And more specifically, its host, historian Suzannah Lipscomb. The show itself is more less exactly what it says on the tin, with titles like “Hidden Killers of the Victorian Home” “Hidden Killers of the Edwardian Home” and “New Hidden Killers of the Victorian Home;” each episode runs about 55 minutes but could easily be condensed into 30 if you eliminated the unnecessary framing shots of portcullises and dramatic pauses after questions like “Could this be a hidden killer?” (Yes. It could, and it was.)
Here’s a representative episode:
This is the greatest series on television, and I will tell you exactly why. Firstly, it makes you feel like you are doing something intellectual, when in fact you are merely absorbing a bullet list of fairly well-known facts (The Victorians used lead in children’s toys and arsenic in wallpaper. This was unhealthy. Etc). It’s just the right amount of information. You feel less stupid without actually learning anything.
Secondly, Suzannah Lipscomb has the most mesmerizing voice of any human being currently living above ground. I hear it, and I become Ursula the Sea Witch. I want to snatch it out of her throat in a glowing green ball, stuff it into a seashell, wear it around my neck forever, and transform myself into a glorious brunette bitch-queen. It’s ver-r-r-y deep and lush and all Received Pronunciation, like she’s got a mouthful of warm marbles, sure, but it comes with a bonus feature: the slightest and most endearing of lisps. Every third “s” comes with a little juicy flourish, and waiting for it is like listening for hoofsteps on the roof on Christmas Eve.
She is beautiful beyond the lot of mortal women, to be sure, that’s also a part of it. Her hair curls in a manner I’ve never seen on anyone else. It cannot be described, only appreciated. She has tassels of it. She wears a nose ring and she looks like if Taylor Swift had a child with a beautiful swan, and that child received a doctorate in Restoration-era Languedoc.
But many women are beautiful, I hear you say, and you are right. It is not only that she has the face of a maiden Mary Poppins. It is everything: the fact that she wears a vivid red dress in every appearance, like Mr. Rogers’ beloved red sweater; her ability to rephrase “But could [X] have really been a hidden killer?” in ten thousand different ways; the way she glances suspiciously at butter dishes and doorknobs.
And then there is Dr. Kate Williams. Dr. Kate is a frequent guest of Dr. Lipscomb’s, and she reveals every fact about unsafe lighting practices and the dangers of gas in the home as if she were imparting to you the most precious gossip.
This is how Dr. Kate explains that Edwardians were interested in electricity: with incredulous eyebrows, a shocked mouth, and furrows in the brow that seem to say, Look, you didn’t hear this from me, but…
This is what Dr. Kate looks like when explaining that the Victorians liked to be clean. This is the face of a TMZ source!
Can you believe it, Dr. Kate says. Can you believe these bakers, adding aluminum and plaster of Paris to their bread dough, to their Victorian customers, thereby becoming one of the hidden killers of the Victorian home?
We cannot believe it. Help us with our unbelief.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.