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S01E13

A badger, a badger! My kingdom for a badger! I need to use it to go and see the Duke of Somerset’s grave, who died ages ago, when I was three, so there’s no way I could’ve possibly stabbed him to death!

This is the way the series ends… not by any means with a bang, but not quite with a whimper, either.

In this episode:

Song:  Burke & Hare (Mat as Dr. Robert Knox, Simon as William Burke & Jim as William Hare)

Recurring sketches:

This is Your Reign — Cleopatra VII, last Pharoah of Ancient Egypt

Bob Hale — The Viking Report

Stupid Deaths — Sigurd the Mighty (infected when the teeth of the severed head of his sworn enemy brushed against his leg on the ride home… ie. bitten to death by a severed head!)

HHTV Sport — Georgian Lice Races

One-offs:

Rotten Romans

Roman Kitchen Nightmares — Chef Gordinicus Ramsaius roams Celtic kitchens armed with a cast-iron saucepan, which he actually gets to whack chefs over the head with. Immediately, the real Chef Ramsey starts work on a time machine.

Communal Toilets — It should be no surprise by now that the Romans defined ‘shameless’ a little more broadly than, say, every other civilization in recorded history.

Vile Victorians

Welcome to the Crimea, Miss Nightingale — Where the floors may have been beyond filthy, but the floor show was apparently fabulous.

Awful Egyptians

Hatshepsut: First Female Pharaoh (movie trailer) – “You were murdered. Probably by your stepson. He was a little annoyed about the whole throne-stealing incident.”

Terrible Tudors

Globe-al Grief (animated) — The travails of the storied but perpetually shaky theatre take on a life of their own… presumably thanks to whomever once called the animators ‘Gilliam-esque’ in college.

The Truth About Richard III: Prologue – The ghost of the massively maligned monarch makes his first, and considerably more badger-intensive, attempt to set the record straight.

Gorgeous Georgians

The Earl of Sandwich — Hint: he did not invent the toad-in-a-hole.

Field Notes:

