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S01E08

Leader of the Gaulish hordes — so deadly, he could wear pigtails and still look hard!

The road to credibility goes back to being uneven, but the awesomeness of being children’s TV writers and performers with unbridled access to adult comedy inspiration remains…

In this episode:

Song: Caveman Love (Sarah as Random Lonely Cavegirl, Mat & Ben as Cave Backup Singers)

Recurring sketches:

Stupid Deaths — Edmund II (took a Viking dagger up the bum while squatting in a latrine pit)

Ready, Steady Feast — Stone Age Special

Historical Hairdressers — Saxon Hair Treatments

One-offs:

Vicious Vikings

Valhalla Tours — Burning and pillaging your way through Ancient Britain: because even if you’re a Viking, you’re sure as hell not going to come for the sun and sand.

Rotten Romans

Caesar vs. Vercingetorix — Proto-French barbarians give ‘fighting style’ a whole new meaning… also, possibly, “French accent”. (“Us Gauls don’t fight in ze rain! Ve’re orff!”)

Roman Decimation — OH HAI ‘BIGGUS DICKUS’ SCENE FROM LIFE OF BRIAN DIDN’T SEE YOU THERE.

Smashing Saxons

Have Yourself a Stinky Little Christmas — In which a few more painfully obvious gags get (literally) aired… on several demographic levels. (Kids: “Ha ha! They said ‘poo’!” Adults: “… still beats dealing with Aunt Millie’s candy-cane eggnog.”)

Gorgeous Georgians

This is Georgian Food — And perfume-style adverts don’t get any more comprehensible when they switch out Brad Pitt for maggots.

Georgian Dentistry — Ow. Also, ewwww. More entertainingly, also explaining the reason why George Washington is so tight-lipped in all those official portraits.

Frightful First World War

Causes of WWI — Had PG Wodehouse ever decided to write realistic drama (and, naturally, had a nervous breakdown in the attempt) it probably would’ve gone a little something like this…

Fly the Unfriendly Skies (animated) — Here’s the wannabe WWI Flying Ace trying out his new prototype planes… which, sadly, didn’t include a red doghouse.

Measly Middle Ages

Wat’s the Peasant’s Rebellion — Things were so desperate for serfs during the Dark Ages, their leaders had to resort to having really stupid names just to eke out a little comedy.

I’m Not a Knight After All — “The peasants are revolting!” “Yeah, pretty much…”

Field Notes:

