History of the World, Part II

History of the World Part II





Paul Asay

TV Series Review

It’s good to be the king.

When American comedy monarch Mel Brooks rolled out his R-rated History of the World, Part I in 1981, he had no intention of creating a sequel. But hey, we live in an age of improbable and long-gestating sequels (Top Gun: Maverick, anyone?). And streaming television outlets are always desperate for eye-catching content.

I’m not exactly sure how this project came about, but I presume that Hulu chucked garbage bags full of money at Brooks, who finally agreed to both give his blessing and his voice to History of the World, Part II.

Yes, it is indeed good to be the king. The viewer? Not so much.

Blazing Gaggles

We’re not going to give a lengthy plot outline for History of the World, Part II, mainly because there isn’t one. This is essentially a sketch comedy that hops around history like a rabbit with Mountain Dew for blood. Jump. Here we are in the Russian Revolution. Jump. Oh, look, it’s D-Day. Jump. And now we’re in the Civil War!

Some broad sketches get play over several episodes: Gen. Grant’s quest to get a drink during the waning days of the Civil War, for instance. Jesus seems to be a favorite recurring character as well. (More on that later.)

And while the show is anchored by a handful of recognizable comedians and actors, Brooks’ cachet (and Hulu’s cash) has pulled in scads of A-list guests, From Jack Black to Taika Waititi.

Brooks stays out of the scenes, but he does serve as the show’s manic master of ceremonies, introducing each pair of episodes like an unhinged Walt Disney and shouting changes of sketches from behind the video stage.

Is it funny? Sometimes. But man, this show will do anything for a laugh—and that leads to so many problems.

High Anxiety

We might as well start with the sacrilege. Jesus and His followers show up in several skits, with Christ being presented as a nice, smooth-talking man about town whose disciples are none-too-pleased that he seems to be trying to “phase out his Judaism.” (It should be noted that Mel Brooks has always talked a lot about his Jewish heritage.) Judas and Luke gripe about the size of the meal at the Last Supper. When both Judas and Jesus go to use the restroom, Judas tries to take a peek to see if Jesus’ foreskin has grown back. (Seriously.)

Biblical themes run throughout the eight-part show, and I hardly need tell you that none of these skits honor either the letter or spirit of the Book.

But even for discerning agnostics, atheists and those who can navigate those issues, History of the World, Part II comes with a dizzying number of problems. 

Sexual content? While we’ve not seen any overt real-world nudity, a sketch in the opening episode depicts cartoonish and naked men and women posing in a variety of sexual positions (illustrations for what would become the erotic tome Kama Sutra). Violence? While played for laughs, we’re liable to see people bloodily murdered and accidentally dispatched. Drug use? Don’t get me started. Bathroom jokes are part of the show’s oeuvre, as well.

And even if you, for some reason, decide to “watch” the show blindfolded, you still have the profanity to navigate. You can expect to hear several in every minute of every sketch.

Certainly, the 96-year-old Mel Brooks is a comedic legend. But his legend was built on not just pushing the comedic envelope, but occasionally showering it with lighter fluid and shoving it in a furnace. Does History of the World, Part II live up to Brooks’ comedic chops? Occasionally. But in terms of living up to his content-plagued history, Part II is of a piece.

Episode Reviews

Mar. 6, 2023 – S1, Ep1: “I”

Mel Brooks introduces himself as “American treasure Mel Brooks,” and a CGI-augmented version of him rips off his shirt and flexes his muscles.

From there, it’s a sprint through “history,” stopping first at General Ulysses S. Grant’s camp in the waning days of the Civil War; then to ancient India to hear an author pitch a sex-and-cooking book called the Kama Souptra; to Russia during the Russian Revolution (where influencer Anastasia Romanov tries to sympathize with her online audience for being “pretty downtrodden and poor and whatever”); to pre-history where cavewomen discover both fire and marijuana; and to an Elizabethan brainstorming meeting wherein Shakespeare browbeats his subordinates; to a skating competition where Adolf Hitler fails to charm the judges (except those from France).

