There’s a delicate balance that exists when creating a series that spoofs a genre like costume dramas, seen through the lens of a reality show. The jokes need to be specific enough to appeal to fans of that genre, yet broad enough to rope in everyone else. But Natasha Leggero (Are You There, Chelsea?) and Riki Lindhome (Garfunkel and Oates), co-creators, writers, and stars of Comedy Central’s half-hour comedy series Another Period, haven’t quite found the right alchemy yet for those dueling facets to exist in harmony.
Another Period chronicles the exploits of the wealthy Bellacourt family in early 20th century Newport, Rhode Island. The time period is reminiscent to Downton Abbey, but the show’s setup and directorial beats mirror series like Keeping Up with the Kardashians, and other vanity-based reality programming. Leggero and Lindhome play the vapid sister Lilian and Beatrice, whose mother Dodo (Paget Brewster) is addicted to morphine, and illiterate brother Frederick (Jason Ritter) is heir to the family fortune (he’s also the twin of Beatrice and in love with her — shades of Game of Thrones, there). Lilian and Beatrice’s husbands Victor (Brian Huskey) and Albert (David Wain) are also in love with each other, in what seems to be a very poorly-kept secret.
Downstairs, head butler Peepers (Michael Ian Black) leads a staff that consists of the vile Hamish (Brett Gelman), sensitive Garfield (Armen Weitzman) and a new maid, Celine (Christina Hendricks). After the Bellacourts decide that Celine isn’t enough of a servant’s name, they instead call her Chair (whose duties include exercising the swans, bloodletting, and getting rid of ghosts).
Another Period is dense with jokes and physical humor, but very few of the gags are memorable. With its great cast and setup, the show should be a chance to connect two disparate genres into one hilarious send-up. Unfortunately, it largely wastes these opportunities by miring itself in course sexual humor, and focusing too heavily on the benefit of historical hindsight, instead of tackling the social mores of the time with more nuance that would elevate it from being an overly long sketch to a viable series in its own right.
Each of the first few episodes available for review start off with a lot of manic energy that ends up devolving into jokes about cocaine wine, or Frederick being surprised that a genteel woman named Pussy (who is visiting the family), would dare to, “touch me where I make my waste!” The jokes that land the best, though, are throwaway lines like Beatrice falling asleep with her eyes open, or Lilian complaining about eating bald eagle again for dinner before spitting it out. But an extended riff on rape culture and rape jokes all hiding behind the use of the word “ravish” falls flat, and like a lot of the show, feels too much like a collection of winks at the audience.
Another Period has a lot of style, and it creates a nice visual and musical dichotomy, layering hip hop over Edwardian photos or scenes of a garden hedge being trimmed (the episodes were directed by Drunk History’s Jeremy Konner). It also does a fairly good job of slyly subverting gender norms and making the episodes connect through longer narrative arcs, even if they are sometimes tenuously thrown together. But mostly, Another Period leaves viewers wanting more — as in more substance. A visit from Helen Keller in the premiere never really amounts to anything, and a promising plot by Lilian and Beatrice to get into the Newport 400 (“a list of the most powerful white people!”) is quickly dropped.
Running for 10 episodes, Another Period still has the opportunity to work out its kinks and gel into more than just a smattering of sketch ideas (like VH-1’s Barely Famous, a reality show spoof that was successful because it played its humor so straight). For the series to reach its potential, though, its jokes just need to stop touching so fervently upon genitals and waste.
Rating: ★★ Fair — Only for the dedicated
Another Period premieres Tuesday, June 23rd at 10:30 p.m. on Comedy Central