  • Well, the revelatory excitement may have gpne off a bit… possibly a lot…  but this episode is good value anyway. By now, the only people still completely committed to HH the kiddy series are the editing team, who continue to randomly shuffle the animated segues around at a rate that strongly suggests the amphetamine dosage needed to at least be halved. Other stuff happens that I don’t think was ever repeated before or since; what works really works, and what doesn’t is still quirky fun. Even the little details, like Rattus vs. the invisible director and the Georgian dentist’s windowless office, are on point.
  • Also, more two-part tuneage. I can see where the song-sketch-song split appealed as a way to cram in more details without losing interest, but it’s a clunky one in a half-hour show and I’m not crushed it was dropped. (They have Bob Hale for that, after all.) Of course, what’s really becoming noticeable is that the problem of memorable music was solved in the very first episode, absolutely irrefutably nailed, and since then we’ve been watching the inevitable bumbling trial-and-error along the way back to that point.
  • This one’s about half-way along the timeline. We have achieved the idea of genre parody, but are not yet 100% sure what to do with it, nor even whether or not to care. Also: first-series budget. They’ve clearly just hauled everyone over as-is from the other Stone Age bits (Jim still in saucer-eyed “Sharp Stone” pitchman mode, explaining why for once he’s the boyfriend and Ben’s the backup). Thus if nothing else giving the whole a pleasingly offbeat ‘Hey guys, let’s put on a show!” vibe — Andy Hardy meets 10,000 BC. We’ve even got Mat (aka Grunt) winking again — don’t hear near as much about this wink, though. Can’t imagine why.
  • Something else they hadn’t quite thought through yet, priority-wise: messing with the male casts’ faces. Dirt, beards, scars etc can all be made to enhance fanservice under the right circs, but appliances… well, let us just say that, however historically accurate it may have been, Future Julius Caesar’s noble and much-blogged-about visage will be entirely missing the huge putty honker. (Doesn’t help that Ben’s using a remarkably non-nasal voice for someone theoretically carrying about five extra pounds on his face.)
  • In other ‘Hey we’re still wearing this stuff so what the hell’ action, great to see more of Steve Punt in the followup ‘Knights’ sketch — wish he’d stuck around generally, he bounces off the regular gang really well. Makes the throwaway sketch into almost more of a hilarious treat than the song. Good for Ben, too, getting a look-in in on the noble action; it just wouldn’t have been a properly sly subversion of romanticized machismo without him… uh, yeah, that’s supposed to be a compliment. Really.
  • The ‘Causes of WWI’ sketch… ohhhhh boy. The genuinely hilarious part is that it might actually be the most technically impressive sketch of the entire show — worth watching again just to appreciate how masterfully they keep it all straight while also keeping a straight face. Especially Ben (whose awe-ful knack for convolution will be further exploited later). It also gets some unexpected cred for — intentionally or not — referencing anime hit Axis Powers Hetalia, in which anthropomorphic amour between Austria and Germany is totally a thing. (So is Blenkinsop/Maltravers slashfic, despite strong evidence that neither would be able to manage even the basic act without a manual.)
  • Death continues to discover new and cruelly hilarious possibilities in his corpse parade — although this is a rare case in which the stupid totally wasn’t the dead man’s fault, poor — ooh, ooh! The poofy royal robes from the Saxon Family Feud sketch are back! Sorry, Edmund, at least you look so exactly as my inner child has always been convinced royalty should: fairytale luxury, as run past the Muppets, with just a dash of grandma’s La-Z-Boy recliner (mini-me always worried about how hard those thrones looked). Further happifying evidence that sometimes, budget limitations aren’t a bad thing.
  • This episode also treats us to the fabulous debut of Mat’s just-authentic-enough-to-be-hilariously-terrible French accent — later to be recycled as his equally baroque Spanish accent — which, along with his distinctively Mediterranean colouring, will ensure his future prominent presence in every Iberian Penisula-set sketch (not to mention nearly every Egyptian/Mesoamerican sketch). Hey, the French don’t get their own regular segment until Series Three, so this still counts as praiseworthy cultural restraint. Also, this particular Gallic sketch may have helped inspire the ‘Armada’ one in Series Four, which earns it all the bonus points.
  • The colouring thing may also help explain why the producers seem determined to stuff Mat into Roman armour, which it is past time to concede will never, ever look convincing. I do have to admit, though, he musters a very decent wooden-headed military haughtiness; of course, there’s not much excuse for any British comedian not to be able to channel the Life of Brian on command. It’s a bit too distractingly blatant a ripoff, honestly, but it’s a ripoff of the best, and Mat’s also got Jim around to ensure the mutual chemistry and timing does it justice. (“Troops! You will stay after battle every day this week!” “…That’s detention.”)
  • Also gotta admit, I really like the WWI plane prototype animated bit, specially since Ben’s narration sounds like he’d come straight from the ‘Causes’ sketch. There’s something about the combination of dashingly heroic and goofily whimsical that just works no matter what… as Charles Schulz discovered around fifty years ago. Given which, bit unsporting to throw in the ‘but you did just hit a dog!” gag, eh, old chaps? (Oh, also: lawn darts… FROM HELL!)
  • Ideas the HH Producers Fell in Love with Early On, Vol. 457: Marauding Vikings steamrolling over helpless English monks. This one will provide just endless opportunities for gore-intensive hilarity — which, as you may recognise by now, ranks in the HH Scale of Writer Gleefulness just below fart jokes — all on the helpfully obvious premise outlined here. I would complain about the repetition, but it will go on to spawn an all-time classic song, and rather surprisingly turns out to contain absolutely no mutilated genitalia references. Reviewing Horrible Histories: some days, all about deciding where to pick your battles.

95% Accu-rat:

  • One of the major reasons I can’t fault the ‘Causes of WWI’ sketch is that I myself got interested in the challenge of explaining it during HS history — rather as you would memorising pi to umpteen places — so I can both sympathise with the HH gang and verify that yes, that is not only the correct explanation but the most concise version of same you’re ever liable to hear. It helps to realise that at the time the entirety of Europe was more-or-less locked in a military-industrial game of chicken, just waiting for any excuse to rev up their shiny new war toys (what media romanticizations of the ‘Gilded Age’ tend to leave out is that an era of unparalleled possibilities & progress includes arms designers, too.) So… yeah, the adult version of schoolyard politics, pretty much.
  • As per previous notes, this week’s knightly sketch gets their actual attitude to chivalry across much more accurately — especially the part about it really only applying to fellow nobility. Frankly pausing to consider anything but their own bloodlust would be unusual for real medieval serf-oppressors, given that in the Dark Ages the sociology basically boiled down to ‘Yo, you’re a stinky vermin-ridden hellhole-dwelling starving serf ‘cos it’s God’s will, so anything I do to keep you there is totally your own fault.” (See also: The Crusades, rationale for.)
  • Neither actually invented the practice (as is shown here), but there’s much more evidence that ‘Decimation’ was revived in the ‘modern’ Roman era by General Crassus, not Pompey. Still, hey, they presumably all used it at some point, and a lot more people recognise the latter’s name (if only as way easier to make sound dirty in primary-grade history.) In real life, of course, they used a blind ballot (like blackballing) to get the thing done, and afterward everybody else got to sleep outside the encampment and eat nasty sour barley instead of wheat. Thus ensuring that if nothing else the troops would be more terrified of their own leaders than the opposition.
 
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Posted by on January 13, 2013 in Series One

 

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