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S01E07

We hunt for deer and rabbits too — so long as they are slow!
…’cos otherwise, we can’t catch them…

In which writers and performers alike nail their ultimate Horrible ambitions to the mast, and thus the viewer is given a delicious glimpse of goodies both now and to come…

In this episode:

Song: I’m a Knight (Mat, Jim and writer Steve ‘Eric Idle’ Punt)

Recurring sketches:

Oh Yea! Magazine — Elizabeth I Exposed

Historical Hospital — Tudor physician

Fractured Fairy Tales — Cinderella, the WWII version (Even fairy godmothers got hit by clothes rationing. Also, the Blitz.)

One-offs:

Groovy Greeks

Helen of Troy – If Classics Illustrated were about x100 more honest. (“Listen up, yeah! I want all us Greek soldiers to march on Troy, you get me? We’re gonna tear that city UP! Kill dem all, izzit? Yeah, it is!”)

The Trojan Horse (imagine spot) – Even without badgers, still really a very silly idea. (“Either we assume this giant wooden horse is a trap, and burn it where it stands; or we say “Look, this is just a nice — if completely weird — present”, and drag it inside the city walls, leave it unguarded and go to bed.”)

Measly Middle Ages

That Was Entertainment!: Jousting on Ice – Bored British peasants take advantage of winter ice to invent a fast-paced, violent, stick-intensive sport… or as I like to think of it, ‘Canada: The Hockey-ening.’

Woeful Second World War

Gravy Stockings — “Look good enough to eat!”

Awful Egyptians

Resurrection Realtor (imagine spot) – …and that parody pyramid either could’ve used some granite countertops, or I’ve been watching way too much House Hunters lately.

Egyptian Gods (animated) — Aka Dogface, Birdbrain and Hippo-Bum the Devourer. Because some things HH will never change. (“Sorry. The wicked give me terrible wind.”)

Vile Victorians

There’s Something in the Water – As you may have guessed, it ain’t attar of roses.

Parliament and the Thames Problem – Solving the “Great Stink” of 1858: So many “which one smells worse” gags, so little time…

Field Notes:

