In recent years, no television parody of television has been more successful than Kroll Show. The writers behind Nick Kroll’s Comedy Central series approached parody with all-encompassing attention to detail. Everything from text on the screen to sound effects to camerawork reflected the specific genre the sketch was trying to skewer. Kroll Show held a funhouse mirror up to reality television, replicating it in wacky ways that exaggerated the form but never lost sight of it.
It’s hard not to think of the late Kroll Show while watching Comedy Central’s new satirical comedy, Another Period. Set in turn-of-the-century Newport, Rhode Island, Another Period follows the lives of the Bellacourts, an absurdly wealthy and attention-craving family, along with their staff of doting servants. As a parody, Another Period works two-fold, using the setting to satirize the lifestyles and class warfare depicted in period dramas like Downton Abbey but also telling the story through the lens of reality television. Stylistically, Another Period looks and feels like a wonky version of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, with talking heads, hilariously overwrought music cues, and a whole lot of drama and shouting.
Another Period was created by comedians Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome, who also star in the series, and it’s clear that they have their fingers on the pulse of reality television in the same way the writers on Kroll Show did. They’re just as effective at nailing the social politics that drive period dramas as they are at building the over-the-top drama of reality television. Another Period works on both levels because of the attention to details. Even something as simple as the transitions between commercial breaks—which show servants maintaining the walls and grounds of Bellacourt Manor, scored by rap music—lend to the reality TV gauze.
But while the premise definitely informs much of the humor, the writers don’t rely on that alone to land the jokes. Rather, it’s a vehicle for the comedy, adding to the joke and giving the writers a specific way to tell it. Most of the time, Another Period doesn’t just grasp for the easy gags. When parodying a period drama, for example, it might be tempting to rely on anachronism for most of the humor. Both the pilot and episode two, “Divorce,” do indeed have a few gags that involve out-of-place scenarios and words for the time. The show also frequently uses turn-of-the-century analogs for modern-day conventions: When Jason Ritter’s Frederick thinks he is being pranked, he exclaims that there must be a “hidden sketch artist” somewhere. But overall, the writers don’t depend on anachronism on its own for easy laughs.
The best humor in Another Period relies on a mixture of all of its elements: the setting, the structure, the satire. Familiar, modern dynamics play out in the show and remain grounded even at their most over-the-top. The specific details reflect the time and place, but a lot of the conflict and situational comedy also act as analogs to 21st-century problems.
“Divorce,” in fact, offers critiques of rape culture and how cops mishandle domestic violence cases that easily apply to today. While the latter is very effective, the rape—or ravish, as it’s called in this world—story is, admittedly, not very well executed. It takes a while to finally come together to make its point and it could have done without the part where the maid Blanche laments that she was the only patient not ravished by the doctors in the mental home. Unpacking rape culture through comedy is a tricky business, which the characters themselves acknowledge, and Another Period doesn’t approach the topic with the acuteness of something like Amy Schumer’s Very Realistic Military Game.
Even when the writing isn’t at its best, the performances in Another Period keep the comedy afloat. Leggero and Lindhome have created characters for themselves that they fit into with ease. Leggero plays Lillian (“the pretty, smart, funny, ambitious, nice body, soon-to-be famous one”), and Lindholm plays her sister Beatrice (“the pretty one”). Leggero, in particular, belongs in this world of extravagance and narcissism with her lofty way of speaking and alluring smirk. Lillian, it seems, isn’t all that far off from Leggero’s own comedic persona. And Lindhome keeps Beatrice from being just a dummy. She’s especially great when Beatrice shows off her violent side in “Divorce” (“Should I use my logging axe or my murder hatchet?”).
Leggero and Lindhome are excellent as the sisters, but they’ve also filled the halls of Bellacourt Manor with a cast so tight that it’s hard for any one actor to stand out. Every actor adopts an ambiguous accent, adding to the absurdity of the world. Ritter and Lindhome play their dumb, incestuous characters with an earnestness that almost makes you feel sad that the siblings can’t be together. Paget Brewster fills Another Period’s Dowager Countess needs with just the right amount of disdain for everyone and everything around her. Beth Dover is perfectly cast as an on-edge maid who everyone in Bellacourt Manor treats as their punching bag. Dover is one of those “oh hey, it’s her” comedic actors who shows up in every show (recently, Orange Is The New Black, Fresh Off The Boat, Big Time In Hollywood, FL) and has regular roles on niche comedies like Childrens Hospital and Burning Love. She plays unstable particularly well. Learn her name, because Dover is one of television’s most underrated funny people. And Christina Hendricks proves that Jon Hamm isn’t the only alum who might have a career in comedy in the post-Mad Men era. She brings a subtle but fun guile to the duplicitous Celine-turned-Chair. (“It’s chair, like a chair but my name.”) And there’s something very funny about every member of the Bellacourt family gasping at Celine/Chair’s plainness when she’s being played by perfect human Christina Hendricks.
Of course, whereas Kroll Show had infinite room to expand and evolve by adding new sketches and hybrid-sketches over the seasons, Another Period is a little more locked into its form and story. In its first season, Hulu’s Real Housewives franchise parody Hotwives Of Orlando started to feel redundant at times, and the same could happen to Another Period. But given the strangely effective blend of genres at play here, there’s a lot to work with.