Series Review: The Kvetch is Back — Mel Brooks’ “History of the World: Part II”

God, I miss “Drunk History.”

But Hulu talked Mel Brooks into bringing “History of the World” back, which has a similar sketch-comedy spin on history format — without, alas, the hilarious application of alcohol. So I guess this’ll have to do.

“History of the World: Part II” comes over 40 years after the Mel Brooks movie that inspired it. Mel’s here as a co-creator, co-writer, narrator and a buff, digitally de-aged host at one point. And the new eight part series wears his signature shtick — a little song, a little Borsht Belt, a bit of bad taste, and a lot of profanity and amusing vulgarity.

So what do we get for our Hulu, here?

Seth Rogen as a Noah who figures the ark only really needs every breed of lap dog — everTaika Waititi as Sigmund Freud, an awkward meeting between Marco Polo (Jake Johson) teaching Kublai Khan (Ronny Chieng) “Marco Polo.”

“It really works better in a pool.”

Wanda Sykes is one of a sea of regulars, many of whom turned up on “Drunk History.” She plays Harriet Tubman as part of a series of sketches about The Civil War, and adorably depicts ground-breaking Black Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm in sketches imagined as an homage to the sitcom “227,” complete with Jenifer Lewis and Herself — Marla Gibbs.

There are six sketches per episode, with Mel introducing beauty vlogger the Princess Anastasia (Dove Cameron) or a credit-hogging William Shakespeare (Josh Gad), who channels infamous credit-hog Mel at a “pitch meeting” from his writing “staff.

Nick Kroll, J.B. Smoove and Richard Kind are Apostles in a series of sketches about Black Jesus (Jay Ellis). Smoove, as St. Luke, was born to perform the line “It’s the RO RO,” ancient Hebrew for “po po” back in the day. James Urbaniak makes a pretty funny Roman Centurian.

Running through much of the series, I’d say there’s a laugh or chuckle per episode, and every so often a genuine spit-take. Johnny Knoxville, bearded and appearing in “The Russian Revolution” sketches…

“I’m Rasputin, and this is called…getting stabbed in the back and thrown into the River Neva!”

Toss in the right theme music, and what else could it be? “Jack-Rasp.”

A lot of the ideas play as stale, the effort and strain shows on plenty of others (Kumail Nanjiani pitching “The Kama Sutra” as a sex and soup book). Sometimes, the title is pretty much the whole joke.

“Curb Your Judaism.”

“Drunk History” really did steal this comic conceit’s thunder — familiar faces playing historical figures for laughs, many of them pitching in as co-producers and writers of the sketches. The trouble is, they improved on the worn-out Mel model, something made all too obvious here.

But a series that serves up Nick Kroll and Pamela Adlon and Jack Black (as Stalin) singing “Fiddler on the Revolution” tunes? Sure.

Even all the stuff that doesn’t land is probably even funnier if the viewer’s had a few. We can make it “Drunk History” all by ourselves.

Rating: profanity, sexual gags

Cast: Nick Kroll, Wanda Sykes, Seth Rogen, Dove Cameron, Jack Black, Kumail Nanjiani, Ronny Chieng, Zasie Beetz, Josh Gad, Ike Barinholtz, Taika Waititi, Sam Richardson, J.B. Smoove, Rob Corddry, Sarah Silverman, Tyler James Williams, Johnny Knoxville and Marla Gibbs

Credits: Created by Mel Brooks and David Stassen (“The Mindy Project”), based on the Mel Brooks movie. A Hulu release, March 6.

Running time: eight episodes @28 minutes each


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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