What if television had been around for the last five thousand years?
Such is the premise of History Bites
, a Canadian Sketch Comedy
series (1998-2003) created by Rick Green (of The Red Green Show
and Prisoners Of Gravity
) to explore and satirize history through the lens of current pop culture. Each episode opened with Rick explaining the topic and dramatically pushing a button on his remote control, "changing the channel" to begin the meat of the program.
The show proper is presented as what a bored channel surfer sees as he flips through programs like the news, Martha Stewart Living
against the backdrop of historical events like the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar
, the popularity of the plays of William Shakespeare
, the revenge of The Forty Seven Ronin
, the rise of Christianity, the invention of agriculture, and the shootout at Fly's Photographic Studio (better known as the gunfight at the OK Corral).
After the series ended, the show did five one-hour specials that removed the channel-surfing idea. Reruns of the series are shown on the Comedy Network and History Television.
The show avoided the Nostalgia Filter
: Rick ended each episode by bringing up how casual injustice (oft demonstrated in the proceedings) is connected to prejudice and ignorance, how advances in science and medicine make life today so much better than any point in history, and History... Bites. *click*
This show contains examples of:
- Anachronism Stew: The show's premise is that television (and modern programs) have existed since the invention of agriculture.
- Bishōnen: Peter Oldring's characters, especially Alexander the Great.
- Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: "... and nookie."
- The Cast Showoff: Ron Pardo sang and played guitar in a few sketches, usually as either a stand-up comic or kids' show host.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: Done to point out how far humanity has advanced in science, technology and society since the events depicted.
- The Dung Ages: The show made a point of how bad life was in centuries past.
- Every Episode Ending: Rick comes back to talk about the subject matter and how it influenced history, and history bites.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Rick Green and Bob Bainborough were regulars on The Red Green Show, and Ron Pardo performed stand-up on Comedy at Club 54.
- Hospital Gurney Scene: The agriculture episode featured a medical drama. Teresa Pavlinek's doctor character ordered a trepanning for every patient, no matter what the diagnosis.
- Hurricane of Puns: The priest of Pan making an infomercial for lesser-known Greek gods.
- In The Style Of: Some episodes had the "main plot" done in a specific style; for example, the investigation and prosecution of the murder of Thomas Beckett was presented as an episode of Law & Order, while Sir Isaac Newton's episode was done like A Beautiful Mind.
- Man of a Thousand Voices: Ron Pardo. Close your eyes and you'd swear that that's really Don Cherry or Dennis Miller. Pardo credits his skills to watching too much television as a child.
- Medieval Morons: Timmy the Jeopardy! contestant was a dirt-farming peasant out of The Dung Ages, but he got at least one right answer.
- Of Corpse He's Alive: Qin Shi Huangdi's advisers tried to fool the media with this ploy, covering his head with a burlap sack with a face drawn on it and (historically) covering up the smell of his decomposition with rotting fish. It looked like it worked.
- Pride Before a Fall: Leonard the Jeopardy! contestant always responded with a smug grin and condescension in his voice, which evaporated quickly when the host rejected his response.
- Pun: The TV Guide listings during the show.
- Punny Name: The Zamboni family cleaned the Colosseum's arena floor between bouts in one episode; puns were rare among episode titles, but there were some, like "Bjarney & Friends" (Norse settlers in North America), "Cleo Can Kiss My Asp" (Cleopatra/Marc Antony/Octavian triangle), and "My Pharaoh Lady" (Pharaoh Hatshepsut).
- Sidetracked by the Analogy: A journalist interviewing an early Christian misinterprets the metaphors in play and concludes that Christianity is a cannibal cult.
- Take That: "And the number one easiest foe of Odysseus: The Toronto Maple Leafs."
- Tangled Family Tree: In "The Filthy Stinking Rich", the penchant of the Rothschild family for marrying within the family throughout the 1800s to keep their wealth from being scattered among countless sons-in-law and daughters-in-law is depicted in a sketch in which Charlotte Rothschild shows her family album to her fiance and first cousin Anselm Rothschild - while he rolls his eyes and repeatedly points out that they're also his family.
Charlotte: If we're gonna be married, you'll have to know my family. And here are miniature paintings of some of them! (flips through book) Now there is my uncle Amschel...
Anselm: (sighs) I know, he's my uncle too, oh my God...
Charlotte: Oh, wait 'til you meet him, you'll love him!
Anselm: Met him, hate him, oh my God, he's my uncle too...
Charlotte: He lives in...
Anselm: Frankfurt, go there all the time, hate it, oh my God...
Charlotte: (turns to another page) Oh, my cousin Mayer! Oh, that little face... (turns to next page) And my cousin Edmond...
Anselm: My cousins, my nephews, oh my God, (begins slapping himself across the face in despair) cousins, nephews, cousins, nephews, oh my God...
Charlotte: (furrows her brow in confusion) Wait... who is this funny-looking little guy? 'S one of my cousins?
Anselm: Uh... it's me, okay? Oh my God...
Charlotte: (disappointed) Oh... yeah. (gasps in delight) And this is Sal!
Anselm: Your uncle, my dad...
Charlotte: Oh, and Nathan!
Anselm: My uncle, your dad, oh my God, so stupid...
Charlotte: And there is my uncle James!
Anselm: Uh, yeah, uncle James, I know, uncle James, he's got the maid Elsa, favourite colour blue, he's got that stupid yappy little dog, oh my God...
Charlotte: He's married to my cousin!
Anselm: My sister...
Charlotte: Ew! He married his niece!? Why do families do that sort of thing?
Anselm: (voice rising in anger) Maybe because their parents don't give them any choice!!
- Unfortunate Names: Bob Bainborough's anchorman characters tended to these, such as "Intellectus Minimus".
- Ye Goode Olde Days: Averted. History Bites wasn't afraid to tackle the casual racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and ignorance that pervaded history. They didn't have the makeup budget to make the cast look less than decent, however.