Yes, join the Hitler Youth — and if you’re lucky, we’ll run so short of troops that we’ll send you off to fight and get killed for ze Vaterland!
But I’m only ten…
Talk to ze hand, cos ze face ain’t listening.
We interrupt this quiet, relatively painless winding-down to bring you: NAZIS! Which is either the most awkward or the most clever application of Godwin’s Law ever, I haven’t decided yet. Quite possibly, both.
In this episode:
Song: We are Greek (Mat as Aristotle, Jim as Archimedes)
Fractured Fairy Tales — The Ugly Duckling, the Middle Ages version (Yeah, so swan pie, very big back then…)
Stupid Deaths — Aeschylus (conked on the head by a tortoise dropped by an eagle who thought his bald spot was a rock…the playwright’s, that is, not the eagle’s.)
Monastic Sign Language — Peaceful, orderly English abbeys vs. mercilessly chaotic Vikings, round one of many. Though they never would quite top “the gorillas are ringing the bells…?” ever again.
The Monk Art Show: Write Like a Monk — Not to be confused with ‘drunk like a monk’, that’s for a later ep. But, arguably, still the same monastery…
Genuine Victorian Names — And the really scary part is, now all also freely available to newly-minted post-millennial parental units. (“Ooh, rough. Your parents must’ve been hippies, then?” “History majors, actually.”)
QVP Presents: The Queen Victoria Workout — Because, as small and dumpy as she may have become in later life, nobody ever called this woman soft.
Gladiator vs. Nature — In which the latter disappears via the former faster than Mat’s snaggletoothed look was dropped after this sketch. I like to extend it a few lines out: “In our defense, Your Imperial Majesty, that was NO ORDINARY GERBIL!!”
Execution Animals ‘R’ Us — “Oh dear. Do you have any other winged insect that can sting a man to death who’s covered in honey?” “Not really… a bee could do it on a good day, but there’s no guarantee...”
Measly Middle Ages
Fine Fiddly Feast — The boorish Earl of Warwick checks on banquet preparations and still manages to come off as more sympathetic than most modern kitchen managers.
The First Play Ever (movie trailer) — “I know it sounds boring, but remember… there’s literally nothing else on.”
Woeful Second World War
Evacuees With Dirty Faces – Anybody who thinks that the little slum kids are as angelic as they look is in for a shock, har har!… no, really, that’s the entire joke. Yes, it’s almost over.
Join the Hitler Youth… or Else — “Just like ze Scouts… only EVIL!”
Top Three Strangest Hitler Survival Rumours (animated) — Presumably the one where he moved to a North Minehead rest home and changed his name to ‘Hilter’ was thought to be pushing it a bit.
- Yeah, so, the Hitler Youth, quite a sketch. A sort of sideways outcropping of the “British Things” –type impulse from last episode; much more necessary, but also much more complicated, emotionally if not factually. It gets all the points first for attempting and then for actually balancing along a razor-fine line of sensitivity even adult comics would fear to tread (helped by Ben’s entirely too open and wholesome-looking Fuehrer, in the same way Nero benefits from Jim’s overwhelming cuddliness). It’s honestly an excellent demonstration of how deftly the writers had learned to use history against its subjects. But still…
- I was going to suggest that possibly it was cut from S01E03 (aka The One That Still Haunts My Nightmares) for time constraints, but it wouldn’t really have fit there — except maybe as an intriguing riff on why the ‘comedy = tragedy + time’ formula exists. Possibly it was banished to this far episodic outpost of irrelevance on the understanding that it wouldn’t really fit anywhere. There is a reason why ‘full-on whacky Nazis’ is still the universally accepted comedy compromise — as the show itself acknowledges immediately afterwards, and as late as Series Four.
- Right, back to your regularly-scheduled lighthearted irrelevance… oh look, it’s the Greek thinkers’ song that isn’t a brilliantly-honed pastiche of great satirists past! Seriously, not much you can say about this one – save that whoa, apparently Aristotle here got deep into the man-grooming between now and Series Four. Still, yay! performer continuity, also makeup budget increases.
- Otherwise… mmph. It’s not even a song really, just a long string of (mostly) rhyming couplets with no real visual theme to tie them together (compare the effort put into the very similar ‘Victorian Inventions’ next season). They don’t even bother making Mat’s piano-playing mime look convincing. About halfway through, in fact, he quite visibly decides to privately entertain himself however he can. Meanwhile Jim gamely struggles on to the end… and is rewarded by being forced to declaim that ‘our physiques were not weak’, a mere couple eps past playing a totally effete Athenian. That Wife Swap sketch is just doing no-one any favours, is it?
- Jim gets much better served in ‘Write Like a Monk’ — albeit not by the makeup team. Those wound-simulation skills I mentioned, away back? I’d like to introduce you to Exhibit A: Still Life of Miserable Monk with Wasp Stings. How do you even learn to simulate wasp stings? Is there a textbook? Do they sell tickets to the final exams, and if so where can I buy several?