  • Hmmmm. It all begins to fit together, the method in the producers’ seeming madness: “So, cleverly subversive satire, you OK with that, CBBC mums? Fine, now how about we layer on the relentless violence…? Right — but what happens if someone gets bored and decides to throw in overt homeroticism? Really? And jokes about religion to boot? Great! *calls offscreen* “Steve! Ready for the brazenly obvious Monty Python influence!”
  • Or maybe not. Given everything I’ve been told about UK broadcast standards I will concede that they may just’ve thought the Spamalot Jr. vibe would avert a mid-series lull. However it happened, this ep showcases the outer limits of the HH creative team’s ambition, and it is glorious. Not quite the definitive gearshift from kiddy edutainment with parental bonus, to all-ages historical sketch show with an educational hook – ie. it’s still the first series — but for awhile here, it’s Ghost of HH Future all the way. Even the fairy tale segment is kinda nifty.
  • Clearly, all this had a rather intoxicating effect on the editing team. Much as I’ve been complaining about a lack of musical excitement… when interim sketches, animated scene wipes and sign-bearing rats are suddenly all bunged into the singalong at once, I feel the need to register a mild protest. And when in the same ep we also get an entire elaborate medley of cartoonage schlepped in-and-around the live-action (in the ‘Vile Victorians’ segments), I am forced to unkind conclusions re: desperation to justify film-school loans to the parental units.
  • Especially since even without all the ‘help’ this lot are rather overselling the knowing silliness. The sudden, vividly daring rebuttal to generic-ness is hugely appreciated, guys, don’t get me wrong — thing is, we have the Internet now, and riffing on the Holy Grail just doesn’t make you clever enough to kiss anymore. Although it does neatly transform the over-earnest onscreen lyrics into authentically Pythonesque overkill… OK, maybe a little cheek peck.
  • Really, the song overall has the same effect on the critical psyche as trying to punish a kitten, you just cannot stop smiling long enough to protest. Besides which, that the historical comedy sketch show even has Eric Idle’s body double writing for them is clearly a sign from the entertainment gods that they were on the right and good track… yeah, including the Camelot-esque can-can. It’s a very Reform theology.
  • Speaking of adorable… ‘Bradley Huxtable’ is so going to be what I am calling the fuzzy Jim plushie that I have been designing since roughly the Shouty Man’s first appearance. Plushie Jim will be cuddly-soft just like one of those Hallmark teddy bears, except that instead of singing he will make snarky remarks when you press his paw, also occasionally giggle. Seriously, it’s rare he turns up thus in ‘normal’ mode — neither hopeless loser nor over-the-top huckster — and every time he does it’s a reminder for me to be amazed that he’s not starring in his own sitcom by now. He’s not that short, producers, get over it.
  • Whether more a sign of increasing commitment in the moment or a desire to still have viable grown-up careers afterward — my personal guess is a lot of a) tinged noticeably with b) — the whole cast effortlessly handle whatever level-up the writers throw at them, showing off precision skills and timing that haven’t had a whole lot of chance to shine until now. Especially where Mat and Larry are concerned (Ben and Simon having arrived with their comic cred already more-or-less fully developed, and Jim nearly there); the Trojan Horse sketch flat-out belongs to the fledgling clown & the unknown writer, helping make it one more thing I totally cherish.
  • Sarah also contributes a very capable comic turn — which is probably why she was cast as Helen; not saying she’s not qualified otherwise, exactly, only that whether Martha’s face might launch more ships is at least debatable (this same ep, after all, does find MHD convincingly playing Cinderella). While I’m at it, here’s a spare laurel for Terry Deary, who’s developing a really nice, original line in wise old patriarchs. Honestly, if he’d just skip the pontificating and stick to acting while he’s in the public eye, I’d like him a whole lot better.
  • Ooh hey, and Larry the Historical Hospital patient finally gets to talk back! Turns out it really ups the funny-making ante when you give the daffy doc something to bounce off. Here he and Ben use that dynamic to build a wonderfully classic screwball comedy scene. (That is, once you get past that unnervingly dull modern deference to the historical crazy characteristic of the ‘timeslip’ sketches. Personally, I figure that in this world the Time Sewers malfunction so often the modern folk have just given up and gone with it. Can never decide if that`s charming or disturbing.)
  • So we’re hip-deep in Ancient Greek goofiness again — albeit in keeping with the current mood they’ve abandoned the genital mutilation for something much lighter. The Helen of Troy sketch is deservedly a classic, and I really do try to get into it, because the concept — an early version of the ‘match the modern genre to the equally pretentious history’ formula so simple-yet-cool it was later adopted for the songs — is just that brilliant… but I keep getting distracted by the accents. Specifically, this ‘chav’ thing, does it really sound like that? I do understand they’re channeling the same vibe as Sasha Baron Cohen’s Ali G; I have the same credibility flakeout while listening to both. (I imagine it’s much the same thing you lot go through when dealing with depictions of the American inner city.)
  • Incidentally, on the subject of distracting uncertainty — never let it be said I don’t know how to segue — who is that playing the Pharoah in the ‘pyramid realty’ sketch? It’s not Ben, right? I mean, I’d recognise Ben, and that isn’t him. I don’t think. It just seems weird that they’d bring in Random Unknown Lead Actor just for this one sketch. What I am sure of is that they paid good money for that sheepskin KISS wig (from the Pharoah Phashion sketch), because by god they’re going to use it!
  • Seriously, the Jousting on Ice… I see no reason why Canucks’ primal instinct for ice hockey couldn’t have originated in idiot English peasant DNA; it took decades just to convince ice hockey goalies it wasn’t sissified to wear face masks. The sketch itself has some nice details — it actually doesn’t seem like a bad idea for a real-world TV series — but the jousting itself starts and suddenly I’m thinking: nobody tell Don Cherry about this, OK? Just trust me, don’t.
  • Right, so I don’t usually make this sort of recommendation… family show, family-friendly blog, is the way I look at it… but if you’re into hair porn at all, boy howdy do you want to cue up the ‘Parliament’ sketch behind closed doors. I’m picturing somebody on the makeup team, probably after one too many Red Bulls, deciding that by God she was gonna fulfill her dream romance novel cover image now or never. Otherwise the sketch is funny but a bit too noticeably lazy, to the point of repeating almost verbatim the ‘does it bother us? No? OK then!” punchline from a few eps ago. Simon does have a wonderful take on urbanely clueless authority, though.

95% Accu-rat:

  • The Oh Yea! bit about Elizabeth’s supposedly poor hygiene… sigh. Here, have this accurate and well-reasoned rebuttal. Short version: i) Elizabeth was actually unusually finicky for the time, which certainly did involve regular bathing (also, not mentioned in the link, daily changes of linen undergarments) and ii) Everybody had smallpox scars and (among the nobility) bad teeth, because hello, it was frelling 16th-century Europe, anything above ‘not actually being dead’ was considered a bonus! Seriously, guys, all this is one rather shaky step up from laughing at victims of malnutrition for being short.
  • On the other hand, the gravy stockings I do have to give you. I went into researching this one extremely skeptical about the smell being anything close to socially acceptable in human company let alone canine, but instead learned a(nother) valuable lesson in never, ever, underestimating British resourcefulness under fire, and a new definition of ‘suffering to be beautiful’ besides. This vintage fashion blogger gives an entertaining in-depth overview of the Great Stocking Crisis.
  • OK, so, the whole ‘chivalry’ concept… um, in theory at least a wonderful, noble expression of man’s higher ideals (neutral-to-a-fault Wikipedia waxes positively ethereal on the subject). Also, a pretty good early attempt at maintaining order in the chaos of war. In practice, however — well, we’ve all encountered actual humans at some point, yes? Particularly the ones that are young, male, and  bored out of their tiny little minds? I’m not going to link it directly here (again, family blog), but if you’re over 16 and have a minute, check out Cracked.com’s recent article on Ridiculous Middle Ages Myths Everyone Believes — including one more satisfying whack at the hygiene thing.
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Posted by on January 8, 2013 in Series One

 

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