  • Well, here we are… thirteen episodes, eight weeks and a whole lot of crazy later. In a way, a closer look at Series One was the impetus for this project in the first place, and having completed same feels like… well, like having had fun, mostly. I know I’ve done a lot of ragging, but honestly, I was prepared to do a whole lot more.
  • Turns out there’s a lot that’s characteristically HH to love about this series, all stemming from the fact that everyone clearly bought into it as Actual Legitimate Comedy from day one. Thus the veteran comedians in the cast all delivered more than fairly, and the big gambles (ie., Mat and Larry), paid off likewise. The writers latch onto the possibilities quickly enough that their experiments are almost uniformly fun to watch; out of all the many recurring characters and concepts introduced, 99% will return, and those mostly untouched.
  • Basically, the HH crew knew what they wanted all along — it was just a matter of checking to make sure they could have it within the dual constraints of historical accuracy and children’s telly. The “figuring out what worked and what didn’t” they cite in later interviews will mostly boil down to sanding off the too-roughly childish and/or earnest edges… oh, and receiving a massive budget increase, can’t forget that. At any rate, I look hugely forward to Series Two both as a reward, and with genuine interest to see what comes next.
  • In no small part because hey! We’ve finally arrived back around at the musical beginning! Although “Burke & Hare” isn’t often mentioned in discussions of memorable HH music; as a song its significance is overshadowed by the 4 Georges, and as a performance by… well, pretty much everything musical Mat will go on to do, for obvious reasons. But it’s easily up there with his best — perhaps even more so than Dick Turpin, given that here he’s working totally against his natural strengths. Really, give it a listen sans visual if necessary — I can about guarantee you’ll be as pleasantly startled as I was.
  • Just a great song all round…sort of delightfully creepy, in the same, erm, vein as the Plague Song. If ‘Born 2 Rule’ pointed the way conceptually for HH musical glory, these two demonstrated the format: self-contained, lavishly produced, and performed as per the conventions of the adult music video, not the local cable preschool channel. Meaning, not to put too fine a point on it, Mat — ably supported by Jim and Martha — taking the lead. All three will get a whole new, endlessly rewarding outlet next series, and it will not have onscreen lyrics. Save when they can be followed by little bouncy skulls. Which says it all, really.
  • While we’re on the subject of Mat’s soon-to-be-explored depths… let me just stipulate here that he is to all appearances a very sweet, grounded young man whose co-stars unanimously insist he’s a dream to work with… and I imply otherwise only because it’ll become significant later… but damned if he doesn’t also wear ‘bitchy, self-absorbed diva’ like a second skin. It pops out as a throwaway in the Roman toilet sketch, and after weeks of watching the earnest warrior-next-door, it’s frankly hilarious.
  • He also gets to show off his falling skills — and yes, I took drama in senior year, that there is a genuine skill. It’ll in fact become something of a running gag… and if it was between that and the mime, may I just add now, thank you producers. Albeit in this particular sketch it’s undercut by his bouncing up clean and bright three times from what’s explicitly supposed to be a filthy bodily-waste-encrusted floor (see historical notes below). Yep, second-series budget increases, gotta love ’em already.
  • Really, now I’m thinking about it, this episode is pretty much all about previewing Mat 2.0. He likewise slips effortlessly into Will Shakespeare, springing him from cliche to life in much the same manner as Ben did for Henry VIII. Jim doesn’t get the chance to do the same with poor old Richard III, who — besides the odd badger fixation — is much more proactively angry (and Northern) than his later incarnation. Being informed of your hideous reputation immediately upon revival will do that to you, I suppose.
  • Oh, and: BEST. STUPID DEATH. EVER. That is all.
  • Elsewhere, we get a look at what was evidently the pilot for the Bob Hale Reports, and it’s interesting — not because it’s particularly good, but because it’s actually set up very like a weather forecast, complete with ‘and stay indoors…’ -type recommendations at the end. Combined with Bobsy’s (highly) uncharacteristic subdued deference to his big map, I’m guessing a sort of meteorological theme was the original concept, prior to Larry’s advanced instincts for weird kicking in and creating the legend. So yeah, dodged a bullet there… *thinks back to other HH weather-forecast spoofs*… a very BIG bullet. .50 calibre, at least.
  • Also making her welcome debut this ep: Martha’s sassy, sultry legend-just-ask-her Cleopatra, complete with perpetual backup chorus Caesar and Mark Antony already in tow (and sharing a cute little fist bump that indicates entire OK-ness with the implications raised the last time Ben & Mat played military cohorts). Cleo’s makeup would be refined a bit from here, but the costume and attitude is entirely familiar, and entertaining.
  • Then there’s the nameless HHTV Sport announcer played by Giles Terera, a remarkably talented and versatile musical-theatre veteran whom the show will largely, and inexplicably, leave behind that desk for the next three series, and him just blatantly oozing personality the entire while.
  • Sadly, though, it’s goodbye and good luck to Javone, hopefully for greener (or at least less racially complicated) pastures. Also farewell, albeit slightly less lamented, to Meera Syal; and, at least until Series Four, Sarah Hadland. The starring troupe is set, and — as long as we’re shamelessly cribbing from movie trailers — the real adventure is just beginning…

95% Accu-rat:

  • Given the complexities involved in the Cleopatra sketch, it’s actually pretty darn impressive that they got away with only one inaccuracy… unfortunately, it’s the only one that’s easy to follow: she was never actually married to Julius Caesar. She thought she was, mind, but Roman law didn’t recognise marriages unless your fiancee was a fellow citizen, besides which there was the little matter of Caesar’s existing wife. Thus Cleo’s dreams of becoming Empress of (not to mention mother of the heir to) the known universe stalled out, leading to years of messy internecine warfare, all ending in Mark Antony and the asp… thus making the original distinction re: marital status kind of a huge deal. And much to their ongoing credit, the show will later correct the error in both sketch and song.
  • I do hate to spoil such a great musical finale, but chances are pretty good William Burke’s corpse didn’t actually end up with Dr. Knox. At least, I couldn’t find any evidence of same, and you’d think that’d be a majorly Internet-friendly fact. Although he insisted (and Burke actually swore) that he was guilty of nothing more than a weirdly convenient lack of curiosity, Knox was understandably in deep disgrace with the public. So, to an extent, was the entire medical profession, ensuring that nobody therein would’ve been much in the mood for grimly hilarious irony. Although being Scots, they apparently couldn’t resist one last flourish: according to Wikipedia (citing a 2009 book on the murders) …During the dissection, which lasted for two hours, Professor Alexander Monro dipped his quill pen into Burke’s blood and wrote “This is written with the blood of Wm Burke, who was hanged at Edinburgh. This blood was taken from his head.”
  • Speaking of medical missteps… I’ve done a lot of reading on Florence Nightingale’s adventures in the Crimea, and the relatively quiet, clean and uncrowded hospital ward shown here doesn’t quite measure up to the scale of the problem facing the Lamp Lady on arrival. Think Gone With the Wind‘s hospital scenes after the Battle of Atlanta (fought only a few years later) for a much more accurate idea. Granted, MGM’s blood-guts-and-groans budget was just slightly bigger, but it’s a bit of a disappointment anyway; next-season’s revisionist take notwithstanding, our Flo was one amazing pioneer, and deserved a much more impressive chance to demonstrate it.
  • The whole badger business in the Richard III sketch took me a few minutes (and the commentary of other, equally bemused netizens) to work out. Apparently he’s saying that there weren’t any wild horses roaming the countryside back then, such as might helpfully wander into the path of a distressed king in the middle of a battlefield. It’s still kinda odd, because, y’know, battlefield. Wouldn’t there already have been horses running around?
  • The sandwich sketch is about as slight and goofy as they come, but what humour it has depends totally on how posh the Earl is… meaning the cook somehow hovering just outside the door is a major, major gaffe. In reality, it would’ve been ‘Footman! Go find someone to tell the cook…”
  • And finally: no, kids, Lord Turkey of Twizzler… just no. Past time altogether to move on to the next series, I think.
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Posted by on February 3, 2013 in Series One

 

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S01E10

He’s-a my brother, innit? I conquer ze country, I give-a him ze crown. I can’t buy him socks anymore — he’s got a wool allergy!

In which the show digs down deep… finds one last rich vein of historical comedy… and it’s in Sparta?

In this episode:

Song: The Plague Song (Ben as Corpse Collector, Mat, Sarah and Larry as Corpse Chorus)

Recurring sketches:

Ready, Steady Feast — Tudor Diets: Peasant vs. Aristocratic

Historical Hairdressers — Tudor Beauty Treatments

Computer Game: Warrior! — Roman Legionary vs. Celtic Warrior

Fractured Fairy Tales — The Pied Piper of Hamelin, the Middle Ages version (See, they were in the middle of a plague epidemic, and rats carry plague…)

This is Your Reign — Napoleon Bonaparte

HHTV News: Mike Peabody Live — from the Battle of Thermopylae

One-offs:

Rotten Romans

Sponge on a Stick (two parts) — On the bright side, we’ve moved up from animal to human toilet habits…

New! Viper Deodorant — “Do YOU smell like a barbarian died in your armpit?”

Vile Victorians

Genuine Victorian Slang — Surprisingly enough, not actually made up by Charles Dickens. (Bonus educational tip, kids: try listing this sketch in the bibliography of your next paper on Oliver Twist! Your teacher will love it!)

Great Victorian Inventions: The Car (animated) — True story: at one point engineers were seriously concerned that ‘horseless carriages’ would suffocate their riders, as the air was rushing by them too fast to breathe. That is, once they hit roughly around 30mph. Really.

Cut-Throat Celts

Better Homes & Severed Heads — You do have to admit, nuked-noggin decor probably cut way down on annoying Celtic telemarketers.

Groovy Greeks

This! Is… Wait! — Detailing how actual, normal humans would’ve reacted to being sent to Thermopylae… in other news, nobody ever accused Spartan warriors of being normal.

