Review: ‘History Of The World, Part II’

Mel Brooks Revisits His 41-Year-Old Classic For A New Generation

Mel Brooks is the king of what my father would admirably call “stupid movies.” Brilliantly written movies that will make you bust your gut laughing through numerous sketches and parodies. Over the past 76 years, the 96-year-old writer/director/actor has been making us laugh. Mel Brooks is responsible for such classics as The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Spaceballs (one of my favorite films), Robin Hood: Men In Tights, and countless other films, television shows, and even theater productions for his particular brand of comedy have entertained us for generations. One of his OG classics was History of the World: Part I. History of the World Part I explored various events of human history through many comedy sketches that are still hilarious to this day (“It’s good to be the King” is something I still say when the time calls for it). Everything from the stone age, to the Roman Empire, The Spanish Inquisition, and the French Revolution were perfectly parodied through comedy bits and hilarious musical numbers. As a young kid (who probably shouldn’t have watched it), I often wondered, “why would he call this movie ‘Part I?’” and then wonder “when are we going to get ‘Part II?”

Well, thanks to Hulu, we are finally getting our long-awaited sequel in History of the World: Part II over a four-night event (two episodes a night on the streaming service). This time Brooks is bringing some help to tell numerous historical stories through sketch comedy and musical numbers. Included in this star-studded cast are Wanda Sykes, Nick Kroll, and Ike Barinholtz (who are all writers and executive producers along with Mel Brooks). But they are not alone. Pretty much anyone who’s anyone in comedy is along for the ride. The extensive cast includes: Pamela Adlon, Tim Baltz, Zazie Beetz, Jillian Bell, Quinta Brunson, Dove Cameron, D’Arcy Carden, Ronny Chieng, Rob Corddry, Danny DeVito, David Duchovny, Hannah Einbinder, Jay Ellis, Josh Gad, Kimiko Glenn, Brandon Kyle Goodman, Jake Johnson, Richard Kind, Johnny Knoxville, Lauren Lapkus, Jenifer Lewis, Poppy Liu, Joe Lo Truglio, Jason Mantzoukas, Ken Marino, Jack McBrayer, Zahn McClarnon, Charles Melton, Kumail Nanjiani, Brock O’Hurn, Andrew Rannells, Emily Ratajkowski, Sam Richardson, Nick Robinson, Seth Rogen, Sarah Silverman, Timothy Simons, J.B. Smoove, David Wain, Taika Waititi, Reggie Watts, and Tyler James Williams (phew, that’s a lot of people!) and they are all bringing their A-game for History of the World: Part II.

Over the next eight episodes, such events as the Russian Revolution, the Civil War, Jesus, Shirley Chisholm, Galileo, Middle East Peace, the Berlin Wall, and countless other events are parodied. Keeping in the spirit of the first film we do get our fair share of musical numbers that come out of nowhere. While none are as catchy and repeatable as “The Inquisition” from the first one, Jack Black steals the show in a solo song, once again reminding you why he’s utterly hilarious. Keeping up with the times, having Typhoid Mary give a YouTube-like cooking presentation is funny, and they do a great riff on The Real Housewives reality shows having women fight over being Kubla Kahn’s concubine. Wanda Sykes plays Shirley Chisholm in a The Jeffersons-styled sitcom about her adventures trying to run for president in 1972 which works very well. There’s even a Jesus and the Apostles sketch where they are all in a band that manages to be both Curb Your Enthusiasm and Beatles: Get Back at the same time.

For the most part, History of the World: Part II nails what it sets out to do. Countless times I found myself probably annoying my neighbors by laughing out loud at some of the sketches. Having Johnny Knoxville playing Rasputin getting beaten up Jackass-styled will never get old! That doesn’t mean that all of it lands though. There are a few sketches that simply don’t work as well as they could have. And if you are a fan of Mel Brooks himself, he plays backseat to everyone else, only appearing in front of the camera a few times. His opening monologue in the initial episode is great, but I wish his presence was more notable. He’s credited as a writer, but come on, the man’s 96 years old! His involvement compared to the first film is severely lacking, at least in front of the camera. It allows for the younger comedians to pick up the slack, even some people not known traditionally for comedy shine. Jay Ellis of Insecure and Top Gun: Maverick fame as Jesus is very funny, especially because he’s not known for his comedic talents.

If you are a fan of this style of comedy, you almost owe it to yourself to stream it on Hulu next week. This brand of comedy is often seen as a relic of the past (so many people say we couldn’t do Blazing Saddles in our current climate), but Mel Brooks, Wanda Sykes, Nick Kroll, and Ike Barinholtz help keep this fun style of comedy alive while remaining topical, funny, and honoring Mel Brooks at the same time.

History of the World: Part II premieres March 6th on Hulu.