Yonderland is a family fantasy comedy. Created, written by and starring the main troupe of performers from Horrible Histories (Mathew Baynton, Simon Farnaby, Martha Howe-Douglas, Jim Howick, Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond) and featuring the artistry of longtime Jim Henson collaborators Baker Coogan, the show mixes live-action with puppets to create what's described as a Labyrinth-meets-The Mighty Boosh blend of adventure, excitement and of course total silliness.The premise revolves around very ordinary, very bored stay-at-home mum Debbie (Howe-Douglas). Her kids are off to their first day of school and she's trying to figure out what to do with herself... when an elf suddenly appears from a kitchen cupboard and announces that she's the Chosen One destined to save his world from the forces of darkness (and stuff), as represented by the villainous Negatus and his demonic minions. Just intrigued enough to follow the elf — and his talking stick — back through the portal, Debbie meets with the Elders of the magical, mystical realm of Yonderland... only to discover that they've lost the scroll that explains what the Chosen One is actually supposed to do.Yonderland, it turns out, is a very silly place indeed. Soon Debbie is off on an eight-episode journey to find her fate that meanwhile finds her assisting, among others, "incompetent knights, monks who are incapable of lying and a race of people intent on firing the cleverest amongst them into the sun."The first episode aired on November 10th on British channel Sky1. Take a look at the preview trailer, and the Sky Yon 'news updates' to find out more.Spoilers Ahoy!
Tropes seen in Yonderland:
Acting For Seventy: Multiple parts played by the male cast — both main recurring roles and background one-offs, as snake oil salesmen, jugglers, various bystanders and barmen — while the lone female takes on both the heroine and (apparently) the ultimate Big Bad. The whole gang also dubs several of the puppets' voices, notably Baynton playing Elf, Willbond playing the talking stick, Howick and Howe-Douglas playing Neil and Rita the henchdemons and Farnaby playing the tree...thing.
This becomes especially obvious in episode 4, where the Page (played by Baynton) competes in a tournament hosted by the Chief Elder (again, Baynton), accompanied by Debbie and Elf (voiced by Baynton).
Crops up again in the first-series finale: as a result of Debbie's collecting allies for a rescue mission, Rickard's Robert the Gallant, Wizard Bradley and (briefly) Brother Antony all end up reappearing. Possibly not coincidentally, Bradley wears a big hat and a hood for the majority of the episode, while Robert's hat is noticeably tilted over his face.
Accidentally Broke the MacGuffin: Debbie and Elf spend the second episode trying to recover a replica of the missing scroll. When Debbie finally opens the box containing it, it turns out to be made of something that bursts into flames on exposure to daylight.
All There in the Manual: Although they've not yet been mentioned in the show, according to the promotional material the five main Elders all have names and individual job titles. Specifically, Chief Elder Choop (Baynton); Vice Elder Flowers (Farnaby); Wise Elder Vex (Willbond); Lord Elder Pressley (Howick) and Scribe Elder Ho-Tan (Rickard).
Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: A monk describing the devastation ogres have wrought on his monastery sums up thusly: "As you can see, they destroyed everything. The chapel, the chambers... part of that shoe..."
Aside Glance: From one of the Gallants, upon noticing that the unconscious body of one of Negatus' henchdemons is being magically controlled "just like a puppet..." Ahem.
Asshole Victim: John the nerdy explorer who complains about other people on a public footpath and tells his wife to shut up for no reason before getting killed by the giant. It can be argued that the horrendously sexist Philip of Woolworth and his cowardly replacement in the Grand Tournament also had it coming.
Awesome Moment of Crowning: At the end of the Grand Tournament, with a subversion in that the Page gets a teeny-tiny trophy, but otherwise the trope is played straight and everyone dances and cheers.
Back for the Finale: In order to save Elf, Debbie recruits both Gallants from the pilot, Wizard Bradley and Mojo from episode 2, and the monks-turned-estate agents from episode 3. We also briefly see the blue-skinned people from episode 4.
Ballistic Discount: A variant involving Negatus avoiding payment for his various new evil toys by making use of the installers. As for instance testing out a new death trap by dropping the engineer into it along with his bill, or using another engineer to level out the bottom of a scrying pool rather than paying him to do it.
Big "NO!": A traditional one from Elf as Debbie nearly gets burned to death in Ennythingos and a sarcastic one from King Bernard's Chamberlain.
Bilingual Bonus: The tiny furry creatures are called the Parvuli, which means, well, "tiny" in Latin. "Imperatrix" seems to be the name, rather than just the title, of the Big Bad, although the word is Latin for "Empress."
"Gesundheit" is played for laughs, but is actually an appropriate name for a spa of healing waters, since the word is German for "health."
Book Ends: The pilot opens on the drunk Elder intoning "The end, I fear that this could be the end." The series finale ends on him repeating the same line.
Cut Away Gag: More or less constantly. Notably: "I know not how [Negatus] sleeps at night!" Cut to Negatus snuggled face down with his cartoon-pyjama-covered bottom in the air.
Dark Is Evil: Negatus is at least trying; his name, his black leather outfit, his poorly-lit lair, the henchdemons who call him things like "Your Darker than Blackness"... which unfortunately devolves into one of them referring to him as "Oh Blackest of Dresses". His boss Imperatrix, meanwhile, does in fact go all-out in a black dress (and red corset), with black veils and thick dark eyeliner.
Deadpan Snarker: Debbie and Elf at times, and Nick the Talking Stick perpetually. Having your face repeatedly banged into the ground will do that to you. "Ow — ow again — and at the risk of repeating myself, OWWW!"
King Bernard's chamberlain, to the point where you'll be hard-pressed to find any line at all of his that isn't snarking.
Demonic Dummy: Makes an appearance in a street scene. The traditional scenario of a tuxedo-clad ventriloquist performing with his dummy on his lap is shattered when the barkeep calls over "'Ere, Ron, you coming for a pint?" and the dummy hops down and agrees, leaving his 'human performer' to fall over onto the table.
Dirty Old Woman: The Crone cheerfully describes herself in the pilot as "a slapper"... and makes a stunning comeback that proves it in episode four, as the 'target' for the kissing competition.
Fantastic Racism: Upon Debbie first hearing Elf's incredibly long and elaborate name:
Debbie: Can't I just call you "Elf"? (strides off briskly)
Elf:(follows, muttering) Bit racist...
Nick also complains that "thick as two short planks" sounds like a racial slur on wood.
Fantastic Measurement System: "Centuri" is a measure of time, but from context it seems to range from far beyond a mortal lifetime to thousands equaling a few weeks.
Finishing Each Other's Sentences: The pink-haired guardians of Gesundheit do it deliberately. The one played by Willbond wants to finish the sentences more often, but never knows what to finish them with.
Five Second Foreshadowing: In the first-series finale, Debbie says that the Elders have "Wizards and Gallants!" to help them out. Within a minute she's off to meet Wizard Bradley.
For the Evulz: Negatus tells the demons to torture Elf, not to get any information, just because their side is evil and torture is an evil thing to do.
Funny Background Event: Near the beginning of the Parvuli's sweet, squeaky ode to Debbie, one particular little fluffball sits waiting patiently by a set of bongo drums. Throughout the number we cut to him still waiting, until at last he is totally set for the big crashing finale... cue unexpectedly soft, poignant final note. The "Umm... OK then..." moment is absolutely priceless.
In the pilot there's a great moment when Debbie refers to the Oracle as "a fraud, a snake-oil salesman!" Behind her, an actual snake-oil salesman looks affronted and shuts his booth.
Gesundheit: Played with. "Gesundheit" really is the name of the spa, but the pink-haired keepers of the magic waters always say "Bless you" whenever it is said.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: Among a wealth of examples we get this, when Debbie asks the Wizard for a potion to cure her sick husband:
Debbie: Actually, there is something you can do for me. Let's go back to your place!
