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Yonderland S01E01: The Chosen Mum

Written by: Larry Rickard & Ben Willbond

In which the adventure begins…

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Posted by on August 28, 2015 in Yonderland

 

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Hi there! Still not dead!… pretty sheepish maybe, but dead, no. Really.

So a couple of people now have written in wondering where the Yonderland recaps went, and as a result I’m discovering that it’s possible to feel hugely gratified and abjectly guilty at the same time. Because this is precisely two more people than I thought would still care at this point, and just enough to raise the possibility that more are out there.

Thank you. I’m really sorry, but thank you.

Also, you raise a very, very good question. In the heady excitement of completing the HH recap series, I had just sort of enthusiastically assumed that of course there would be Yonderland recaps, and a Bill recap, and what the hey, maybe we could throw in the Wrong Mans while we were at it!

…And just about then, two other things happened. For starters, real life hit me with a tsunami in the form of a temp job assignment that required me to be constantly on-the-ball for six months, ready to handle whatever new (as in, completely unfamiliar) skill or responsibility might pop up, impressively enough that something might result in a permanent post. Which it did, then it didn’t, then it sort of did, then…

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned once or twice before, while I enjoy it above all things writing is not a form of relaxation for me (I’d be a little suspicious of anyone who claimed that it was, really). Under these circs it’d be a matter of coming home from an intense day of concentration only to intensely concentrate some more. Only one of those forms of concentration was lucrative, so.

Then there came the announcement that HH’s sixth series would after all involve Greg, Jim, Simon and Many Major Comedy Legends, hoop-lah! Excitement in the streets! …but not so much here at Review Central. My near-total enthusiasm failure at this point made me realise I wasn’t just lacking time but the motivation. In the aforementioned excitement over finishing the review series I’d neglected to build in a time cushion for inevitable burnout.

However. Eventually the job settled into at least a year’s permanency, and thus granted me leisure to remember exactly how much I missed having a little corner of the Web all my own to scribble in… also, how far “oh, it’s just a little delay” had slid past viability. Just as I was determining to do something about both, Yonderland Series II hit, and was a hit, and I further realised that dang, I kinda missed those six idiots after all.

The upshot of all of which is that I’ve spent the rest of S2’s runtime quietly planning a return to the printed word at the beginning of September. Besides the Yonderland recaps, I’m hoping to set up another more general review blog, as an outlet for the restlessly critical internal monologue that restarts with every odd bit of pop-cult I encounter… also, pretty pictures. Kinda like a Tumblr, except more wordy, and with maybe less focus on the gender preferences of my spirit animal.

Anyway, you’re welcome to check it out. All of it. Assuming you’ve forgiven me, that is. I’ll totally understand if you don’t, but I’m planning on writing it anyway, so, y’know…

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2015 in Meta-stuff

 

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The cast, continued

When you review it nonstop for five series, one thing becomes very, very obvious: Besides all the professional accolades, the adoration from children and adults alike, the chances to not only meet but share a stage with comedy legends and the occasional prancing around the Royal Albert Hall dressed in Viking armour… being the starring cast behind Horrible Histories was above all just a whole lot of fun.

…well, barring the possibility of accidentally stumbling on certain fanfics. OK, also the filming in scanty costumes in the late English autumn, that seems to come up a lot in interviews. (Mostly from B. Willbond, in whose memoirs the chapter dealing with this show–hopefully titled Pushing Benjamin’s Buttons–is clearly going to be a corker.)

Still it was all mitigated by the fact that “Mat, Simon, Martha, Jim, Larry and Ben” had in the process rather miraculously become, not only as tight and balanced a bonafide comedy troupe as one could hope from people routinely playing cavemen, but the best of friends behind the scenes–or the playground, as they put it. Real, non-scripted friends, the kind who work on each other’s random vanity projects and chatter together on Twitter and then happily go out and get drunk together despite the heightened potential for career-destroying Twitter pics.

Granted, a certain amount of mutual goodwill might’ve been expected to emanate from people guileless and generous-hearted enough to devote five prime years of their lives to making intelligent children’s comedy. On the other hand, the bit where, when their playground was pulled out from under, their first concern was not to desert the ship but to find another one they could all steer together… not quite so common, that. Especially not in comedy, wherein success is predicated on who can garner the most attention to themselves. Founding uber-inspirations Monty Python barely made it through three initial series intact, if Michael Palin’s diaries are to be believed. How much more so the stars of a kiddy series, who might safely be assumed to be chomping at the bit to resume their ‘real’ grownup careers?

