History of the World, Part II Is a Worthy Successor to the Original: Review

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The Pitch: Over 40 years after Mel Brooks’ beloved Part I, the long-awaited sequel to The History of the World has arrived — this time as an eight-part series on Hulu and tailor-made for the streaming age. Though Brooks served as a writer, executive producer, and narrator, Brooks himself takes the backseat and lets a new generation of comedians take the wheel: Nick Kroll, Wanda Sykes, and Ike Barinholtz serve as executive producers and principal cast members, amidst a vast sea of hilarious guest stars, including Jack Black, Pamela Adlon, Seth Rogen, Taika Waititi, Josh Gad, and many more.

Similar to Part IThe History of the World jumps across the timeline of human existence for an anthology-style sketch show. Now that the project has broken free from the limited runtime of a film, Part II stretches its longer sketch arcs into multiple episodes, all including the same cast members — for example, “The Story of Jesus” takes place over the entire series, with three concrete eras of Jesus’ story being represented in three different ways, while “The Civil War,” “The Russian Revolution” also serve as overarching stories.

In addition to larger historical movements that take place over a long period of time, several important moments in history are parodied in individual sketches. “The Invention of the Telephone” finds Alexander Graham Bell being pranked called by his associate in the next room over, “William Shakespeare” sees the literary figure berating his writers’ room as they complete work on Hamlet, and “The Invention of Fire” follows three cavewomen as they figure out how to light up a joint.

As always with Mel Brooks, the jokes range from quippy one-liners and dad jokes to totally absurd meta-commentary, with breakout musical numbers, pop culture skewers, and a healthy amount of showbiz comedy. They also parody specific properties and genres: The third phase of “The Story of Jesus” takes on the title of “The Last Supper Sessions” as it satirizes The Beatles’ Get Back documentary from 2021, and the story of Kublai Khan’s hundreds of wives and mistresses is parodied as a reality show titled “The Real Concubines of Kublai Khan.”

The Business We Call Show: Just as with Part I’s extended arc covering “The Roman Empire,” Part II is littered with showbiz jokes. Josh Gad’s turn as a volatile showrunner-version of William Shakespeare (who takes credit for everyone’s ideas) is cheekily relevant, and Jillian Bell hosting a focus group to essentially “rewrite” the story of Jesus as a blockbuster hits the nail on the head. “The Last Supper Sessions” also likens Jesus and his apostles to The Fab Four, with Judas serving as George Harrison (“I think I’ll be leaving the band now,” he says, quoting Harrison’s infamous exit depicted in Get Back). 

Johnny Knoxville History of the World Part II Hulu
Johnny Knoxville History of the World Part II Hulu

History of the World, Part II (Hulu)

History of the World, Part II comes to us via an incredibly talented team of comedy writers, including Ana Fabrega (Los Espookys), Fran Gillespie (Saturday Night Live), Guy Branum (The Mindy Project), and Janelle James (Abbott Elementary). Plus, with Brooks at the helm, and Kroll, Sykes, and Barinholtz leading the project, multiple eras of comedy TV are represented. The State members David Wain, Ken Marino, and Joe Lo Truglio appear together for one segment, Johnny Knoxville and Jason “Wee Man” Acuña reunite for a Jackass tribute, and Veep‘s Timothy Simons, Sam Richardson, Brian Huskey, and Lennon Parham all appear in various sketches.

An “updated” version of History of the World also calls for some updated jokes — so, there’s a considerate effort to cram as many “relevant” pop culture jokes as possible, to varying levels of success. Galileo’s scuffle with the Catholic Church during the Renaissance is parodied as a series of Cameo videos (called “Galilameos”) and Instagram Live sessions, complete with Kroll doing an absolutely ridiculous Italian accent. Typhoid Mary is depicted through a livestream platform cleverly called “Itch” — a Twitch parody — but even more absurd are the comment feeds for her segments, which feature an account called “Scheisse_Lover1” commenting things like “I LOVE YOU TYPHOID MARY PLZ GIVE ME TYPHOID <3 <3” and “MARRY ME MARY MALLON, I WILL DO ANYTHING.”

Meanwhile, for “The Russian Revolution,” Dove Cameron assumes the role of Princess Anastasia Romanov and live streams her journey — but aside from the character’s initial obliviousness to Russia’s ensuing political chaos, the payoff isn’t as intriguing as bits like “The Last Supper Sessions” and Nick Kroll’s bizarre (and hilarious) Episode 6 commercial series titled “Steven Santelmo Statue Removal & Supply.”

The Verdict: Wanda Sykes, Nick Kroll, and Ike Barinholtz each come from different comedy lanes, but in History of the World, Part II, they mesh together really well and serve as terrific anchors for this project. But with such a high volume of sketches spread out across eight episodes, not all of them stick, or even serve the same purpose as the others.

Sykes leads Shirley!, a faux sitcom depicting the life and times of America’s first black congresswoman, Shirley Chisholm, and while the crash course into her life and failed 1972 presidential bid is a worthy subject, the pace of the sitcom-style comedy halts significantly, and the laughs aren’t nearly as frequent.

Hulu History of the World Part II
Hulu History of the World Part II

History of the World, Part II (Hulu)

On the other hand, the show tends to unravel or derail just enough to keep you invested. The meta moment in “The Last Supper Sessions” where JB Smoove and Richard Kind suddenly demand that they all drop their Liverpool accents, to Barinholtz’s chagrin, is hilarious, because everyone’s accents were kinda half-assed to begin with.

There are also terrific moments where an actor will tag the camera or break the fourth wall, like the final segment of “The Last Supper Sessions,” where a loud-mouthed Boston-dweller shows up on set to claim that Tom Brady is “the real traitor” and demands Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. There’s even a moment in “The Russian Revolution” where Kroll and Pamela Adlon acknowledge that Hulu has both an ad-supported plan and a premium, ad-free version, with Adlon concluding “They chose their own ad experience, they’re capitalist sheep!”

Overall, History of the World, Part II succeeds mostly in the outstanding comedic performances from its cast. Kroll, who often reverts to his character voice as Big Mouth‘s Coach Steve and Oh Hello‘s Gil Faizon, is once again on another level of sketch comedy irreverence, frequently stealing the show with absurd line deliveries and character humor. There certainly isn’t anyone as comfortable with comedy as Mel Brooks, but the cast and crew assembled here are worthy contenders.

Where to Watch: History of the World, Part II hits Hulu on March 6th, 2023, with two episodes premiering each day that week.


History of the World, Part II Is a Worthy Successor to the Original: Review
Paolo Ragusa

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