friend’. So now I’m just totally confused.
  • Wildly inappropriate implications aside (most of them, according to himself, contributed on-the-spot by one B.Willbond) the Alexandria sketch is well-put-together, and — even given the need to accept Ben as ‘barely twenty-six’ — our lush leads a whole whackload more plausible than Colin Farrell. I especially like that the armour Alex is wearing ends up being the same Caligula digs up a few sketches later. All hail continuity!
  • I think my own fan instincts must be a bit cracked, because honestly my major Ben feels here come from the Ghost Hunt sketch. “The spirits like to have a little natter…” I dunno, I just love the way he says that. Really, rewound it a few times. If I ever had a chance to have him repeat a line just for me, that’d be the one.
  • Much love also for the Saxon Family Feud, the niftiest outcropping to date of the sophistication discussed last entry; the funny has an unusually complex internal logic, almost like a mini-sitcom episode. (”You’re, like, so much sweatier in person!” “Well, I’ve just run up a hill, haven’t I?”). I’ve never understood why it doesn’t get more appreciation among the fandom; containing as it does, besides Mat & Jim being Mat & Jim, the same sweetly ineffectual Ben from the Ghost Hunt. Not an archetype he pulls out very often, and again, call me daffy, but I like it better than Alexander. (Now, Hephaestion, we can discuss).
  • OK, held off the negative as long as I can, but… The Tudors song. Yes, fine, it’s catchy (despite some annoyingly juvenile and/or forced rhymes), the details are mostly accurate, Martha does a decent vocal job, and some of the staging is interesting. Still, the overall tone — if you need a refresher on my sensitivity where the Tudor clan is concerned, you may want to head back to S01E02 & mentally add ‘but even more so’ at the end of each sentence. Otherwise… *deep breath* NO THE HISTORY BOOKS DID NOT REVIEW THEM AS ‘ROTTERS AND BIG BRUISERS’! THIS SORT OF CARTOONISH PANDERING TO IDIOTIC SOAP OPERA STEREOTYPES IS COMPLETELY…
  • …*takes several more deep breaths*…
  • …OK, better now. Will air out my similar frustrations with the ‘Oh Yea!’ bit in the historical notes below. But really — I don’t even get the fig leaf of a charming Henry VIII in this song, on account of it’s all but been specifically designed to expose Ben’s vocal limitations (I’m assuming it was written prior to his, or at least Henry’s, being cast). There is nothing at all engaging about watching an actor you respect being hung out to dry in living colour. I haven’t done this much wincing since Mom brought home those Best of the Dean Martin Show DVDs.
  • Right, back to the positives…for instance, erm, Caligula. Whether or not ‘Little Bootikins’ (no really, look it up) was in reality all that bad is debatable, but in Simon’s hands he’s the definition of utterly random hilarity, less a characterisation than an outlet. Seriously, I’m willing to let a lot pass just because without something this juicy to play with, I’m not sure we’d still have a Farnaby round to enjoy, lo these several series later. Keeping that kind of crazy bottled up would’ve done some serious damage.

95% Accu-rat:

  • As a takeoff on the tabloid tendency to unfairly exaggerate details out of context, the “Oh Yea!” Tudor piece is fabulous. As a vehicle for getting the actual facts across… well. Yes, Elizabeth signed the death warrant for her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots. What’s not mentioned is that i) Mary had become not only a focus for disaffected Catholics, but a willing and eager participant in their schemes; and ii) despite all of which, Elizabeth agonised over signing that warrant, and eventually did so only because her closest advisors insisted. Not so much out of family feeling — they’d never actually met, after all — as deep-seated qualms, both ethical and practical, about executing royalty. After all, if the ‘divine right to rule’ could be breached in one case, what about all the others? Especially *ahem* the arguably-illegitimate daughter of a Protestant king whose marital history was murky at best…?
  • One other probably-just-me thing that’s always irked re: the song: yes, Liz adored her father — and she also cared deeply for her brother. They were more or less raised together, studied together, and were told of their father’s death at the same time, whereupon they sobbed inconsolably together. Even when I’m determined to get into the spirit of the thing, hearing this version of Elizabeth dismissively refer to ‘sickly little Eddie’ just bounces me right back out.
  • After all of which it’s only fair to note that the ‘Nicknamer’ sketch gets a lot of the small stuff exactly right. The Duc did in fact demand a nickname, albeit mostly because he was actually there to convince our Bess to marry him. Unavoidable casting limitations (ie, not hiring disabled people solely to snigger at them) prevent an accurate visual of ‘Pygmy’, but Robert Cecil — son and carefully-groomed successor to Sir William — did in reality fit the bill: “A slight, crooked, hump-backed young gentleman, dwarfish in stature, but with a face not irregular in feature, and thoughtful and subtle in expression, with reddish hair, a thin tawny beard, and large, pathetic, greenish-coloured eyes…”
  • So… Caligula. Right. As noted above, I’m a bit more forgiving here; frankly it’d be downright cruel to insist the show wholly overlook the motherlode of historical horror. Still, as one unusually sensible YouTube commenter put it, fair compromise with fact would merit at least a disclaimer from Rattus, re: the really outre stuff being based largely on one or two hostile sources with an axe to grind. (Luckily, there’s no way in even Viking hell most of that same stuff is usable for a family audience). The Wikipedia page does a good job of summarizing specific controversies.
  • OK, you’ve probably already looked this one up, but in the interests of promoting fanfic accuracy it’s worth reiterating: yes, Alexander and Hephaestion were very likely lovers, but in a very different context from the modern, arising naturally out of their lifelong friendship.
  • Meanwhile — he’s not nearly as adorable granted, but Dr. William Buckland: genuinely quite a guy. Absolutely willing to chow down on the heart of a king, too… albeit sources are a little unclear whether it actually was or not, which spoils the effect a little. I do strongly recommend looking him up, though; the full bat urine story alone is worth it.
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Posted by on December 29, 2012 in Series One

 

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