Mel Brooks fans will eat up this new limited series on Hulu positioned as a sequel to Brooks’ 1981 movie “History of the World, Part I.”
Appropriately, the new series is titled “History of the World, Part II.” It consists of eight, half-hour episodes, and starts Monday (March 6) on Hulu.
Having never seen the first one, I can only extrapolate from the new one that “Part I” satirized famous historical events and personalities from a Brooksian perspective -- which is what the new one does too.
In “Part II,” the many historical events and periods played for laughs include the U.S. Civil War, with General Grant sneaking surreptitious swallows of whiskey every chance he gets; and the Russian Revolution, where the Romanovs headed by Czar Nicholas II (played by Danny DeVito) are styled like Kardashians.
One of the series’ strong points lies in the cleverness of its casting. Danny DeVito playing a doomed Russian czar is just one of them.
Other such pairings of actor and character include David Duchovny as Howard Cosell (above photo), Wanda Sykes as both Harriett Tubman and Shirley Chisholm (in separate stories), Johnny Knoxville as Rasputin, Taika Waititi as Sigmund Freud, JB Smoove as St. Luke and others too numerous to list here.
Since he is still very much alive and apparently in full possession of his marbles at age 96, Mel Brooks is credited as a writer and executive producer of this new TV show.
He even appears in it, in the role of an emcee who introduces the show at the very beginning. It is his voice, but the figure on screen is not really him, but an exaggerated CGI version of him.
The man’s longevity is astonishing. He first worked in television in 1950, so 2023 represents his 73rd year in the TV biz. Most notably, he and Buck Henry co-created “Get Smart” in the 1960s.
He is perhaps more famous for his work on stage and screen. He is one of a small group of show business luminaries who have won all four of the entertainment industry’s top awards -- one Oscar, four Emmys, three Grammys and three Tonys.
In his introductory remarks at the outset of “History of the World, Part II,” Brooks makes comedic, self-deprecating reference to his legendary status.
“Hello. I’m American treasure Mel Brooks,” he says. “To some of you, I’m a hero. To others, merely a legend!”
When it comes to comedy, the Brooks style is anything but subtle. Instead, it hits you in the face like a thrown pie.
Indeed, a scene in Episode One in which Abraham Lincoln bangs his head hard into a dangling ceiling light is taken right out of the slapstick playbook of the Three Stooges.
The Three Stooges notwithstanding, it is Mel Brooks’ own playbook that serves as the foundation of “History of the World, Part II.”
Not surprisingly for Brooks, Jews get a going-over in segments parodying the shtetl life of Eastern European Jews in the time of the czars.
For these segments, Brooks introduces us to a character with the unsubtle name of Schmuck Mudman.
The use of this decidedly slang Yiddish word is typical Brooks, whose reversion to casual vulgarity in his humor has long been a turn-off for some who do not share the affection lavished on him by so many others.
Serious historians of low comedy are free to correct me on this, but Brooks has the dubious distinction of being the first to recognize and then apply the comedic value of farting to stage one of the most memorable scenes in any of his movies -- the flatulence chorus heard around a campfire in “Blazing Saddles.”
Sure enough, the farts start to fly about midway into the first episode of “History of the World, Part II.” The culprit who supplied it and cannot deny it is none other than Rasputin.
Hey, it’s a Mel Brooks comedy. You can either hold your nose or not.
“History of the World, Part II” starts streaming on Monday (March 6) on Hulu.