Guards! Take him away and make him dead!…Unless you can think of something worse than death, in which case, do that too, OK? OK.
The slight but curiously endearing interlude just before the steam fully ran out on Series One: a reminder that while the experiments may not all have worked, the great thing is they never stopped trying.
In this episode:
Song: British Things (Sarah as Queen Victoria, Mat as her Butler)
Oh Yea! Magazine — Henry VIII wedding special
Stupid Deaths — Pausanius of Sparta (declared sanctuary from his pursuers in a temple… so they bricked him up in it)
Court of Historical Law — Draco of Athens vs. an apple thief
Fractured Fairy Tales — Sleeping Beauty, the Ancient Greek version (In which she falls afoul of the idleness laws…)
Bob Hale — The British Empire Report
Words We Get From the – Vikings, part 2
Ready, Steady Feast — Live from the Siege of Orleans, 1429
The Axe Factor (imagine spot) – Who wants to be the next Tudor executioner? And, not incidentally, demonstrate the increasingly blurry line between actual reality-show logic and parody?
Warrior Poetry – No I am not going to write this description in rhyme. It’s a silly thing to do, and besides, I’m out of tim– Curse you, Dr. Seuss!
Guy Fawkes’ Firework Tips – The first of several pennies chucked at the hapless Old Guy, who couldn’t even keep ‘Stuff some explosives in the basement and run like hell’ straight.
HHTV News: Pick a Side, Any Side – The quiet countryside during the English Civil War was suddenly fraught with peril… marauding armies rending the kingdom asunder, half-dressed comics re-enacting ancient vaudeville routines, take your pick.
Measly Middle Ages
Too Grim For the Reaper – Or as I like to think of it, the moment at which Death finally chucked up the pointless paperwork (seriously, where was he filing those?) moved to Vegas and started hanging out with blonde skeletons.
- Confession time: I have always enjoyed Sarah as Queen Victoria just a leetle bit more than Martha, despite the latter being really a much more faithful take. Sarah, though, has the ‘We are not amused’ down to the point where frankly I would hate to be the go-fer accidentally serving lukewarm tea on any set she happened to frequent.
- So I rather like “British Things”, as a production concept anyway. Granted the song’s revisionist earnestness is in further over its head than a random jock at a feminist rally, and Mat’s still not quite the buttling type (albeit at least they didn’t try to shoehorn poor Ben in there). It still overall works as a sort of lavishly illustrated frontispiece for Bob H.’s likewise unsettlingly thorough report on the travails of empire — at least to me, the Canadian (mentioned by Bobsy, woo! represent!)
- Obviously I can’t speak to the UK’s empirical angst, esp. since I feel like we’ve gotten off fairly lightly — save perhaps still having to take respectful notice every time a minor Duchess sneezes — so am mostly just going on artistic merit here. When they do get to the bit about ‘Victoria’ actually being (gasp!) Latin, the only thing really is to be grateful they got it out of their systems early, and switch that part of the brain over to anticipating Series Two’s music instead.
- Ohai General Pausanius!… boy, you’ve changed. Or will change. I guess death by slow painful starvation might have had a part in that; it would at least explain, which I feel I must point out in fairness to your fourth-series likeness, why you’re not any more buff than he is despite continuing to be Spartan. That is to say, I’d just like to remind the producers, a career warrior battle-hardened from a toddler. I’m starting to realise why Hollywood went with the rotoscoping; it was clearly that much easier than reproducing this effect in real life.
- Big week altogether for rough drafts of more elaborate later-series redos. And having now also seen the original fun-but-raggedy Guy Fawkes sketch here, I am fully on board with this. (At least old Guy gets to keep the same rather dashing look, although I think the accent refines a bit.) While we’re on, can we also revisit the Stupid Death where [SPOILER ALERT] the Viking gets bitten by the severed head of his enemy? Pretty please with cherry atop?
- Speaking of which, this ep also gives us the first last and only appearance of the ‘Stupid Deaths’ milieu sans actual SD, and it cannot be a coincidence that it shows a Reaper so ready for exactly the changes he’s about to make. It certainly doesn’t have much point as a sketch otherwise — except to stress that HH purgatory can involve entire decades spent suffering in Death’s anteroom, without even so much as a towel for the drowned. Y’know, we make jokes about waiting in line at government offices here too, but you lot… I can only bow before your desperation.
