Debuting this week on Disney +, and on Hulu in the US, is the follow-up over 40 years in the making, the sequel to the beloved Mel Brooks 1981 comedy History of the World: Part 1, the fundamentally titled History of the World: Part II. After the disastrous Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank last year, a pseudo remake/reimagining of the Brooks classic Blazing Saddles itself, Hollywood seems determined to drag up more Brooks masterpieces for inspiration, once again with lackluster results. Much like Paws of Fury, History of the World: Part 2 seems to have very little input from Brooks himself, outside of narrating the 8-part series which will play out over 4 consecutive days this week.
History of the World: Part 2 features a rolling format of 2 to 3 recurring multi-episode sketches combined with smaller skits that are peppered in regardless of timing. The series jumps through different time periods and eras with little thought of cohesion within the framing of the individual episodes either. Leading this charge, and based on the amount of inclusion in each of the 8 episodes, running the series is the trio of Ike Barinholtz, Nick Kroll, and Wanda Sykes.
One of the main personas of many that Barinholtz inhabits is Ulysses Grant in a recurring segment set during the civil war. Kroll introduces us to a fictional character named Schmuck Mudman who somehow ends up in the middle of the Russian Revolution in another recurring sketch. At least Wanda Sykes seems to be setting out to not only have fun but educate people with her portrayal of real-life would-be presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm. Of the smaller skits, the ones with Rasputin and a certain well-known stunt crew work quite well, and episode 8 features a movie trailer parody that is a home run.
Sadly, the entire series is very hit-and-miss, and the enjoyment of the audience will come down to how much they can tolerate Kroll and Barinholtz’s antics. Nick Kroll is better in smaller doses, to begin with, but his Schmuck character grows thin really fast. Even the great Pamela Adlon as his long-suffering wife can’t do much to redeem this character and make it entirely watchable. Proof of Kroll’s success in smaller skits is where he plays a down-on-his-luck statue salesman in a bunch of inspired faux cheap, made-for-cable commercials. Barinholtz seems to feel that loud is a comedic style as he plays most of his characters as noisy buffoons. I actually enjoyed the start of Sykes’ Shirley Chisholm’s characterization, setting the presidential hopeful in a Jefferson’s-inspired setting was quite ingenious. But the sketch lasts through most episodes of any sketch in the series and grows a little too dependent on the tropes and fallbacks of the sitcom it’s trying to emulate, falling flat by the end.
It’s hard to talk about much else without going into spoilers about who appears and what topics are hit upon, though there is some follow-up on the “Next Time” segment from the end of History of the World: Part 1, which I certainly won’t ruin here. The series does have some genuinely hilarious moments in it that did elicit some big laughs, but they are too few and far between. After watching the series, you wonder if there wasn’t a serious need for a re-edit or whether Disney locked them into an 8 episode structure by the production that required them to fill all this time, as this could have easily been half the length, even with all the cameos. Even with the plethora of cameos from other stars that are peppered throughout the series, the show remains dominated by its main 3 executive producers/stars.
The final product feels less like a Mel Brooks vehicle than it does a Drunk History/History of the World mashup, written by people who have seen Mel’s movies and think they are as funny as he is. And while some of the skits work well, skewering some of the things that have become normal parts of our society in the last 40 years like social media, cancel culture, and technological advances, others feel dated and out of place. The domination of Kroll, Barinholtz, and Syles throughout the series also drags the content down. When Mel Brooks would pop up as different characters in his films, it was just him. More times than not, he appears as secondary characters in service of the story. Having 3 people doing the same things through this series just drowns everyone else out. It will likely leave some audiences fast-forwarding to the next skit looking for the next laugh.
But when this series hits, it does so with aplomb. There are some seriously funny moments to be had and some genuine laugh-out-loud moments along the way. So while the series as a whole may struggle with its footing, there’s still enough there to consider sticking around to the end, whether most audiences do will be the question.
- Release Date: 3/6/2023