In the Kama Souptra sketch, we see several illustrations of a man and woman in various sexual positions. (One depicts a naked woman standing over a man and urinating on him.) A woman sneaks into Shakespeare’s brainstorming session wearing a fake mustache, trying to pass as a man by saying that her “penis itches.” (We hear Shakespeare lament the true-to-history challenges of casting men as women in his plays, too.)

The cavewomen discuss various cave concerns while clearly impaired by the marijuana. (One points out the irony that she’s never even seen a cave.) General Grant, whom history knew as an occasionally heavy drinker, discovers that Abraham Lincoln has made it clear that no one in Virginia is to sell Grant alcohol. We see him try to drink from several secret stashes to no avail, so he ropes Lincoln’s son, Todd, into a “secret mission” traveling to West Virginia to procure booze. When a reporter asks Grant if he’s going to Disneyland following a successful war, Grant asks if it has a bar. We hear that fellow Union general, Sheridan, was addicted to the opium-spiked alcoholic drink laudanum.

We hear Russian Jews talk about submitting to a “higher force” (and a number of other references to both Judaism and the Jewish people). An anti-Semitic Russian soldier chokes to death on a mud pie. Grigori Rasputin (notorious spiritual advisor and healer to the Russian royal family) is bloodily stabbed several times. The Romanov family is assassinated off camera. (We hear the gunshots.) Hitler pulls out a gun, apparently preparing to kill himself and his new wife (again, off camera). We see injured Union soldiers and bloodied Union doctors in the background of the Civils War sketch. When Lincoln hits his head on a door frame, he says, “That is going to be the worst thing to happen to my head all year.” (It’s not.)

Rasputin appears to the Romanov family in a cloud of flatulence and is presented as a truly diabolical force in the family. (Alexandra Romanov flirts a bit with the guy.)

We hear 14 f-words, two s-words and a smattering of other profanities. God’s name is misused six times (half of those with the word “d–n”,) And Jesus’ name is abused once.

Mar. 6, 2023 – S1, Ep2: “II”

The episode opens with the D-Day landing of June 6, 1944. We’re taken inside a Higgins boat, where the entire allotment of soldiers are vomiting for various reasons. From there, we head to ancient Judea, where Roman soldiers invite Judas to betray Jesus (as “everyone knows that you’re the most weasely apostle”); then, it’s off to 1970s Washington D.C., where U.S. Representative Shirley Chisholm (the first black woman to be elected to congress) stars in her own 1970s-styled sitcom; next, the Civil War, where General Grant and Todd Lincoln try to procure a drink at a West Virginian Confederate bar (never mind that West Virginia was actually a Union state); finally, we visit the Mongol Empire, where explorer Marco Polo tries to teach Kublai Khan a new game.

The blasphemous jokes in the two Judean sketches are probably too numerous to mention, but the central tension in the second is how Judas tried to take a peak at Jesus’ privates in a bathroom (to see if his foreskin had grown back). While doing so, Judas accidentally urinates on Jesus’ feet. Jesus demands that Judas wash His feet (Judas, as we learned in the first sketch, finds feet disgusting and doesn’t know why Jesus wants to wash them all the time). When Jesus relents, Judas is so relieved that he gives Jesus a kiss on the cheek—sending well-known events in motion.

Mary, Jesus’ mother, complains that she did “not not have sex and give birth in a dirty a– manger to the Son of God” for Him to be disrespected. We hear several sexually oriented jokes during the skits as well.

Marco Polo admits to Kublai Khan that he and his men ate a Pope-blessed goat that was supposed to be a gift. When Kublai threatens to burn Marco alive, Marco offers to perform a sexual act on him. We hear references to astrology. The phone number for Henry Kissinger (secretary of state during the Nixon administration) is “666-6666.”

General Grant tries to win whiskey by playing a game of Never Have I Ever. Chewing tobacco and spittoons are present. People drink wine, martinis and whiskey. There’s a reference to a sexual act involving a yoga pose. Dozens of people vomit, Someone claims to have defecated in his pants.

Characters say the f-word nearly 35 times. We also hear the s-word about a dozen times and a few other profanities (“a–,” “b–ch” and “p-ssed”). Jesus’ name is abused once.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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