(March 10, 2023 / JNS) Nearly 40 years after his “History of the World, Part I” debuted in 1981, Mel Brooks released “History of the World, Part II” on the eve of Purim, which began on March 6.
Brooks (he’ll turn 97 in June), Wanda Sykes, Nick Kroll, Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen wrote and produced the comedy’s eight episodes, which are intended for mature audiences. The cast includes Jack Black (Joseph Stalin), Jason Alexander (Maurice Cheeks, a notary public overseeing the Civil War’s conclusion), Danny DeVito (Czar Nicholas) and Seth Rogan (Noah), as well as model Emily Ratajkowski, professional basketball player Blake Griffin and comedian Sarah Silverman.
Each of the episodes runs about 30 minutes and bounces around between historical events. They are treated as a launchpad for schtick, much like Moses dropping a third tablet of commandments in the 1981 film.
Of the state of Virginia in 1865, Brooks narrates a part about the Civil War: “We’re talking about the one in the 1860s. Not the one coming up in 2024.”
Other gimmicks relate to confederate statues, white male privilege and cancel culture, but the series mostly echoes Brooks’ signature comedic style without dwelling on current politics. And true to form, Jewish religious and cultural references abound.
Having declared that he only drinks on holidays, wino Ulysses S. Grant (Barinholtz) announces—upon being caught with a flask—“I believe today is what the Hebrews call ‘Pesach.’ ” (He pronounces it correctly.)
Schmuck Mudman (Kroll) lauds the easy shtetl life, “where every murderous Cossack knows your name.”
ESPN-styled judges pan Hitler’s (Drew Tarver) figure skating in a “Hitler on Ice” scene. “The master race is not looking so masterful,” one says. (France scores him a 10, while every other country rates the performance a zero. “Those Vichy cowards,” declares an announcer.)
One of the most compelling (and most Jewish) recurring threads is a parody of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” titled “Curb Your Judaism,” which maps the Last Supper out over a Beatles film like the 1964 “A Hard Day’s Night.” Luke (J.B. Smoove, Larry David’s “Curb” co-star) and Judas (Kroll) lament that the Last Supper was more like a Last Snack, with the latter wondering, “Why is Jesus obsessed with washing feet?” (There is also a Dulce De Leper reference.)
As David might have written it in “Curb,” Judas accidentally betrays Jesus to the Romans with a kiss that he intended to be affectionate. Along the way, there is a reference to Mary certainly being a Jewish mom—because she thinks her son is God.
Brooks and colleagues dreamt up a Noah’s Ark with just dogs, a “Mommy Class” (slip for Master Class) with Sigmund Freud (Taika Waititi) and a First Council of Nicaea as a focus group of bishops trying to make the Jesus story cooler.
How do they manage?
Much to the chagrin of the woman leading the group, the bishops opt to make Jesus a white man—muscular because they think it’s unlikely that he would have been wimpy, rather than a Krav Maga expert—and to blame the Jews for his death.
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