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S01E09

Why would I pray to the goddess of the sewers?
Soldiers get very nervous before a battle, General. If fifteen thousand men decide to go to the toilet at the same time, I’m not clearing it up.

Sports teams call it ‘playing out the string’ — the point in the season at which the outcome’s been decided, so might as well give whatever’s left a shot. Although there still may be individual bright lights…

In this episode:

Song: It’s Not True! (Mat as Random…Historical Cop?, Martha as Random Teacher)

Recurring sketches:

Fractured Fairy Tales — Thumbelina, the Tudor version (Wherein she takes a wrong turn into the city and drowns in a gutterfull of poop)

Shouty Man — New Victorian Child (“And you can really see it working!”)

Words We Get From the — Vikings (No, not called that yet, but close enough)

Historical Wife Swap — Athenians vs. Spartans (“Hi, I’m a playwright!” “I’M – A – WARRIOR!!”)

HHTV News: Mike Peabody Live — From plague-riddled 1665 London

Ye Sun Magazine: Great Plague Special — “Read it before you die!”

Ready, Steady Feast — Thomas Farriner, the man who started the Great Fire of London

One-offs:

Terrible Tudors

Tudor Forecast — Poo. Lots of it. Next!

Vile Victorians

Uncool School Punishments — Demonstrating why very few alumni showed up for the class reunions, in Dickensian London.

Rotten Romans

Roman Gods Direct — Because frankly if they can’t smite the guy why stole your lunch out of the office fridge, what good is a divine pantheon anyway?…

Gotta Hail ‘Em All — …Seriously though, you ever wonder if the ancients eventually started inventing petty deities just to mess with each other? I probably would’ve.

Vicious Vikings

No Horns Here (animated) — Because contrary to nerdlore, not everything ancient warriors did was based on how badass it looked.

Field Notes:

  • So yeah, now entering the phase in every HH series at which things start to feel something less than wholly inspired… the difference between this and later series being that, in the latter, said phase usually only lasts an ep or two. Given the additional lack of a song special (albeit if this ep has taught us anything, it’s that we need not waste time mourning that) Series One is effectively one episode longer. More space and much less memorably funny stuff to fill it: ladies and gentlemen, a situation in which six total minutes of blandly reiterating that ‘Medieval streets were awash in poo!’ is considered viable television.
  • Also: Simon dressed up as vaguely-possibly-sort-of Mercury, the hell? The whole ‘Roman Gods Direct’ sketch is a distressingly detailed example of the pitfalls awaiting even a decent — and surprisingly adult, even given what’s gone before — sketch idea when it comes time to commit to film. Should really have set this one aside for when the show’s comedic commitment and costuming budget kicked up a notch, and let the much more succinctly funny followup (have I mentioned how well Mat & Jim play off each other yet?) stand on its own.
  • Oh, and the song. Ordinarily when confronted with the memory of ‘It’s Not True!’ I quietly change the mental subject as soon as possible; being aware that there are HH fans who have never watched Barney, and thus do not twitch uneasily whenever chipper music starts up in a cheap schoolroom set. However, for this project I’m determined that everything should have a fair and objective watch. Therefore it is with newly empowered confidence that I now can say: boy, this musical sequence sucks. On toast.
  • Even making the standard allowances for creative bumbling, budget etc; it’s literally hard to believe that the same people behind the 4 Georges also greenlighted these desperate dance moves. Basically this, right here, is what HH would’ve looked like were it really ‘just a children’s series’, with expectations lowered accordingly from ‘challenging and creative’ to ‘bright and cheerful’…
  • …Sorry, I’ll work on the dosage. Meantime, have an unquestioned bright spot: introducing Mike Peabody, HHTV News’ Man on the Scene, and the perfect (not to say rather impressively sophisticated) face for their campaign to wring media cliche out of historical chaos. I like to think of Mike as a sort of expatriate grand-nephew of Bob & Ray’s Wally Ballou: outfitted with newer tech (and/or stylists) but likewise entirely sure only that he is a Journalist and his job is therefore to Get the Story. The stonefaced bemusement with which Ben greets every deviation from same is pure gold.
  • Elsewhere the Shouty Man’s most excellent mercenary adventures take a sinister turn, as he moves up from hawking dead bodies into more-or-less creating them, in a sharply improved second draft of the ‘Chimney Sweep’ sketch from a few eps ago. Rather sadly, this and the companion ‘Victorian Maid’ bit will represent Shouty’s apotheosis; not to say that it’s all downhill from here, since Jim’s adorable amorality is a wonder in-and-of-itself, but the sharp and multileveled satire will dissipate into more generic comedy.
  • The above stuns Rattus into genuine sympathy again. That little puppet can look more convincingly moved than most human actors. Besides which this ep marks the debut of his teeny little temporal accessories — all carefully and cleverly designed to seem jury-rigged from stuff he’s found down sewer. Clearly, someone in the props dept is as smitten by miniatures as is this reviewer, who is self-banned from a certain dollhouse store in Toronto for fear of impulsively buying all their stock at one go. I warn you now: there will be squee.
  • OK… I truly don’t want to keep harping on Mat’s physique, or lack thereof. Besides being boringly shallow, it has no bearing on his talent… except, oh shoot, he’s starring in a historical sketch show, and they keep casting him not only as a Roman general but as a Spartan warrior. Apparently merely to save a bit of money on the fake tan. Bless the man, he’s doing everything short of banging his head on the table to convey menacing toughness, but honestly. If he wasn’t left out for the birds at birth, then these Spartans were clearly just big softies at heart.
  • Great sketch, this Wife Swap, though. The feminist angle feels a bit too obviously shoehorned in — an early indication of how the producers intend to deal with the relative dearth of available herstory — but the fight/vote thing is a nice touch, and it’s nice to see Martha getting a chance at a really meaty comic role for the first time in awhile.
  • Oh, and a couple other *ahem* interesting notes: a few eps from now Athenians will claim in song that ‘[their] physiques were not weak”. The next ep will give us a Spartan warrior — played by guess who? — flatly refusing to fight. And at the end of this sketch, as is standard, we get a teaser… for the Restoration WS, which aired awaaayyy back in S01E03. Whoops.
  • Now I will make up for all the ragging by pointing out again that Mat is a great comic performer, and in this ep alone does a fantastic job both of rapidly disintegrating reverence and total charming-morning-show-host obliviousness to flaming carnage, which is not something even the finest comedians are routinely accused of (unless possibly they are already dead of massive drug overdoses).
  • Then, I will complain that he is also doing the least convincing ‘elderly man’ I have ever heard. This will improve rapidly of course (helloooo, Darwin), but for now, the ‘School Punishments’ sketch is mostly making me wince at what that voice must be doing to his throat. Also, giving some interested thought to Simon as Mark Twain impersonator, and wondering if there’s any correlation between Ben’s Russian studies and his ability to make ersatz-Wackford Squeers here so convincing… yeah, sometimes you just have to keep yourself entertained however you can.
  • Finally, for once, I must give props for a really clever use of the magazine format: that is one great¬† two-edged slogan that I can totally imagine real tabloids borrowing in like crisis. Also, hi Larry the perpetual patient — it’s almost over, dude. Really.

