To win at war, make crops grow more, to cure our kids when ill,
The sun to shine, this song to rhyme, more victims we must kill!
Wondering where the Aztecs got to? Well, wonder no more. As it turns out, human sacrifice is a lot more entertaining than llama ditto… how to tell if you’re a serious HH fan: if that last sentence made sense.
In this episode:
Song: Aztec Priests’ Song (Ain’t Stayin’ Alive) — Larry, Mat and Jim as the terrible tooth-licking trio (Parody of: the Bee Gees, feat. Stayin’ Alive)
Historical Pet Shop — Victorian (“I have never been so insulted by a woman with a frog!”)
Computer Game: Splat That Rat! — …Or at least, as much of the game as they can get through before the host objects on, erm, rodentarian grounds. (“A line of decency has definitely been crossed here! If there’s any more like this I’ll…I’ll be writing a stiff letter of complaint to the Daily Mail! You know I will! You know I will!“)
Come Dine With Me — Medieval (“Next guest is Derek, who commits the ultimate social faux pas of dying of the plague the moment he steps through the door!”)
Author of His Fate — Monks-vs-Vikings, interlude: A literate brother convinces some decidedly illiterate raiders to spare him so he can record their ‘heroic exploits’ for all time… unfortunately, the reviews are savage. Literally.
We Sell Any Monk — “From our new market city of Dublin!… Fat ones! Slim ones! Bright ones! Dim ones!… One to read! One to write! Not much good in a fight!”
The Victorian Traffic Report — Much like medieval ditto, Victorian streets were also awash in poo. Because horses. Next!
The Price of Confusion — A savvy seaside merchant confirms to a naive traveler what the rest of the world has suspected for quite some time now: pre-decimal British coinage was pretty much made up as they went along.
Silly Tudor Laws — Another mini-Blackadder episode, in which a nobleman is forced by Elizabeth I to first wear a woolly hat, then remove his sword-impeding cloak, and then his royals-only purple doublet… leading inevitably to: “Cecil, there appears to be a naked man in our throne room….”
Aztec Gardener’s World: Live From Ancient Mexico — “So to make an irrigation system we’re going to need a bow, and plenty of arrows… some red paint… and of course, a person to sacrifice. An enemy warrior is best — but an annoying assistant will do.”
Aztec Whodunnit-O — “This year’s must-have board game! With thousands of sacrifices to the sun god every week, it’s a game you can play again and again!”
Frightful First World War
Inspecting the Troops — When soldiers are being slaughtered by the millions year after year, eventually the recruiting offices stop being so picky about stuff like, say, age and/or gender…
Tabellarii Messenger — Rome’s Premier Mobile Slave Service! (“Always there for you! And at the bargain price of a little food and water a month, you can enjoy unlimited messages!”)
Got to Be Smuggling Something — Trying to get unauthorized weapons into Rome: as it turns out, not something you want to attempt around lunchtime. “Wait, wait! It’s not really a sausage, it’s more of a frankfurter!”
- And thus we have arrived at possibly the most unique — and uniquely polarizing — tune in HH history… also, of course, some very chuckle-worthy sketches, but still. In a series full of “brilliant song, and oh yeah, there was also an episode…” moments, the One With the Psychedelic Disco Aztecs stands out because, frankly, once you’ve seen that video the entire rest of the show feels anti-climactic for awhile.
- Personally, I unreservedly love the whole production and squeeze it and call it George. Because it has the absolute courage of its comedy convictions, because within them it is brilliantly intuitive — hey, a cruelly decadent culture fascinated with shiny things, what other genre you gonna call? — and deftly funny with it…
- …and because, well, Larry. It’s his first and thus far only musical lead, and anyone even remotely familiar with the show knows by now how Rickard reacts to this kind of major chance, yes? Right, exactly that, complete even to the smouldering gaze at the end. And — although technical details don’t really apply — impressively not-vocally-cringey to boot. Of course it also hits square right in Mat’s performance zone and, rather more startlingly, Jim’s vocal ditto — those high notes are impressive, even for him.
- So yes, in comedy terms at least there is something irresistibly over-the-top ridiculous about a culture in which even a placid garden show requires WATERING THE SOIL WITH THE BLOOD OF INNOCENTS. Especially when same is formatted as one of Ben & Jim’s classic demo sketches. The central gag may be contrived — and it might just be worth noting, the ominous Red Spot ends up nowhere near the annoying assistant’s heart — but watching these two together behind a table is never not worth it.
