‘History Of The World’ Series Hits And Misses But Never Feels Like Mel Brooks

Every now and then, a TV show will slyly make you think a show is about one thing but it’s not about that. Back in 1985, there was the George Burns Comedy Week, an anthology series which was hosted by Burns but it didn’t really really have him in it. Then, there was The Dick Tracy Show in which the titular character employed a cartoonish flatfoots to fight crime. Yet, I’m sure people tuned in wanting to see more Burns or more Tracy.

Instead, they got something else. Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part I wasn’t his best movie but it wasn’t his worst. I previously posted that one of the problems that he didn’t employ enough extra writers to help him. Well, History of the World Part II, a series sequel to that movie currently is streaming on Hulu, has many, many writers. And it’s not much better than the 1981 movie.

Several of the anthology tackles topics including the Civil War, the Russian Revolution and the Civil Rights Movement with Wanda Sykes as Shirley Chisholm, a former Congresswoman who ran for President. The problem with this latter one is it’s presented with 1970s blaxploitation style but can’t deliver on its premise. It feels like an SNL skit that was added at the last minute for the last skit of the night to fill the run time. Yet, the entire thing doesn’t have much humor.

The movie started out in caveman times and went all the way up to the French Revolution. This series keeps going back and forth with the different stories that it just hurts it more. My guess is if they presented the the stories without interrupting and going to another segment, people would just stop watching. And they knew this. The part with the Civil War has Ike Barinholtz playing Ulysses S. Grant and there’s a running gag that he is a boozer, which isn’t at all funny, who can’t get a drink and has been put in charge of looking after Robert Todd Lincoln (Nick Robinson), son of Abraham Lincoln. There’s another segment in which Sykes plays Harriet Tubman who actually had the Undeground Railroad as an underground railroad.

The Russian Revolution story does have a funny gag with Anatasia Romanov (Dove Cameron) that I won’t reveal. And there’s another gag connected to the Romanovs that I won’t say because it’s just a surprise and done so clever when you consider the fate of the real-life person being referenced. There’s also a funny gag in which Nick Kroll (who like Sykes and Barinholtz is also listed as a writer) plays Judas Iscariot in a parody of a popular TV show. These segments work.

More Biblical humor has Seth Rogen as Moses who decides to load the Ark with just dogs. There’s also a romcom parody where Zazie Beets plays Mary Magadalene but a lot of this is a great premise but no good execution. And then there’s a meeting of white men who decide they’re going to rework the gospels to make them benefit white men that is done well because you know people have used the notion that Jesus was a Brad Pitt look-a-like. Jesus is black here, mainly because he probably would’ve been black or brown-skinned.

But with every anthology segement that works, there’s another that doesn’t. And with each of the eight episodes at about 22-24 minutes, that’s a lot to sit through hoping the next segement gets better. The movie was only an hour and a half and I’d say about only an hour of it works. This series is almost twice as long and when half of it doesn’t work, that’s a serious problem.

One criticism I heard is that it seems like Drunk History, but that’s mainly because I’d bet Drunk History was inspired by the Mel Brooks’ movie. It’s like Wholly Moses drew poor comparisons to Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Or maybe some audiences might find more humor in the series than Brooks’ movie. People’s humor changes over time. I know people who were only introduced to Brooks through his latter movies Robin Hood: Men in Tights and Dracula: Dead and Loving It. They liked them. But would they find the humor in the 1981 movie to be vulgar or the use of racial slurs in Blazing Saddles to be offensive?

Brooks doesn’t appear in much of the skits except for hosting the opening of each episodes and acting as a voice-over narration. At 96, he’s still alive and kicking so it would’ve been better to see him in some meatier roles. And since he’s mainly reduced to a producer and as little as possible on-screen, the series never feels like it has his same kick. It feels like fanfiction at times.

I would recommend that fans of Brooks watch it but there’s a lot to skip. If you haven’t already, you could probably watch all eight episodes in about an hour and a half skipping through the segments which tell you very early on they’re not good. But if you’re not a Brooks fan, you probably won’t find much of it all that good.

What do you think? Please comment?

Published by bobbyzane420

I'm an award winning journalist and photographer who covered dozens of homicides and even interviewed President Jimmy Carter on multiple occasions. A back injury in 2011 and other family medical emergencies sidelined my journalism career. But now, I'm doing my own thing, focusing on movies (one of my favorite topics), current events and politics (another favorite topic) and just anything I feel needs to be posted. Thank you for reading.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: