Ringling: “Babies, cabbages, and beautiful women. It’s almost as if we’re in some sort of weird pervert’s sexual fantasy.”
It’s pretty impressive that there are only even four episodes of Another Period at this point. This is a very confident show that already feels so very lived in, to the point where it barely feels like a brand new show. No, it instead feels like it’s been around the block for a bit like a Key & Peele or a Drunk History, keeping fresh and cranking out era-specific jokes that can still work in a contemporary context. All in four vulgar, zany episodes. Episodes two and three followed a fairly linear narrative in the transition from divorce to funeral, while “Pageant” is a filler episode in comparison. Even as such, it manages to fill the episode with so many jokes that there’s no reason to really question the episode’s place in the greater story. We get more of unconscious Albert and Victor’s relationship with his doctor, but the main plot doesn’t need to worry about the ongoing world around it.
A large part of that is due to the fact that the episode’s A-plot is a beauty pageant. It’s hard to screw up a beauty pageant plotline (even if it leads to Joey Potter singing “On My Own”), and Another Period adding babies and cabbages to the mix keeps the show’s surreal nature intact. Plus, the episode is pretty well-timed, given the recent Miss USA pageant and all the “fun” that surrounded its existence. And keeping with Another Period’s love of history, we get Jack Black’s Dan Ringling, the “other” Ringling brother, when it was P.T. Barnum (who had also held pageants for babies, dogs, and birds) who was responsible for the first American beauty pageant. Another Period wants you to learn.
Most importantly, “Pageant” is a combination of Miss Congeniality, Rocky, and Carrie, and that is as a combination that works surprisingly well for a show set in the 1900s.
On a character level, it’s interesting to see the show address the fact that, for all of Lillian’s bravado and belief that she is the most beautiful woman in all the land, the “conventionally attractive” Beatrice—the hot blonde, if you will—is right there and can easily win something that really isn’t a competition. For all of Beatrice’s ineptitude, she is technically the more attractive sister in every way, and she’s even the one with a true talent come pageant time. The series so far has kept Beatrice as Lillian’s dimwitted sidekick who can sometimes be just as vile as Lillian, so watching a shift in that “paradigm,” as Beatrice points out, is compelling. As we’re reminded, these are characters who get everything they want and always win. Pit them against each other, and what do you get? Chaos.
Lillian, of course, has to win “by any means necessary,” which leads to her blowdarting her own sister and one-upping Beatrice’s singing talent with a rousing, questionable performance in “mickface.” Lillian’s performance brings up an important point about what Another Period is trying to do, particularly as a comedic commentary on certain contemporary topics. As of right now, Another Period has made plenty of jokes about minstrel shows and blackface… but it hasn’t actually pulled the trigger on it (yet). That’s not a request for it to happen (especially since it could be the moment that Another Period’s youth and inexperience is on full display), but it’s an interesting dynamic when you think about it. Last week’s funeral include Native Americans, but they were never the joke. In fact, they were treated as the evolved, proud people surrounded by insane, savage white people, and talk of potential cultural appropriation was quickly nipped in the bud.
The whole show—which is about (pretty terrible) white people—makes jokes about other, upperclass white people instead of just using that as an excuse to mock minorities. And it’s doing so in a way that that is actually impressive given the number of openings for jokes based solely on minorities being minorities. In this episode, other than the pay-off of the previously unseen Irish judge, there is no reason why Lillian (or anyone in her position) would choose “mickface” over blackface (especially when Hamish is an expert and could have pitched in). It’s an intentional choice, not just for fear of offending, but for the simple fact that it would be far too easy to make its “humor” based on minority races, especially given the time period.
And Another Period’s approach to the offensive—whether it comes from race or gender or class or whatever—still manages to be funny. It’s well thought out, and it’s in an episode of television where women are being judged for their beauty against cabbages and babies. It’s an episode where a Rocky plotline is dedicated to Chair becoming a better servant, and really, all that leads to is feces being dropped on Lillian’s head in an homage to Carrie. That’s ridiculous, but also, it’s great.
Speaking of Chair, this episode confirms that she is at her best as a character when the stress of being a servant eats away at her, and the sight of her sobbing as Peepers demands her to pour champagne perfectly is beautiful. It’s enough to make you forget that Chair’s existence as a character is really as the Commodore’s mistress, a storyline that has been the most inconsequential of these four episodes. Again, a large part of that falls on the lack of David Koechner so far, as the Bellacourt patriarch is often treated more like a mysterious man upstairs than an actual character or presence in his family’s life. But the version of Chair that’s dry and detached from the lunacy of the house—despite her role as a servant—is far different from the version of Chair that’s a gold-digging mistress. The former is great, and the latter, while fine, could easily be removed without even a struggle.
For somewhat of a filler episode of Another Period, “Pageant” is consistently full of laughs and continues to play to the strengths of its pretty terrific ensemble cast. Bravo, Another Period.
- I need to find a way to drop “table cloth-tastrophe” into more conversations. That and “majestic no more!”
- The N.A.G.S. (Newport Association of Gal Spinsters) is an easy joke, but it also includes Betsy Sodaro as a character named “Abortion Deb,” so it quickly rises above that. And hello to Miss Kate Micucci. Not quite the Garfunkel & Oates reunion we’d hoped for, now was it?
- Frederick: “Let’s focus on talent. What are you good at?”
Beatrice: “Everybody tells me I’m good at everything.”
- Ringling: “What is your favorite time of day?”
Beatrice: (beat) “I think I should ask a man.”
- Ringling: “Given the passage of the 1902 Organic Act, granting limited self-government to the people of the Philippines, what policies can engender longtime maritime futures in the region? Please include possible naval advances of the Japanese in your answer.”
Lillian: “What—what kind of question is that? I want one like Beatrice got!”
Ringling: “Little lippy, not encouraging. Judges?”
- Secretly smart Beatrice slips out again this week, though it’s still difficult to tell whether or not it’s the result of her accidentally absorbing information or if she really is playing dumb.
- Scoops LaPue (Brent Weinbach) isn’t much of a presence in this episode, but the future professional relationship between him and Hortense should be interesting. His name is a poop joke.
- If Another Period doesn’t end with Garfield (and Towel) massacring everyone, that is a missed opportunity.