Field Notes:

  • Oh thank goodness, it was only temporary. Also, my profound thanks to Ben and Katy Wix, not forgetting Larry and Martha later at the Prom. The evolution of HH musical genius gets right back on track this ep, with what to this day is still one of the most offbeat, interesting musical things the show has to offer. So just imagine what it feels like when you’ve only been reviewing the first series for six weeks straight.
  • Seriously though, the Black Death as Danse Macabre…how awesome is that? Possibly not the most original staging idea ever, but — and this is very much the point — a brilliantly apt way to both be a historical comedy and avoid making light of 25 million agonizing deaths. (Also, to shoehorn zombies in there. I have a lot of fun imagining the potential outtakes from this one. “Brainnnnsss…”) In the annals of HH’s revelatory “Hey, we really could be a whole lot more than the source material!” moments, this one’s a doozy.
  • ‘Doozy’ is also a good way to describe Ben’s performance in the prep-for-Thermopylae sketch, although “I think I’ve figured out which script they used to get him to sign on” works too. Honestly, I’m not sure the man even realises he’s supposed to be giving a comedy performance here, or for that matter cares; he’s off in his own private 300, living the dream, rocking the Gerald Butler ‘do… except opposite Larry and Mat instead of comely servant wenches. Thus handily explaining why he also seems so convincingly ticked whenever they speak… or not, depending on just how deep into the Spartan experience he is.
  • It also helps the offbeat vibe to remember, when watching Mat’s final freakout, that as per what the show has just established ‘Mommy’ will be clocking him upside the ear and throwing him right back out into the battle. I would be making further snarky comments about how Mat’s continued failure to have been left out on a mountaintop at birth undermines everything the show is trying to establish about Spartans… but I’m too busy smiling at the aforementioned mental picture.
  • So yes, wow, Spartans, obviously still pretty darn cool in 2008-ish, when all of the writing would’ve started going down… shortly after which the writers, much like the rest of us, found the testosterone-crazed warriors increasingly hard to take seriously. By the time we arrive at Thermopylae, in company with ever-credulous Mike Peabody, they’re ready to have a whole lot of fun with the same phenomenon they straight-up celebrated just last ep. Watching Mike repeatedly being forced to assure Hellenic generals that their hair looks fine, this is another thing that makes my brain grin all over.
  • In this sketch even Mat’s unconvincing armour-wearing works in context — of course the pretty boy with the great hair is the king in this reality! And this reality is hilarious! So, hell, why not try the combo out in other realities too? In short, it’s taken awhile, but relentlessly earnest warrior-next-door Mat finally has a campy, adult archetype of his very own. This will become a trifle more obvious in the next series — as will a lot of other adult implications surrounding Mat — but for now, it’s just seriously funny.
  • Speaking of jacking up the adult content… erm… look, generally, I like the Historical Hairdressers sketches, I really do. Martha works the first of several feisty modern blue-collar gals with all the verve they demand (I gather her native accent is considered kind of annoying, but I rather like it). However… how do I put this… meth, is it a thing in the UK? At least, you do watch Breaking Bad? ‘Cos I’m looking at Shelly’s sore-covered face post-‘treatment’, and I’m not seeing ‘standard, if slightly gross, HH gag’, I’m seeing ‘convincingly authentic PSA’.
  • On the further subject of convincing… DAMMIT LARRY THAT IS THE MOST EMBARRASSING PSEUDO-IRISH THING I HAVE EVER SEEN SINCE THE TIME BOB THREW UP THE GREEN BEER AT THE GREEK RESTAURANT. Sorry, this one’s been building up through several viewings. I realise the man was likely excited at being upright onscreen for the first time in ages, but really, watching Lucky Charms commercials does not count as research. Mind, Jim and his Eye-talian accent aren’t far behind — you lot are just lucky the sketch itself is generally cute enough to dim the memory of Tudor Traitors on Parade. And that Rattus gets a darling little brocade armchair of his own. Squee!
  • I will refrain from commenting on the Roman toilet sketches, on account of I can figure out no way to do so without sounding like, well, a puritanical old poop. Just not my thing, kiddies, sorry. I’m a cranky grownup who takes much more glee in noting that the 2nd bit here was obviously meant to follow on from the main ‘communal toilet’ sketch — which doesn’t happen until epIsode 13.

