The Weekly Watchlist: It Only Took 40 Years, But Mel Brooks Is Finally Back With History Of The World, Part II

(Welcome to The Weekly Watchlist, a feature where we program everything you need to stream this week. In this edition: "History of the World, Part II" takes center stage, but we also offer up some silly comedies and less-silly historical epics to stream.)

The Series: "History of the World, Part II"

Where You Can Stream It: Hulu

The Pitch: Over four decades after the original sketch comedy movie "History of the World, Part I," legendary funnyman Mel Brooks is back to pay off on the tongue-in-cheek promise of that dangling subtitle. Nobody ever really thought we'd receive a follow-up to the 1981 film – let alone one that's a whopping 40 years later, debuting as a series on a streaming service, and spearheaded by the same director who is now a sprightly 96 years young. But if we have no choice but to muddle our way through life in the year of our lord 2023, well, what better way to help cope with it all than through Brooks' farcical humor once again guiding us through several different periods of human history at its most ridiculous?

Why It's Essential Viewing: Would you believe it if I told you that a sketch comedy sequel led by the man responsible for "The Producers," "Blazing Saddles," "Young Frankenstein," "Spaceballs," and many more classics has lost absolutely none of his usual wit, style, and irreverence? /Film's Josh Spiegel reviewed "History of the World, Part II" and called it "...a mostly very funny collection of heavy-hitting comic performers delivering just enough of the goods to make the revival worth it." Narrated by Brooks and led by the trio of Nick Kroll, Ike Barinholtz, and Wanda Sykes, the series lampoons the most famous figures in history and the mere mortals surrounding them, from Leon Trotsky to Sigmund Freud to Judas and Jesus themselves. 

The first two episodes of the series debut on Hulu today, March 6, 2023, with two more episodes arriving daily through March 9, 2023, completing the eight-episode season.


The Movie: "Airplane!"

Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max

The Pitch: An airplane flight from hell results in arguably the funniest movie ever filmed. For those looking for a similar but distinct sense of comedic flair to Mel Brooks, the laugh-a-minute hijinks of "Airplane!" will scratch that particular inch and then some. Like "History of the World" and many other efforts, this thoroughly politically incorrect 1980 classic written and directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker is a perfect example of the kind of studio comedy that flourished throughout the '70s and '80s — which, in retrospect, involves certain off-the-wall concepts that feels like they could've only made the leap from page to screen with the assistance of, uh, chemically-altering substances. Whatever the case may be, the end result is a series of gut-bustingly hilarious jokes and sketches linked together by the barest of narrative threads.

Why It's Essential Viewing: The parody takes direct aim at several airport-themed predecessors in prior decades, from 1957's "Zero Hour!" (in case you wondered where that exclamation mark came from) to the disaster movie "Airport" franchise. Dialing all its absurdist humor up to 11, "Airplane!" takes the barest of premises — a down-on-his-luck military vet (Robert Hays), already struggling to adjust to civilian life, reaches his final straw when he's dumped by his flight attendant girlfriend (Julie Hagerty) and boards her outgoing flight to win her back at all costs — and loads the spoof film with a veritable buffet of running gags, social satire, an inflatable pilot, and visual jokes that feel light-years ahead of their time. By taking on roles and playing completely against type, icons like Leslie Nielsen, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Peter Graves, and even NBA star Kareem Adbul-Jabbar helped pilot "Airplane!" into genuinely rarified air.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

The Movie: "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"

Where You Can Stream It: Netflix

The Pitch: A satirical spin on King Arthur and his knights of the round table, life under unforgiving medieval conditions, religion, and killer bunnies. If "Airplane!" is the funniest movie ever made, then "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" just might be the record-holder for just how hard it'll make you laugh with each and every skit. Those familiar with Monty Python's many, many one-off sketches that can be found online will instantly recognize the loose, episodic structure of the movie and its fast-and-loose approach to anything even vaguely resembling a "plot." Instead, co-directors Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones maximize their shoestring budget to deliver countless timeless jokes — like hitting two coconuts together to make horse sound effects, or the abrupt ending that concludes the film on the perfect anticlimactic note.

Why It's Essential Viewing: Much like "Airplane!," watching "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" these days is like taking a time capsule back to prior decades and getting a crash course on some of the most memed comedy moments that are now ubiquitous throughout the internet. With the sketch troupe's quintessentially dry sense of humor and every absurd character played completely straight, the story of King Arthur recruiting his famed knights and leading the charge against all enemies of Christendom (read: the French) takes on a truly absurdist tone. Their quest to Camelot lasts all of one impossibly silly musical number before turning away in disgust. The definition of "logic" is stretched to its breaking point during an impromptu witch trial. And all the while, a suspiciously modern historical documentary film crew keeps finding themselves on the wrong end of the cast's antics. Mel Brooks would wholeheartedly approve.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

The Movie: "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World"

Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max

The Pitch: And now, for something completely different. Who says "History of the World" can only call to mind other satirical comedies? History makes up a major part of the appeal and, well, that inevitably leads us to the best historical epics that Mel Brooks was lovingly mocking in the first place. Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany lead this masterpiece of an historical epic as Captain Jack Aubrey and his best friend and ship's surgeon Stephen Maturin, respectively. The story takes the tireless crew of the HMS Surprise all across the punishing seas in pursuit of a rival French warship named Acheron during the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s.

Why It's Essential Viewing: Chances are, those who identify as part of Film Twitter (or the cool parts, at least) have seen screenshots of the ominous opening text, indicating that "Oceans are now battlefields." Those words prove disastrously accurate, as Peter Weir's brilliant direction puts viewers right in the midst of a prolonged cat-and-mouse chase punctuated by bursts of action, numerous extended sequences of more subdued worldbuilding, and jaunty character-focused scenes between the colorful crew, highlights of whom include Billy Boyd, James D'Arcy, Max Pirkis, and Lee Ingleby as various crew members onboard. The heavily episodic narrative immediately feels like a refreshing change of pace, lending a throwback charm to this timeless tale of sailing life that constantly demands even the closest of friends to put duty and honor above all else. Between the breathtaking depiction of brutal naval battles, sharp twists on classic tropes, and the use of classic compositions from Bach and Luigi Boccherini, there's something for everyone here.