Wizard Bradley: Oh! Uh...well, I'm very flattered, Debbie, but it's been a while...and I'm a little rusty with, ah, technique... *hand gestures*
The monks of Old John, by the rules of their Order, must always tell the strictest truth. Debbie's not convinced.
Debbie: That's rubbish, everyone can lie. 'I'm washing my hair'... um, 'It was good for me too'...
Philip of Woolworth, champion knight, attempts some suave flirting with Debbie:
"My face is leaving in five minutes..." For those who don't know the joke in its entirety, the punchline is, "Be on it."
Everything Negatus' 'minion of the month' Kendal says:
"You've been a naughty little girl, haven't you?"
Golden Snitch: It turns out that though there are four parts of the Yonderland Grand Tournament, all you have to do is win the final one — ie. Kissing — and no matter how you did in the others (Archery, Swordplay and so on) you'll be the winner.
Gratuitous Disco Sequence: In the flashback showing Wizard Bradley at the height of his fame — and before being deserted by his Mojo.
Invisible Backup Band: Appears during King Bernard's song. Lampshaded when his Chamberlain (one of the few characters with a working brain) seems perturbed about where this music is coming from.
Just for Pun: One of the towns in Yonderland is called Ennythingos.
The "news updates" from Yonderland also feature a news ticker with gems such as "Agorophobe trafficker accused of insider trading."
Laughably Evil: Negatus seems to be heading in this direction. It helps that he's played by Farnaby as basically Horrible Histories' Death with a shorter fuse and (marginally) better toys.
Limited Wardrobe: Not only the puppets. Negatus only seems to have one outfit apart from disguises and the Elders wear the same clothes throughout the show, although it's possible they're wearing uniforms.
Naked People Are Funny: When Debbie, trying to help hide the strictly truthful monks, asks if they have another look besides their robes, she gets much more than she bargained for. Meanwhile, one of the Elders suggests they all remove their robes as his solution to everything.
No Fourth Wall: The first episode starts with the Elders sharing a monologue and attempting to stay in-shot for their lines, the second episode ends with various characters "reviewing" Wizard Bradley and Mojo's performance.
At one point, an Elder prevents us from hearing exactly what Debbie called Negatus by reminding the Council that it's a "family show."
In the finale, a Gallant looks at the unconscious body of a demon minion that Wizard Bradley is controlling and says in wonder, "just like a puppet." Extra points for the subsequent Aside Glance.
From the same episode, a running gag features Negatus attempting to do the traditional ominous 'villainous asides', only to have another character hear him. After the first one he at least tries to do them more quietly.
No Name Given: The Guardian of the Oracle. She isn't named onscreen and is referred to simply as 'The Crone' in all promotional material. However, in an interview, Howick (her performer) and Baynton decided her name is Yvonne.
Only Sane Man: Debbie takes on this role for the entire world. Elf gets a look in too.
Overly Long Name: Elf's real name, which is why Debbie suggests 'Elf'. He goes along with it, even if it is "a bit racist". Oddly enough when he later names his family they all turn out to have normal sounding English names — although this could be justified, as he's actively trying to mess with the henchdemons' minds at the time.
Pass the Popcorn: During the Gallants' argument, a minor character sits with a huge bowl of popcorn, all set for what's supposed to be a fight to the death. He is not happy when Debbie stops it.
Parental Bonus / Parent Service - In the grand tradition of Horrible Histories and of British comedy in general. Just for starters, in the official promo poster◊, Debbie is in a towel; and in case that wasn't obvious enough, the nearest male character is checking out the view.
The Oracle appears to be a giant slimy blob with one very fey male face poking out of it — and then another one pokes out mid-meeting with Debbie: "Nigel, darling, there's been a spillage...."