- So let’s cheer things up a bit and remind ourselves that the same show created the gentle symphony of Seussian charm that is “Viking Poetry”. Totally unlike anything else HH before or since, but fully and entirely brilliant, performance and writing both. Basically, I love how it all just works. Two grown men, one speaking in rhyme and the other playing his foil in pigtails, sitting there so gravely respecting the fragility of what they’re doing (unlike, say, the people who bunged Mike Myers into a Cat in the Hat costume). Ben peering round involuntarily, looking for the audience, is especially precious.
- By contrast, the Axe Factor’s much more characteristically a Series One sketch: overwrought and sloppy around the edges, but still an ingeniously fun parody idea. The takeoff on your typical hopeful reality-TV contestants hits all the right notes, so to speak. Besides, I do enjoy comedy wherein just as you start preening yourself for noticing the illogic (“Um, why are they letting the clearly psychotic contestant hold the axe?”), it swings back around and smacks you upside the ear.
- Also: extensive bonus material in the form of my imagination riffing on what might happen if they really did give, say, American Idol contestants axes. There would be sparkly pony decals involved, of that I am very sure.
- Elsewhere in the annals of clever ideas, Larry gets his own back on Mat for that corsned business… and thus, not incidentally, becomes the bane of reality-challenged Baynton fangirls everywhere. If you’re ever in a particularly snarky mood, go look this one up on YouTube and the pink sparkly wailing will cheer you up no end… uh, so I’ve heard. Revelations from my evil twin aside, Mat does always tend to come across as a bit too authentically vulnerable (with those eyes, it was either that or become Enrique Iglesias), but Larry does cheerfully weird equally well — especially with the help of those ridiculous little visual aids — so here at least, it all evens out.
- Right, so at one point during the Siege of Orleans bit — and we will not get me started on the sheer disgustingness of that — however, one of the items hauled out is half a rat, as played by what looks unnervingly like the bottom of the Rattus puppet. With the implication that the top was chomped raw on the way to the studio… all this, and not a squeak of protest from Our Host. It is of course possible he fainted from the sheer gross; were it not for deadlines here, I would be joining him.
- So, erm, yeah, I do hate to go all History Math Nazi here, but the Hundred Years’ War. Technically yes, it did last for 100 years — thing is, by the calculations of the Historians That Calculate These Things it lasted another 16 years past that. Given a choice between a puppet rat or people whose self-respect depends on an in-depth knowledge of fourteenth-century politics, I know who I’m not gonna challenge. (And am kind of surprised the HH writers passed up the much better joke inherent in the accurate figure.)
- It’s mentioned in passing (and illustrated by the brief excerpt Simon recites) but just to reiterate, on account of it’s also once again clear from the YouTube comments that people really care about this — seriously, don’t you people have Doctor Who fanfic to read or something? — at any rate no, Viking poetry didn’t really rhyme, per se. At least, I don’t think. Did you ever want to expand your knowledge of technical literary terms (and/or have bad flashbacks to HS English) now’s the time to head over there.
- [TUDOR RANT ALERT] Geez, though, show, are we not done with this yet? Anne Boleyn’s ‘extra finger’ / ‘humongous wart’ was actually described in the most reliable contemporary accounts as ‘some little show of nail’ on one side of her legitimate right pinky, ie, a vestigial blemish easily covered by the hanging sleeves she wore for just that reason. A more glaring deformity (other versions also feature multiple huge moles and a third breast) is extremely unlikely to have kept His Serially Married Majesty on the string for six long years. Especially in those hyper-superstitious times, when the ‘witch’s mark’ was a legitimate thing — but never mentioned re: Anne, not even when Henry was insisting later that he’d been seduced by her (literal, not Sinatra) black magic.
- Fun facteage to save for parties: next time some bore calls the latest government proposal ‘draconian’, you can reply “Yes, but really, they don’t bear much resemblance to Athenian statesman Draco, from whence the word derives. After all, it’s not like they want to have us all executed for stealing apples!” Then smile brightly. Within approximately ten seconds you’ll be left all alone with their helping of that delicious quiche.
- In real life, as you might imagine, being an executioner — in a world teeming with vengeful and often well-connected relatives — wasn’t exactly the most sought-after job in medieval Europe, although it could be very well-compensated for those same reasons. (In France, it was simply hereditary.) That said, talent did make a difference. Just ask Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, Henry’s sainted elderly cousin and victim of one of his periodic waves of dynastic paranoia. Her execution for treason was made even more horrifically shameful when: The frail and ill lady was dragged to the block and, as she refused to lay her head on it, was forced down. As she struggled, the inexperienced executioner’s first blow made a gash in her shoulder rather than her neck. Ten additional blows were required to complete the execution. A less reputable account states that she leapt from the block after the first clumsy blow and ran, pursued by the executioner.