Which, in fact, they hadn’t been neglecting in the interim. Simon ended up in both the Boosh movie and as a pet-turtle-owning neighbor in the sitcom version of The Midnight Beast, whilst somehow simoultaneously developing into a plausible documentary presenter. Ben maintained a less eccentric albeit equally full guest-starring schedule, including a recurring role on The Thick of It, while nurturing his short film Tooty’s Wedding around the festival circuit. Jim supplemented his quasi-regular status on Peep Show with a kind-to-his-pocket(-if-not-his-dignity…) stint as an O2-shilling faun. Larry kept up his freelance writing with partner George Sawyer. Martha joined friends for various Edinburgh Festival shows. And Mat, alongside the co-starring role in Darren Boyd’s Spy, had juggled being James Corden’s personal friend during the latter’s public nadir deftly enough to become the co-creator and -star of Corden’s wildly successful 2013 TV comeback, sitcom/action-film spoof The Wrong Mans. 

…Thing is, somewhere in there, they’d all also really gotten into using the restrictions of tots’ TV as a spur to pure creativity. In particular, Mat and Ben had been kicking around a film idea based on their mutual love for, of all things, ’80s fantasy movies. Yes, that unique period in children’s cinema history during which Hollywood’s conviction that ‘fuzzy puppet’ must automatically = ‘family-friendly’ reached its most memorably mistaken zenith. This, CGI-jaded readers, would be why your parents still will not shut up about The NeverEnding Story, Labyrinth, Return to Oz and all the other “lo-fi” variants on the tale of an ordinary kid forced into a quest through some bizarre magical otherworld, during which s/he learns Valuable Life Lessons up to and including avoidance of David Bowie’s crotch at all costs. (Hey, I said the characters learned lessons, not the audiences.)

Leaving the crotch thing out of it for now–although [spoiler alert] trust me, we’ll be getting back to it soon–those so impressed clearly included our newly formed troupe, who pounced on the idea of a Hensonian odyssey as on manna to their purpose-starved souls. You can practically hear the pieces clicking into place, like creative dominoes: The fantasy setting meant they could maintain the familiar, child-friendly costume-and-character-driven comedy style (or as Willbond put it, “continue to raid the dress-up box and speak in silly voices”) and the cross-demographic nostalgia for same meant they could still mess about with adult parody in the process. The newcomer-on-a-quest format naturally lent itself to self-contained vignettes within a larger plot. Said lone newcomer would of course be played by the lone female of the troupe, while the five very different males could equally obviously tackle the many different–and decidedly loopy–characters she would be expected to meet along the way.

It would be called Yonderland, and it would be all theirs, unfettered by anyone else’s thematic or stylistic quirks. They would create the world, write the stories, and–most importantly, it must be assumed, after a half-decade of never knowing when you’d be playing the guy covered in poop–design the characters. They could play anybody. Almost. Anybody they couldn’t play, but could still imagine, could be those (quite possibly literally) damned puppets. Because Henson’s associates Baker Coogan were still out there, and still dedicated to embodying the daffily weird in felt. The only thing truly missing was Bowie’s magnificent package… then again, they were British, there were workarounds for that.

It was, in sum, the single most elaborate plan to avoid breaking up The Group ever envisioned. Now, all they had to do was get somebody to pay for it.

Which is where fantasy series make a hard right at reality: they are, especially ones predicated on the extensive use of lovingly-crafted, man-hour-intensive niche artistry, about the furthest thing TV knows from cheap. This is presumably why seemingly natural allies the BBC weren’t even mentioned as potential sponsors for this one. Nor were any of the other mainstream UK channels (all, like, four of them). Clearly, this was a job for cable… yes, ‘cable’ means something slightly different in the UK than the US. Slightly. Keep those workarounds in mind, is all I’m saying.

Enter SkyOne, an offshoot of the Murdoch empire best-known for endlessly running American imports and (understandably, esp. if you’ve seen the last couple Simpsons seasons) lately very eager to get on with making their original mark. So eager, in fact, that for the first last and I’m guessing only time in TV history, when six Twitter buddies showed up in a boardroom and pitched the perfect Sunday evening family viewing as “The new 80’s-influenced comedy project from the adult cast of an historical kiddie edutainment, except totally not historical, unless maybe you count the puppets”, many perfectly sober executives immediately began laying plans for the moss-and-Mojo-themed premiere venue.

And–as you may be suspecting by now–they weren’t disappointed. As it turned out, this crew still had a lot of joyously guileless lunacy to give. Which they did, eight nonstop episodes’ woth, with all the verve required of a troupe that an adoring cadre of TV critics (who clearly also weren’t disappointed) had already dubbed a latter-day Python for the pint-sized set… even as the same troupe continued to insist that they saw no particular distinction between adult and children’s programming. As ever, they were making Yonderland for no particular demographic but themselves.

And it was… well, it was at least worth individual episode recaps. So I’ve done some, beginning in the new year. More standard formatting this time, as more standard episode structure involved, but pretty much the same… um, whatever it is I’ve applied to the HH episodes. Sort of funny, sort of serious, and always in search of fresh synonyms for ‘sophisticated’.*

*No, really, I’m getting a bit desperate over here. Please send thesaurus.

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2014 in The background, Yonderland

 

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