95% Accu-rat:

  • OK, the naked Celtic warrior? Totally a thing. The reasons are disputed, and the frequency probably exaggerated by Romans interested in painting the enemy as wild irrational freaks in dire need of the civilizing Latin influence, but they did really charge into battle in the nude… so yeah, point goes to the Romans here, mostly.
  • Contrariwise I couldn’t find much info re: deadly snake as Roman man-grooming staple, but this recipe for a depilatory is intriguing: Resin, pitch, white vine or ivy gum extract, asses’ fat, she-goat’s gall, bat’s blood and powdered viper. Apparently the belief was that the viper, or asp, made its nest in lavender plants, which as a rationale for cosmetic ingredients is at least up there with “hey, this musk deer gland smells great!”
  • This isn’t a scientific forum I know — and very grateful I am for it usually — but the Plague Song lyrics always make me go ‘hmmmm?’ right around “Bites the rat and gives it germs…” In the interest of biological clarity, shouldn’t that be “bites the rat and picks up germs?” Otherwise, we’re missing a step in the transmission. I think. Yes, I’m a hopeless nerd.
  • According to most sources “half the people on the Earth/are simply blown away!” seems to be a rather massive exaggeration — although this was undoubtedly one incredibly, horrifically huge Very Bad Thing That Really Happened, so I doubt there’s much point in anyone being offended at a little post-millennial artistic license intended to get that across. The (impromptu?) revision to “Half the children...” in the Prom version probably helps though.
  • Speaking of exaggeration to make a point… the Tudor diet wasn’t actually that sharply divided along class lines, or at least not along the lines suggested here. A peasant diet would be much more veg-intensive, but the nobles did eagerly eat veggies too. In fact Henry VIII was known to have grown artichokes at Hampton Court palace. The real difference was that the upper-class had the ability (from which our modern notion of haute cuisine descends) to spend time and money on making food snazzy instead of merely sustaining. Hence more sophisticated preparations, like delicate salads and cabbage boiled with spices.
  • On the other hand, bunging random poisonous substances on your face (or, in the case of Victorian ladies and arsenic, in your face): totally the province of the rich, or at least those who wanted to appear so. The coveted clear, luminous pink-and-white complexion indicated not only aristocratic birth — ‘blue-blooded’ likely refers to the veins visible under a truly delicate skin — but innocence, femininity and purity: the historical Holy Grail of womanhood. (Olive skin was dismissed as ‘brown’ and thought of as a major defect — was one of the objections to Anne Boleyn, in fact.)
  • Right, not to put too fine a point on it, but: Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington. Aka the ‘Iron Duke’. Not a dude prone to breaking into jigs in public. (Although as the hero of all the papers after Waterloo he did star — along with his sons — in the Brontes’ earliest juvenile writings… which were more or less romantic fanfic. Seriously.)
  • That sketch’d overall be a lot more fun if they skipped the comic-opera accents and told the real story: according to my Treasury of Royal Scandals (don’t leave home without it!) the ‘Battling Bonapartes’ would, in fact, have made fabulous modern reality-show fodder. The only thing this clan could agree on is that their Nap was doing it wrong. Whatever it was. He thought he was running a realpolitik empire; they pictured it more as a sort of extra-glittery Mafia, in which everybody’s honour was being offended at once.
  • Oh, and Josephine — aka the ‘Great Whore’ — not impressed with her either. In fact, ‘strong-willed’ Meré Bonaparte and her daughters, in a move familiar to anyone who’s ever tried to plan a wedding reception, refused to attend the Imperial coronation over their fear of being one-upped by the scandalous (and middle-aged, yet!) Empress.
  • Everybody else spent Napoleon’s reign haughtily (and in at least one case, insanely) miffed that their baby bro was now treating them as mere puppets in his empirical schemes, to the point of wholesale refusal to take their advice, breaking up inconvenient marriages and/or abandoning them in the face of rebellious natives. Napoleon, on the other hand, was understandably ticked at what he saw as their ingratitude for his raising the whole dysfunctional, spendthrift, sexually irresponsible lot to the First Family of Europe. Something to remember, next time you start wishing you had a nice normal family like everyone else…
 
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Posted by on January 20, 2013 in Series One

 

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