- I must also take a moment to display heartfelt gratitude to the makeup team, who evidently have done some research between series, let’s just leave it at that. I’m not completely sure how authentic the replacement is — let alone how they got it up Ben’s nose — only that it can’t possibly be mistaken for blackface, and thus I am one happy North American reviewer.
- Of course, the spectacle of Willbond the wannabe Hispanic will never not be hilariously awkward anyway; I’m trying to picture a scenario in which eager young Benjamin W. envisions a career that will involve wearing that costume, and I’m failing miserably. Ditto, come to think of it, for Jim and that Dutch-bob wig.
- Anyway, Ben recoups in the Tudor money bit; casting directors looking for the villain of their next implausible action movie take note, Willbond has that ‘looking suave while rattling off a pointlessly complex monologue’ thingy nailed. (Bonus costuming advice: he looks really good in dove grey. You’re welcome.) At the very least, when he inevitably gets his BAFTA nom, this and the ‘Causes of WWI’ are totally the clips they should be playing.
- Meantime, the Aztec board game bit likewise does a nicely clever job of getting the whole wildly mundane “if this is Thursday, it must be time to rip the hearts out of more hapless prisoners” thing across, with for the non-UK viewer bonus insight into what marketers think the average suburban British family considers quality time with each other. This turns out to be rather interestingly tea-and-crumpet-stereotype free, although… uh, so you lot really do call it ‘Cluedo’? You don’t think the extra syllable might be just a weensy bit unnecessary? No? Right, just checking.
- Speaking of unnecessary… The 2nd Baron Rothschild is back, everybody! He and his menagerie have worked their way up patiently through three series, from a mention, to an animation, and now here he is in the flesh! Even the Wiki episode list has noticed this by now! Let’s give him a great big hand!…
- …yeah, I don’t get it either. At all. My best guess — which I tend to run in my head anyway as a more amusing alternative to one more HPet Shop bit — involves somebody back in the BBC boardroom with a childhood nostalgia for zebras, and the production crew’s increasingly desperate attempts to simoultaneously keep both him and the audience happy: “Look, Ben, we’ll put you in the extra-shiny suit, and you do the Henry VIII voice, OK? And Larry, you distract from the side… What? I don’t know, um, something with side-whiskers.”
- Or we could just go with the much more artistically appealing ‘satirical comment on relative human/animal empathy’ angle, seeing as how this sacrifice-n-slavery-filled episode also features Rattus finally boiling right over at the treatment of his ancestors. I am at any rate guessing this would not be a good time to mention a) that he’s even more adorable when he’s bristling with rage and b) all those other skits in which rodents bought it without a squeak from him.
- About that ‘We Sell Any Monk’ sketch… I gather it was one of the big fan-favourite hits from S3, so the reason I’m sitting here totally baffled is because it’s clearly parodying something UK-centric, yes? Involving your version of entrepreneurs overcompensating for low commercial budgets by being as insanely annoying as humans didn’t even think was possible? If so, I understand, and even sympathise… but I also hate those commercials so much that even Jim (in hilariously denim-y armour) can’t compensate.
- Oh, goody, new and exciting ways to demonstrate how cheap life was in the WWI trenches! And hey, just for fun, let’s ensure that Mat’s uniform is two sizes too big for him, that won’t help the viewer’s increasingly morbid sense of doom at all!
- Still, it is a pretty clever plot twist, as these sketches go. Also, it features the return of Major-General Chucklehead, which totally works like a little ray of sunshine cutting through the gloom. I’m honestly starting to enjoy Simon more when he’s doing restrained than full-on crazy; much more engagingly unpredictable.
- So I’m thinking anyone still concerned with how familiar the HH crew is with the world of online fandom in general and fanfic in particular may want to re-watch this latest monks-vs-Vikings bit — “Write about my biceps!”, featuring both Cosplay Warrior Ben and Nordic Larry — because the answer is at least possibly, not to say amusingly, ‘very’. I suppose the parody target could be considered generic romance novels… but that raises a whole new set of hilarious side questions re: sheer authenticity.
- On a not-exactly-brighter-but-definitely-less-fraught note, while the Medieval Come Dine With Me covers too much familiar ground to be really memorable, I do cherish the whole zany-Perrault-parody vibe of Martha’s ‘Lady Cranky-Portcullis’ , especially as pointed out the snarkily aware narrator. Sort of Shrek-esque, only refreshingly free of the stench of commercial desperation.
