History of the World: Part II

NEW YORK (OSV News) -- Forty-two years is a long time to wait for a sequel. So fans of comic auteur Mel Brooks may be anxious to view the Hulu streaming series "History of the World: Part II," the small-screen follow-up to his 1981 movie, subtitled -- what else? -- "Part I." Alas, they're in for a disappointment.

By contrast to its predecessor, this collection of sketches does not follow even the broad chronology of the past but instead jumps from the closing days of the Civil War back to ancient India and then forward to the Russian Revolution. The results are mostly underwhelming.

Co-writer Brooks -- who also provides on-again, off-again narration for the show's eight half-hour episodes -- inspires the occasional chuckle. But his anything-for-a-laugh forays into tasteless broad humor suggest that the 96-year-old remains mired in early adolescence. Nor has the passage of decades taught him that there are subjects with which it is better not to trifle.

Things kick off promisingly enough with a skit parodying both Gen. U.S. Grant's (Ike Barinholtz) fondness for a tipple and President Abraham Lincoln's (Timothy Simons) towering stature, which here becomes the source of a series of slapstick mishaps. A joke playing on the chief executive's eventual assassination, however, suggests the turbulence ahead.

The appropriate audience for the program diminishes rapidly as soon as the second routine opens. It portrays a pitch session for the "Kama Sutra," the famous Sanskrit guide to eroticism, which Brooks portrays as originally incorporating a cookbook for soup as well. The images of sexual activity this segment includes, while cartoonish, immediately preclude youthful viewing.

The tone degenerates even further when Brooks unwisely makes the final days of Jesus' (Jay Ellis) earthly life the setting for one of his send-ups. (Along the same lines, the film included a sequence in which Brooks played a waiter at the Last Supper.)

While such material, handled with extreme restraint and delicacy, might avoid giving offense, no such self-discipline is shown. Instead, the recurring takeoff wanders aimlessly into scatological humor of a childish and, needless to say, grotesquely inappropriate nature.

By the end of the first two installments reviewed, accordingly, Brooks ensures that no Christian believer will feel at home with his rambling reflections on times gone by, nor will anyone who appreciates the necessity of respecting religious sensitivities. Those thus excluded won't be missing out on much, however, since the laughs he otherwise evokes are sporadic at best. - - - John Mulderig is media reviewer for OSV News. Follow him on Twitter @JohnMulderig1.