History of the World, Part II premieres on Hulu on March 6, 2023.
A master of parody, EGOT-winning writer, actor, and director Mel Brooks often lambasted Hollywood’s obsession with franchises. Ffrom pitching Spaceballs 2: The Search for More Money within the original Spaceballs to titling his 1981 sketch comedy film History of the World, Part I, despite having no plans for a sequel, it’s been a running gag of his for decades. Now he’s getting the last laugh with Hulu’s History of the World, Part II, a worthy follow up that’s jam-packed with comedy stars.
Brooks audaciously introduces himself in the first moments of History of the World, Part II, saying, “To some of you I’m a hero. To others, merely a legend.” The 96-year-old doesn’t need any false humility and he’s still bitingly funny as a narrator and writer, where he’s joined by Nick Kroll, Wanda Sykes, Ike Barinholtz, and David Stassen. Together they’ve crafted a mix of sketches that provide a clever review of comedy staples as they mockingly chronicle the history of the world.
Some moments of the two-episode premiere feel like classic Brooks, particularly a Fiddler on the Roof parody led by Kroll playing the hapless Jewish villager Schmuck Mudman with the same absurd voice he uses for the similarly oblivious Coach Steve on Big Mouth. Kroll is a natural fit for this project since he’s been following in Brooks’ footsteps by crafting over-the-top musical comedy grounded in the Jewish experience since having a Bat Mitzvah party burst into song in the first season of Big Mouth. Given that the musical numbers are the funniest part of History of the World, Part I and a highlight of Big Mouth, the first two episodes could have stood to have even more.
Kroll also shines as Judas Iscariot, appearing in a segment on the disciple’s betrayal dubbed “Curb Your Judaism,” a perfect Curb Your Enthusiasm parody featuring multiple guest stars from that show. Brooks already did the Last Supper in History of the World, Part I so it almost feels wasteful to retread the story, but Kroll’s fusion of the sour dispositions of Larry David and his Ruxin character from The League, brilliantly egged on by J.B. Smoove and Richard Kind, more than redeems the concept.
The premiere also goes back to the invention of fire, this time with less creative spark, producing a single-note stoner gag that overstays its welcome. Pacing was the biggest problem with History of the World, Part I, and it continues to be the case in the sequel. Brooks’ more-is-more approach to comedy means jokes that land can be taken to hilarious extremes, but ones that don’t drag on too long. Of course, that’s a flaw that can be forgiven since sometimes a sketch’s protracted length becomes its own source of humor, like a D-Day bit reminiscent of Gary hitting rock bottom in Team America: World Police.
History of the World, Part II is less Euro-centric than the original, strengthened by a more diverse pool of inspiration and talent. Kumail Nanjiani brings his charmingly straight-faced delivery to a pitch meeting for the Kama Souptra, a combination cookbook and sex-position guide packed with clever wordplay and the ribald humor of Spaceballs. Likewise, Sykes provides an actually worthwhile history lesson as she riffs on The Jeffersons by playing Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman in Congress. The sketches nail Black sitcom tropes with the expert help of one of the show’s many surprise guest stars, while also providing another great outlet for Kroll, who plays a version of Henry Kissinger reminiscent of The Venture Bros.’ Dr. Henry Killinger.
History of the World, Part II photos
In an odd way, History of the World, Part II has some of the same structure as DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, mashing up historical events with major works of pop culture. Touchstones extend from the Russian Revolution and Marco Polo’s travels to Jackass and Punk’d, to varying effect. Even if not all the gags hit, there were enough big laughs in the premiere that I’m eager to see where the continuing plotlines go and all the big moments and comedy icons Brooks and company can cram into its next six episodes.