Review of ‘History of the World, Part II’: A Tribute to Mel Brooks

If you don’t count the years he worked as a drummer, “diver” and comic as a teenager in the Catskills, Mel Brooks began his show business career in television, writing for Sid Caesar at the dawn of the medium. He returned in the mid-1960s to co-create “Be Smart” and now he’s back again, with Hulu’s “History of the World, Part II,” a sequel to his 1981 film “History of the World, Part I. “

That film, a series of skits set in the Stone Age, Ancient Rome, the Spanish Inquisition and Revolutionary France, is not the best it will be remembered for, or perhaps it would like to be, but the film is it’s only Brooks. suggests the second edition, with the possibility built into the title. Since it is among his lesser films, I wasn’t at all sure what to expect from the series, and although it takes a moment to get on its feet, once it has established its rhythms and width, I was completely sold.

“World History, Part II” is a sequel and emancipation – vulgar, funny, fun and smart about history and modern life. It’s done by (and perhaps especially by) other, younger hands – well, they’d have to be, since Brooks is 96 – but it’s recognizable School of Mel, with an added air of homage and celebration .

The most notable, and most visible, among his new collaborators are Ike Barinholtz, Wanda Sykes and Nick Kroll, who take on several roles during the eight episodes of the show. They are all credited as executive producers and writers (as is Brooks, or “American Treasure Mel Brooks,” as he introduces himself), and with his mix of short pieces and longer intercut ongoing stories, he parodies the media and on social media, formally. like Kroll’s amazing “Kroll Show”. (Kroll himself is the most Brooksian presence in the series, especially in his role as a shtetl purveyor of mud pies, though he also pays homage to Gene Wilder’s “I’m hysterical” scene from “The Producers.”) Brooks, who starred in . that the film (“perhaps a mistake,” he admits at the top), does not appear on the screen here, at least not in his own body, but he narrates, in a typical tone of excitement, and his voice alone – cultural memory running back 62 years to when he and Carl Reiner first took their public “2000 Year Old Man” routine – does a lot to set the stage.

Make no mistake: However many minds are involved, this is a Mel Brooks production. The hallmarks of his style can be found here: historical figures treated in a modern vernacular, based on “The 2000 Year Old Man”; lack of respect for the lines between stupid and clever, subtle and ridiculous; exuberant musical numbers; the actors’ metaphysical awareness that they are in a show (and the sense that everyone is in show business); silly portfolios; and a rich strain of Jewish humor, that is to say humor written not only by Jews but also about Jews. (There’s less of that around than you’d think, since we’re running Hollywood — I’m a boy, letter writers.) There are jokes, pee jokes and vomit jokes — the last one of which surprised me. its own, especially based on a funny bit set on D-Day.

Some will certainly find the series blasphemous, given its various views on Jesus — also the subject of early “The 2000 Year Old Man” — in a parody of “The Notebook,” Peter’s Beatles documentary Jackson’s “Get Back” and spot-on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” with JB Smoove doing a great turn as his Leroy as the apostle Luke and Kroll as a Larry David-ized Judas (with Richard Kind as Peter, at Judas was wronged by not getting him a ticket for his one-man show “My Father is a Galilean, my Mother is a Moabite & I’m in Therapy”).In addition, there is a riff on the Council of Nicaea AD 325, in which the bishops agree henceforth to represent Jesus as white (he is played by the Black actor Jay Ellis) and to blame the Jews for killing him. The man who wrote “Springtime for Hitler” is not about to brand his relaxed at 96; for his disciples, it’s a chance to get in on a piece of that action. (Hitler is back in the series “On Ice,” pio in the short from the movie that was blown out into a longer movie.)

Where “Part I” was filled with a troupe of already older comics, including Henry Youngman, Shecky Greene, Jackie Mason and Jack Carter, as if one day a table from the Friars Club had decided itself to removed from a studio backlot, “Part II” features faces from several generations of comedy and contemporary comedy. (One imagines them getting the message, “Mel Brooks – you’re going to want to be on this,” and clearing the calendar to make sure they were.)

Among the notable cast, in larger and smaller roles, are Pamela Adlon (singing and dancing revolution and preaching in Russia 1918), Danny DeVito (as the czar Romanov, with a family from Beverly Hills), Josh Gad (as Shakespeare, the terror of his writers’ room), Zahn McClarnon (as a Native American soldier in the Civil War — “the one in the 1860s,” says Brooks, “not the one coming in 2024” — with a yen to stand up) , Kumail Nanjiani (as the author of the Kama Sutra, originally a cookbook), Ronny Chieng (as Kublai Khan), Zazie Beetz (as Mary Magdalene), Jack Black (as Josef Stalin), Fred Armisen (flogging pyramid scheme, with actual pyramids, in ancient Egypt), Marla Gibbs (in a ’70s-style sitcom featuring Sykes as Shirley Chisholm), Natalie Morales, Sarah Silverman, Paul Scheer, Arturo Castro, Jon Daly, Jason Alexander, Andrew Rannells, Reggie Watts, Rob Corddry, D’Arcy Carden, Jason Mantzoukas, Jillian Bell and, from “Abbott Elementary,” Quinta Brunson and Tyler James Williams (with Janelle James among the writing staff). There are more.

As popular as it has been for many years, Brooks’ work, on the low end or on the high end, is not for everyone; the guilty need not apply easily. (For the status quo offender, the next good sketch might erase the bad taste of the last.) “Part II” is typically rude, crude, dumb, learned, witty and delightful, respectively or even at the same time, and it may be the story. one television series that would dare, or even find an occasion to make fun of a group of pop voices called Bolsheviks to Mensheviks. Which is good enough for me, and maybe for you.

‘World History Part II’

Where: Hulu

When: Any time

Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under 17)

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