History of the World, Part II movie review (2023)

With the help of Hulu and a whole bunch of people listed at the end of this paragraph, Brooks returns to the general set-up of facts-futzing comedy with “History of the World, Part II,” a four-night comedy revue. It’s genuinely too big to fail at getting laughs, given the many figures tackled: William Shakespeare, Shirley Chisholm, Rasputin, Ulysses S. Grant, Joseph Stalin, Gloria Steinem, and of course, Jesus Christ in a “Get Back”-inspired plot line. And if a certain sketch or arc doesn’t work, or if one framing device seems a little played out, you can be amazed at how the show tosses in its Google search-friendly roster of stars: [redacted], Pamela Adlon, Zazie Beetz, Jillian Bell, Quinta Brunson, Ronny Chieng, Rob Corddry, Danny DeVito, [redacted], David Duchovny, Josh Gad, Jake Johnson, Johnny Knoxville, Lauren Lapkus, Jenifer Lewis, Zahn McClarnon, Kumail Nanjiani, Emily Ratajkowski, Sam Richardson, Seth Rogen, Sarah Silverman, David Wain, Taika Waititi, Reggie Watts, Tyler James Williams, and [redacted]. (Certain people have been redacted per Hulu’s orders to ensure their primary purpose: a surprise.) 

Watching all of these stars pop in and out of the series, it becomes apparent how much “History of the World, Part II” is a loving and tempered tribute to Brooks’ sensibilities. The show also wants to please everyone and goes mighty broad with its comedy, sometimes falling back on easy jokes and tropes. It’s not trying to push many buttons as Brooks’ spoofing comedy sometimes has. But with Brooks narrating, presenting, and being credited as a writer, it’s just proudly what it is—all the punny bits, irreverent anachronisms, and riffs on historically being Jewish a show can cram into eight 25-minute episodes. An enterprise like “History of the World, Part II” will be hit-or-miss by design, but it gets enough inspired sketches, game cameo appearances, and plainly laugh-out-loud moments from its clever silliness to recommend it. 

Brooks does not appear in the series, but a few particular performers make this a platform for themselves, and it often works. Executive producers and writers Nick Kroll, Ike Barinholtz, and Wanda Sykes jump on the chance to play multiple characters and make their impressions fit their strengths (it’s a show that relies greatly on what performers bring to the material). If you don’t like their styles, there’s not a good chance you’ll be converted to what they do here. They are joined by behind-the-camera talent who bring their own pedigree, like directors Alice Mathias (“I Think You Should Leave”), Lance Bangs (the puking cameraman-turned-director from “Jackass,” referenced here in a winning fashion), David Stassen (“The Mindy Project”), and Kroll (whose impulses from his TV-surfing sketch series “Kroll Show” sometimes dominates this show). 

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