Politeness Judo: Gleefully turned Up to Eleven in the first episode, wherein two Gallants bump into each other trying to get through a doorway and immediately commence the full-bore "After you!" "No, I insist, after you!" routine. Elf quickly hustles Debbie past, muttering "...this won't end well." Sure enough, when Debbie comes by again several minutes later it's escalated to drawn swords, and then to extremely polite death threats, both men having clearly completely forgotten what the original problem was.
Portmanteau Couple Name: Every member of the HH troupe has been paired with pretty much every other by the fandom over the course of that show's run, and in this show that same cast seems determined to spoof the idea... leading to things like 'Baybond' (Baynton and Willbond) playing the Oracle as a couple, and this live-tweeting exchange after Baynton's character kissed both Debbie (Howe-Douglas) and the Crone (Howick) in the same episode:
Rickard: Shipping Dougton...
Rickard: Now shipping Baynwick. Hmm.
Howick: You're gonna wear the tape out mate.
Rickard: It's just SO hot!
Production Posse: The six main Horrible Histories actors breaking off into a new troupe is the entire point of the show. They couldn't bear the idea of not working together any longer, so set up a format that would allow them, in Willbond's words, "to continue to raid the dress-up box and speak in silly voices." The troupe thus formed sometimes informally refer to themselves as "The Assembled Idiots" or just "The Idiots".
The Quest: One minor one per episode, involving various small towns and peoples Debbie meets as part of her larger attempt to save all of Yonderland from ultimate villain Negatus. Lampshaded to hell and back when Debbie decides she no longer wants to be the Chosen One:
Debbie: And no more quests! I am so sick of quests! What is it with you guys and quests, anyway?
Elf: Well, lucky for you, there is a way to close the portal...
Ridiculously Cute Critter: The Parvuli, guardians of the sacred earth... aka teensy, fluffy white crosses between a teddy bear and an owlet that sing a squeaky little song called 'Thank You Debbie' ("You made us feel so snug/Just like a fitted sheet..."). While playing their own itty-bitty homemade instruments. Then, they shower her in flowers.
Shout-Out: Any number of them per episode, collected here. Notably, Debbie and two other Yonderland characters are stuck in a trash compactor that one character attempts to jam open with a guitar, which co-creator Larry Rickard confirmed on Twitter that this was a nod to the iconic compactor scene in Star Wars: A New Hope.
Schizo Tech: Mostly a medieval-renaissance fantasy setting, but they televise their tournaments. Knights on horseback are common, but the heroes frequently just take the train instead.
Spexico and Toros y Flamenco: Party town Ennythingos has a distinctly Spanish flavour, complete with a maraca-wielding host called Bombero.
Surreal Humor: Yonderland takes cues from (among others) Monty Python and The Mighty Boosh. It even includes Farnaby as a deliberately fake giant tree monster, as a direct shoutout to his role on the Boosh. Another great example is the Oracle - a giant blue egg that at first seems to be played by Baynton, until his husband pops out the other end asking where the sponge is.
Talking to Himself: A great live-action example where Elf (voiced by Baynton) addresses the Council of the Twelve — including Baynton. Also pops up in episode four and episode eight.
The Tape Knew You Would Say That: One episode opens on an amusing 'conversation' between Peter, speaking to Debbie's voicemail, and Debbie, communicating through sticky-notes left throughout the kitchen earlier in the day.
Written By Cast Member: Whilst it was created by and stars the whole troupe, each individual episode has a different author.
Year Inside, Hour Outside: The Elf seems to understand how time works in Yonderland relative to Debbie's world, although he doesn't always get her home in time for important engagements with her family.
Your Mom: A monk unleashes a string of them at Negatus without even meaning to, resulting in the destruction of his monastery.
Monk: "Tell me, did your mother smell of dead sea-birds?"
Monk: "Did she stink? Have weight issues? Body hair? Was she fat and ugly? Your mother. Who I presume is dead."
Monk narrating: "And then, for some reason, he became angered..."