95% Accu-rat:

  • Another fun little bit of fridge brilliance from the Wife Swap sketch: Spartans really were renowned for their dry humour! In fact, the word ‘laconic’ is a direct homage to Laconia, the actual name of the city-state of which Sparta was the principal city. So there you go, the whole “You will be going to a funeral” exchange is more accurate than the retelling of the fairy tale.
  • Because, and yes I realise this isn’t actually historically controversial, unless we’re talking messing with my treasured childhood memories, which hey, it’s my blog — Thumbelina, the original, never tried to make it in the big city. That’s kind of the whole point, she hangs out with animals the whole time. Danish animals, that is, because she’s actually a Hans Christian Andersen creation. So there. Nyahhh.
  • Ooh look, an indication that science actually existed back in the (not-so-) Dark Ages times — well, OK, in the Renaissance (the microscope first appeared in the Netherlands, 1590) but still, good going, show! Further evidence that it wasn’t all filth-gathering and funky smells, from Cracked.com’s highly recommended (to grownups) article on medieval myths:
    The church… started establishing universities to foster the preservation of knowledge. You may have heard of a few of them: Oxford, Cambridge, and the University of Paris (not to mention pretty much every other top school in Europe). The universities… translated into Latin guys like Aristotle and Plato, which effectively made the Renaissance possible.
    Around the same time… the Crusades were bringing Europeans into contact with advanced Muslim ideas of science and technology. Ideas like the compass and the astrolabe came to the West via Muslim Spain and came in handy during the later Age of Exploration.
  • I gather “No horned helmets” is sort of the “no wire hangers” of HH lore. Which is sort of understandable, given — as the sketch hints — the tradition requires believing that one of the most dedicated warrior races of all time really wore heavy, conveniently-graspable handles either side of their cranial region. One good enemy twist and yipes, suddenly we’re celebrating the not-so-glorious demise of Sweyn the Chicken-Necked. According to Wiki, the spiky imagery is all the fault of those derned Swedish Romanticists: The popular association probably arose in the 19th century… possibly by misattribution of Bronze Age images such as the Grevensv√¶nge figurines. (Which, I’d like to suggest, also explain a lot that’s incomprehensible about Ikea textiles.)
 
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Posted by on January 20, 2013 in Series One

 

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