- Like, for instance, Elizabeth I. Great sketch, the Silly Tudor Laws, not least for what’s also hands-down the ultimate best use of Ben’s smug ever. (The little tiny “Ta-dah!” — that there is comic skills, people.) The whole thing basically runs on everyone’s personality come to that, up to and including Saucer-Eyed Larry the guard; because when you give it a second’s thought, it makes no sense whatsoever that they wouldn’t get it all over — hat, cloak, purple — in one shot.
- I would however forgive much more for the increasingly rare glimpse of Mat being purely Mat. Pity having to cover that hair with the woolly hat, but the “I thought it was rather fetching”… yeah, nice to have you back, Baynton. (Incidentally, the the outtake from the ‘naked’ scene, as included on the DVD, makes a priceless bonus treat: “Now, Mat, if you’ll just put your fingers back on your nipples…” “Well, THAT’S a direction I never thought I’d hear.”)
- Apropos of which… the Tabellari messenger service bit… sure, why not? Victor Borge’s ‘animated punctuation’ routine could stand the updating — particularly, the addition of emoticons. May I just suggest that Mat has now officially more than earned back whatever that miming course particularly was worth, and probably the rest of the clown school cost on that one “Heart attack! Sad face!” bit. I especially enjoy the little incoming signal… oh, and Ben the ‘upgrade’. Yep, fangirls — they know. Oh, yes, they know.
- Wow, quite the little Bag of Weapons Holding our sad-sack sausage smuggler has there. Exactly how big is this invasion force, anyway? And why on earth isn’t Confidentius there pulling this off himself? Yes, overthinking again, I know, but I can’t help it, Mat does such an unsettlingly effective job of playing vulnerable that it forces the viewer to deal with it in reality. This is one of many reasons I’m seriously intrigued by his new series, The Wrong Mans.
- Right, the Aztecs — or as they preferred it, the ‘Mexica’ — and their unique need to keep the blood flowing (human, animal, bird, probably the odd iguana, they really weren’t picky) lest the forces of darkness overpower the sun ….no, seriously. I remain slightly disappointed that the show has never expanded further on the full-blown telenovela, only even less plausible, that was at one point the Mexican national religion.
- While the nature and number of sacrifices is (of course) disputed, with more recent revisionist scholarship moving the numbers down from mindboggling to merely horrifying, no-one disputes that the Aztecs’ need to placate the bloodthirsty gods they envisioned as controlling the universe influenced nearly every aspect of their lives. I mean, that sun kept disappearing behind sissy little clouds and stuff! Clearly, it needed all the help it could get.
- Enter the xochiyaoyotl, or ‘flower wars’: a sort of low-level ongoing series of skirmishes fought with surrounding tribes that had the dual purpose of sharpening up Aztec youths for real battle and… well, let us just say that all those POWs had to come from somewhere. Can’t you just imagine the Aztecs’ innocently wounded surprise, when the Spanish conquistadores did finally show up to vanquish them, that these same surrounding tribes didn’t instantly come running to offer help and succour?
- Although in real life the victims were actually accorded great honour, to the point where, believe it or not, some of them went to the, uh, ripping block quite willingly. Ritual cardiac amputation would at least mean a relatively quick and painless death, and more to the point, ensure you were immediately resurrected to join the good fight against those aforementioned forces of darkness. Basically, Aztecs believed in a heaven consisting entirely of being leveled up to the most awesome World of Warcraft quest ever.
- Oh, and incidentally, blood is actually a great fertilizer that’s still in use today — all those proteins and minerals and nitrogen and whatnot are just the stuff to make the garden grow… and, as it turns out, other animals, too. Just try not to think about that, next time you’re enjoying a yummy Big Mac, ‘k?
- Just for the record (358th in an ongoing series): William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley. Not to put too fine a point on it, but he was already roughly Ben’s age by the time he and the 25-year-old Princess Elizabeth first made contact, and by this point… yeah, OK, I’ll stop being a killjoy now.
- At least they got the attitude more or less correct; Cecil was generally distrustful of the handsome male courtiers his boss liked to surround herself with, and a little overt humiliation wouldn’t have come amiss… except that he totally would’ve foreseen the nudity thing & planned accordingly. Dude was a political badass.
- …unfortunately, this meant that neither he nor ‘Sir William’ were actually bound by the woolly-hat law. After all, in Tudor reality — and as you may have gathered by how stupid they look with all the satin and whatnot onscreen — wool caps were entirely the trademark of the working-class, and thus, as per this actual page on Tudor Hats: …in 1571 a law was passed which ordered everyone over the age of six to wear a woollen cap on Sundays and on holidays in order to help England’s wool trade. Needless to say royalty and the nobility were excused from obeying this law.