The long awaited sequel to the Mel Brooks classic is chock full of celebrities, comedians, and jokes, but not enough of them are all that funny.
Plot: After waiting over 40 years there is finally a sequel to the seminal Mel Brooks film, “History of the World, Part I,” with each episode featuring a variety of sketches that take us through different periods of human history.
Review: I was beyond excited when it was first announced that Hulu was bringing the long awaited sequel to Mel Brooks’ comedy History of the World Part I. I was less enthusiastic when I learned that the ninety-six year old would only be involved in a limited capacity. Spread over eight half-hour episodes, History of the World Part II has all of the hallmarks and style of classic Mel Brooks but without the spark that made Spaceballs, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein into masterpieces. With a reliance on quantity versus quality, History of the World Part II throws everything at the screen to see what sticks, resulting in a very uneven anthology of skits that pales compared to the 1981 movie that inspired it.
The trailers immediately show that History of the World Part II employs the same anachronistic humor as the feature film. With jokes taking contemporary elements and technology and putting them into various eras throughout history, the trademark approach that Mel Brooks’ movies have become synonymous with are heaped into each of the eight episodes of this series. While the 1981 film had four main segments set in the Stone Age, Roman Empire, Spanish Inquisition, and French Revolution, they each had short skits that bridged one chapter to the next. in History of the World Part II, the eight episodes chop up the main segments through the entire season. This means that each half-hour episode has six to ten skits that move back and forth through the timeline rather than showcasing a linear progression like the movie did.
The main skits focus on Jesus and the Apostles, The Civil War, The Russian Revolution, and Shirley Chisholm’s campaign as the first female and African-American presidential candidate. The consistent stars of the series are Nick Kroll, Ike Barinholtz, and Wanda Sykes, who each serve as writers and producers. Each episode also showcases Mel Brooks as narrator of each segment despite the legendary comedian not having any writing credits on these episodes. But, the creative talent writing this series are indebted to Brooks and his filmography. Do not hesitate to skewer and satirize everything from religion and documented historical record to racism, social media, reality television, and the divide between Brooks’ generation and Millennials, Zoomers, and beyond. There are jokes on The Beatles, Jackass, TikTok, YouTube, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and even Brooks’ classic Blazing Saddles. With four hours of running time to fill, many jokes here work, and many of them are the shorter skits, while the longer ones are chopped up into too many segments.
So many of the jokes in this series are rooted in Jewish culture and mock both Judaism and Christianity that this series is bound to offend some viewers, but if you have ever seen a Mel Brooks production, you know what you are in for. Airing on Hulu, History of the World Part II has plenty of drugs on display and copious profanity, but is surprisingly light on the nudity. The sheer size of the cast, many of whom are not shown in any of the trailers and will surprise people, is impressive. Some work better than others, with Jay Ellis and Zazie Beetz a highlight as Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Most of the actors in History of the World Part II appear for a single skit and some for a single line of dialogue. There are also some pretty hilarious connections to Part I, but I won’t spoil any details about what audiences are in store for.
Directed by Alice Mathias, David Stassen, Nick Kroll, and Lance Bangs, amongst others, History of the World Part II boasts a staff of fourteen writers, including Kroll, Barinholtz, and Sykes. I am still confused as to why they chose to split the main stories across the eight episodes rather than dedicate an entire episode to a single story with some skits between them. Maybe this was to contend with the low attention spans of modern viewers, or maybe it was to try and get people to tune in for the entire series, but with some stories crossing a handful of episodes and others broken into all eight, the inconsistent structure of this series ends up making it feel more redundant and repetitive instead of the quicker pace they were aiming for. It may also have to do with the longer segments needing filler. Still, in either case, History of the World Part II could have benefited from being either half as long or using a more traditional episode structure.
More jaded viewers enjoying the prevalence of comedy available on cable and streaming platforms in the four decades since History of the World Part I debuted on the big screen may not find much in this sequel series that they have not seen before. The most significant difference between History of the World Part II and the humor of Saturday Night Live, South Park, and even The Simpsons and Family Guy is the heavy reliance on jokes about Jewish people, which may fly over many viewers’ heads. For me, the highlight of this series was seeing Mel Brooks back in action, even if a limited capacity. This series does not hold a candle to Brooks’ movies and works more as a love letter to his career and importance to both movies and comedians. Undoubtedly, everyone involved in making this series had a lot of fun doing so, but I wish it had been more cohesive and less repetitive.
History of the World Part II premieres on March 6th on Hulu.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/history-of-the-world-part-ii-tv-review/