At the grand old age of 96, Mel Brooks returns with a stealth sequel to his 1981 comedy History of the World Part I, which still seemed to have some cultural cache last time I took a peak. The original film claimed to have been ‘ten million years in the making’, so the mere four-decade genesis of this project may feel rushed in comparison. Sadly, most of Brooks’ regular players have long since departed, so his eight episode sketch-comedy show for Hulu sees a raft of today’s comic talent enlisted to revisit the parented Brooks style of scattershot comedy, with religion and specifically Jewishness a key target of the humour.
Comedy dates fast, but although some of the sketches feel that they’ve come directly from Brooks’ bottom drawer ( he’s admitted that there are gags in here he’s waited 40 years to film), there’s also lots of more pertinent material about the internet and YouTube which suggest that the young cast were encouraged to spruce up existing scripts and ideas. So Part II is generally not quite as crude as the original film, but the goal remains to shock, outrage and create some comic gold from some traditional schoolboy japes at the expense of world history.
So we have The Russian Revolution updated, where Anastasia having her own YouTube channel; Rasputin’s elaborate death is now a Jackass-style stunt show that continues for several episodes. Taita Waititi is one and done in a cheeky sketch about Sigmund Freud’s cocaine addiction, while Kumail Nanjiani’s bit pitches the Kama Sutra in an original, uncut, soup-to-nuts version. Alexander Graham Bell’s first phone call leads to him being pranked, and there’s extended sketches on hot-button topics like The Civil War (featuring the cheery song F**k the North!) and statue removal.
Brooks is probably best known for going after Biblical targets, with Seth Rogen scoring as a cute Noah who only collects dogs on his arc, or an extended parody of the Last Supper which mixes in the Beatles’ final recording session for Let It Be. This trolling leads nicely into probably the best joke of the series, and the one most likely to be a viral hit; Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm is reworked as a sitcom called Curb Your Judaism, complete with JB Smoove as Luke (‘Luke, there it is!’ quip Judas Nick Kroll) ‘If this was on Netfish, I’d cancel my subscription’ is a typically self-aware throwaway line that feels very much on brand for Brooks.
One word of warning; sketch comedy is a rare commodity these days, and this show really doesn’t lend itself to binge viewing; with pastiche paramount rather than story development, the eight episodes lose momentum if watched together, despite some dynamic comedy moments. There’s far too much of certain sketches (despite the gifted Ike Barinholtz, The Civil War drags on), while large chucks of the run-time are dedicated to Wanda Sykes in a 70’s sitcom parody called Shirley Chisholm. It’s a decent sketch with some political nous, but isn’t fully in tune with parodying actual historical events like D-Day or the Yalta big four photograph, and feels like some other project repurposed to pad out the running time. Overall, History of the World Part II’s best bits are more than worth watching over four hours of tv that mixes some ancient gags with killer material, much like the original film itself. And Brooks, looking pretty limber in his digitally de-aged version, looks in good health, so hopefully History of the World Season II won’t be so far away…
“History of the World, Part II” premieres on Hulu on Monday, March 6th 2023 with two episodes. Two new episodes will drop daily, with the finale on Thursday, March 9th
I’m a nope here, not keen on sketch shows. SNL and all that sort of stuff leaves me cold. Young Frankenstein was good though.
Whew! Not easy getting anything past Ebenezer tonight. Tough crowd.
Haven’t heard much about this yet. Thought the trailer looked awful. The thing is, going back to his classics I’ve mostly been disappointed. Only parts of Blazing Saddles and The Producers hold up pretty well. And given that so many of his jokes had to do with black people or gays, just because they’re funny, I was wondering how the new material was going to go over. Sounds like he was trying to be more contemporary, but at 96 I really wonder how much of that was him.
There’s clearly several different hands at work here, and when it falls, it falls hard. But there are honed, polished routines that Brooks has clearly nurtured for some time, and these stand out. It could easily be a repacked 90 minute feature, and maybe it will be. You tube will be where most of the gags will reach their biggest audience.
Young Frankenstein still works, no?
I just watched it again recently and I was surprised at how bad I thought it was. Wrote up some notes I should post. Been sitting on them for a while. Just didn’t seem funny at all this time around.
Comedy is like that. The mood you’re in. Something changes in you. I usually switch off if not enjoying something that made me laugh before.
I admire his willingness to create gags and set them up cinematically. The double whammy of Airplane and Life of Brian moved the spoof comedy in a less vaudevillian direction, but there’s usually something worth mining out if you’re in the mood.
I haven’t seen Part I so I think I better hold off on this until I have that masterpiece under my belt.
I’d skip them both if I was you, much for the reasons you had last time; this will go far too far !
I’m not surprised. Brooks isn’t exactly my cup of tea…
There’s some material here which may cause deep offence.