How Am I Only Just Hearing About Mel Brooks’ Return to ‘History of the World’???
Last night, I was just scrolling, minding my own business (as one does), when I saw Mel Brooks on the front page of Hulu. New Mel Brooks. An entirely new show from the guy. And not just any new show: a continuation of his iconic series of films, History of the World.
What the actual?? I feel like we got absolutely no press about this show (aside from our darling D.R. Medlen picking up on it back in January). This is Mel Brooks after all! I was so puzzled about the general lack of an ad campaign for this show … up until I actually watched it. And then, I understood.
It’s not that it’s a bad show—it’s just an odd product of two very distinct time periods in entertainment. I feel confident commenting on this, as I’m part of that generational cusp that grew up with Brooks’ films, yet came of age during a very specific era of comedy. The writers’ room here is an odd assortment, with Brooks at the helm, yet bolstered by the likes of Nick Kroll and Ike Barinholtz (who also star prominently in the various vignettes throughout each episode, predominantly as Judas and Ulysses S. Grant respectively). As a result, you get a mix of styles that makes sense if you know the comedic backgrounds of everyone involved, yet otherwise feels a bit out of place.
After all, Brooks has a very specific type of screwball humor that worked beautifully back in the day, when the actors he worked with (such as Madeline Kahn, Rick Moranis, and Gene Wilder) operated with a very subtle, wisecracky type of humor. This humor shines through in the new History of the World, yet it’s somewhat dulled with the over-the-top comedic style that seems to be dominant these days. The opening vignette, for instance, followed Ulysses S. Grant during a meeting with Abraham Lincoln, with a recurring bit being Lincoln’s height getting in the way of basic tasks (such as standing up, exiting rooms, and so on). It’s the sort of classically Brooks bit that would leave us in stitches growing up! Yet the overzealous way the actors played it made it feel a little like watching your friend’s improv show: you love the people involved, and you get where they’re coming from, but something isn’t quite working.
HOWEVER … that doesn’t mean the show is a flop! Au contraire. While the first feeling you might be struck by is the awkwardness of two comedic eras clashing, ultimately you’re kept watching because, goddamn, it’s Mel Brooks, and the casting is fantastic overall. The lighthearted tone isn’t callous or uncomfortably irreverent, it comes from a place that genuinely nurtures the joy of comedy. Yes, it can be a little too silly, but some of the jokes hit in the best possible way: when you’re least expecting it!
My favorite bit thus far was a total throwaway, at the end of the first episode, and it was a Hitler bit of all things—a nearly impossible subject to make into a good joke! Yet this joke worked so well, I was grinning the entire time. The premise is that every terrible fascist is nothing more than a bad ice skater, and Hitler’s routine was so god-awful and universally hated, it prompted his infamous double suicide. Hitler’s got a shitty, stupid gold mustache made of glitter, and he’s wearing shitty, stupid eyeliner, and the way that the announcers roast him had me rolling. The icing on the cake was the historical details that went into his scoring—for instance, instead of giving him a zero as most nations did, Poland gave him a score of “Fuck You.” My favorite part was France giving him a 10, just for Nick Kroll’s line of calling them “those Vichy cowards.”
And that’s why we loved the original, right? Brooks would take history and give it a breath of silliness without making it benign. It works in this reboot, too, even if some of the sketches are a little awkward (such as the stoner cavewoman sketch, if only because it’s hard to make weed jokes funny for anyone who isn’t a teenager). In particular, Brooks’ depictions of Jewish history have always been delightful, as they come from all angles of love and affection. I’m looking forward to seeing how he wraps up the “Curb Your Enthusiasm: Last Disciples Edition” story arc.
You can catch History of the World, Part II on Hulu, with two episodes dropping each night this week from Monday through Thursday. It’s definitely worth a watch, if only because Nick Robinson looks pretty with long hair (and Danny Devito looks dapper as a Romanov).
(Featured Image: Hulu)
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