- Honestly, though, that bit is a whole lot funnier than it has any right to be. Ben and Jim are the total Abbott and Costello of ‘demonstration’ sketches, somehow the concept just brings out the funniest and most watchable in both of them. Luckily, someone on the production side took this down for future reference.
- There’s only one really glaring cosmetic misstep here… OK, two if we’re counting those tonsure wigs. But only one involves Mat’s face, so is destined to be mocked by bored Tumblr-GIF-makers for a very long time to come. I do have a certain amount of respect for Mat re: the attempt, having gathered elsewhere that those snaggle-mouth appliances are desperately uncomfortable (as anything bunged into your mouth without warning must be)… but yeah. Exeunt male-cast-face-distorting experiments, not lamented.
- Still though, itty-bitty gerbil! And Rattus’ teeny baked-bean-can shield! And – don’t believe I’m saying this, but ‘tis so — Terry Deary as an uncannily adorable Roman Emperor! Squeeee!… right, look, I’ve been at this for twelve episodes now, OK? Cut me some slack.
- Speaking of Mat and experiments (also, probably, entertaining himself), the otherwise-unremarkable sign-language sketch is his big chance to break out his inner mime – and this man was trained in a Parisian clown school, you know that sucker had to have been knocking hard. At any rate, he makes the most of it here, in what might best be described as an, ah, uniquely rewarding mileu. The ‘spilling guts’ maneuver especially is not to be missed; I bet it was the hit of the college pubs (cafes?) for miles around.
- Oh, and kudos to whomever folded all those dozens of origami swans just for a frankly mediocre medieval kitchen sketch. I’m picturing a revelatory career insight such as frequently crops up mid-experiment on Mythbusters: “I just had one of those what-the-hell-are-we-doing moments…” (And this sketch gets one other distinction, as one of the very rare – and in this case, rather cleverly done – times Rattus interacts directly with the players.)
- I’m honestly torn by the Queen Victoria Workout. On the one hand, it’s a hilariously creative way to get the lady’s legendary toughness across; on the other… was it honestly necessary to keep harping on her figure not being perfect, as though it was some sort of massive defect on the scale of the villainy and stupidity presented elsewhere in the same ep? One last little reminder that the HH comedy model only works properly if the ‘horror’ in question is genuinely the result of a flaw in human nature, not physical.
- Right, so any attempt to attribute inventions to a particular ethnic group means willingly striding into a sociopolitical minefield, and honestly, my tolerance for foaming-mouthed nationalism is low at the best of times. Suffice it to say that what we like to think of as a sudden, shining, cue-the-inspiring-music ‘Eureka!’ moment in actuality involves a frankly boring series of small auxiliary discoveries, usually built upon by many people at once, so that the credit for the finished Iconic Piece of Civilization frequently depends literally on who got to the patent office first. Or was the most inclined to brag, or frankly was just the more popular when the textbooks were being written. Both the histories of the telephone and television provide instructive glimpses into this crediting process; you can imagine how convoluted it becomes prior to the invention of reliable record-keeping.
- Also, yeah, see, about Queen Victoria’s weight issues… funny how sixty-four years including nine pregnancies will do that to an already petite, plump figure. You wouldn’t like me — you really wouldn’t like me — when I get started on distorted female media representation and the effects on vulnerable young girls, so let’s just all acknowledge you had a notably insensitive moment here and move on, kthx show?
- Besides, y’know what? Hitler probably wasn’t actually a vegetarian, either. At least not a strict one. Much as I hate to lose any opportunity to mock PETA, while he surely liked animals, there’s good evidence that he also appreciated his schnitzel from time-to-time. Overall, as this Psychology Today article demonstrates, the Nazi attitude to animal cruelty is a complex and fascinating thing worthy of more thoughtful debate.
- Oh, and the First Play Ever?… apparently only this boring if you discount the elaborate costumes, lively conversation, oodles of enthusiastic battle and other action, fifty-person chorus backing our two protagonists up (the original ‘Greek chorus’) and the fact that it wasn’t one four-hour-long production but four shorter ones, one of which was specifically a comedy to lighten the mood after all that heavy stuff. About the only part of this little interlude that could be safely harvested for exam answers is the bit about two people having a conversation with each other for the first time… previously, they’d only been allowed to talk to the chorus. I mean — as the show is in fact in the process of stressing right at that moment — these were ancient peoples, not unimaginative ones.
- It’s not all bad news, though; that bit about Royal swan ownership turns out to be totally 110% accu-rat, right down to the Orkney Islands exemption. This article goes into more bureaucratic detail, including the purely wonderful existence of a ‘Swan Master’, and, surprisingly, various legal challenges to her Majesty’s claim down the years. Apparently you lot are deeply ticked about losing your swan pie… which having had a close encounter with the nasty buggers at age nine I don’t blame you one bit. Did you know that, when they stretch up, swans are taller than your average cute little innocent just-strolling-by-the-river nine-year-old? And that they hiss?
- Also… because I just knew you’d be interested… gerbils, totally native to Northern Africa! Nice going, show, I knew you’d never let me down in the end. Here, have some gratuitously adorable evidence of the species in their native habitat.