Comedy Central is on a roll right now. Instead of just having comedy in the network’s name and running Loaded Weapon 1 every other day (ah, the aughts), it’s finally at a point where it’s really striking gold with its own original comedy offerings. A big part of that is the network giving shows to established comedians with their own original voices and just letting them do their thing. While there may be endless talk of auteurism with regards to television in the form of True Detective/Nic Pizzolatto thinkpieces, you can do the same with a lot of Comedy Central’s original offerings. Key and Peele. Anfanger and Schimpf. Glazer and Jacobson. And now, Leggero and Lindhome.
Another Period sort of rises from the ashes of IFC’s Garfunkel And Oates, where Natasha Leggero was a supporting character to Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci’s comedy folk duo. It was another comedy by women and full of their funny friends, and while it didn’t last, it was good while it lasted. It was as grounded in reality as a surreal musical comedy could be, and it helped that it was a show with a lot of heart. As nice as that was, the heart part (and the musical comedy part) is not at all the case with Another Period. It’s a period piece (set in Newport, Rhode Island in 1902), which is already a rich choice for comedy, but with the added framing device of it as a reality show. It’s Keeping Up With The Kardashians meets Downton Abbey, which, depending on who you ask, could be considered an upgrade for both shows. It could also be considered a potential mess, as the marrying of those two concepts could easily find one not working as well as the other and causing the show to suffer for that.
Skewering the reality television genre isn’t new, and it’s something that can appear easy and effortless, when that couldn’t be any further from the truth. If it were, MTV’s original movie The Real World Movie: The Lost Season (which yours truly definitely has on VHS somewhere) would be a cult classic and The WB’s Superstar USA would have found a way to have more than one abhorrent season. The Joe Schmo Show found a way to tweak the formula to have multiple seasons, but there was an eight-year gap between season two and season three. The successes stake their claim almost immediately. There was, of course, The Comeback, a show ahead of its time and absolutely, brilliantly on the ball. Burning Love was a three-season, pitch perfect comedic approach to The Bachelor and its spin-offs, while Hot Wives Of Orlando knew how to hit every trope of the Real Housewives franchise. Now, UnREAL is all about the realities of reality television, and it makes sure to approach the subject in a way that is much more of a horror show than a comedy.
Luckily, Another Period appears to have it mostly figured out, though the show isn’t so much taking down the genre as it is using it to add to the humor of the entire situation of high society that’s not all that evolved. It takes a simple premise pilot and turns that into a cocaine wine-addled excerpt from what is surely always a cocaine wine-addled life. The Bellacourt family is wealthy off the patriarch’s (David Koechner) magnet empire, and their two beautiful daughters Lillian and Beatrice (Leggero and Lindhome) are obsessed with being famous and among the world’s elite. When their two “best friends” die of Tuberculosis, that opens up two spots in the Newport 400, and they have to impress the Marquis de Sainsbury (Tom Lennon). Their road to being “the most important white people” in the world is blocked by their unfortunate sister Hortense (Artemis Pebdani, fresh off of being the saving grace of an exhausting season of Scandal) inviting real life superstars Helen Keller (Shosahannah Stern) and Anne Sullivan (Kate Flannery) to join.
Also, Beatrice is having a not-so-secret incestuous affair with her brother Frederick (Jason Ritter), and her and Lillian’s husbands are having a not-so-secret gay affair (Brian Huskey and David Wain).
It’s a show of social taboos, whether it be the 21st century or the 20th, and it’s got a dope soundtrack to go along with it. A lot of the episode and series’ charm it stems from a stacked cast (with even more to come), who can make just about anything work comedically. Again, it’s a situation of stars and showrunners Leggero and Lindhome using their funny list of friends to fill it all out, and it leads to a wonderful possibility of match-ups. However, the supporting cast member that stands out the most isn’t the biggest comedy name: It’s Christina Hendricks as the newest servant, Chair (née Celine). Much like her Mad Men co-star January Jones with The Last Man On Earth, Hendricks choosing to make her next regular gig a comedic one is an excellent choice. For the majority of the episode, Hendricks is the straight man in this cast of crazies, and her dry reaction to all of the insanity—especially when it comes to her new name—makes for a nice intermission from the sensationalism of the show. The recurring bit of her being a homely character to these people is a nice touch especially, as Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya wrote in her pre-air review of the show, since Christina Hendricks is a “perfect human.” The same could be said for Beth Dover’s Blanche, who is a powder keg of a character and treated even worse by everyone.
The leading combination of Leggero and Lindhome is what keeps the show on course, as it sets the tone for the show as a whole. Leggero is is able to translate her caustic brand of humor into the truly despicable Lillian Bellacourt, and the meaner Lillian gets, the funnier she is. After all, her introduction is knocking over a plate of eggs just because Blanche (supposedly) got her order wrong. She’s absolutely vile, and yet she has a cute dog (to really drive home the useless socialite thing) with an adorable wig. There’s an interesting dynamic between her and Lindhome’s Beatrice, because while the latter is also terrible, her daft nature almost makes her come across as likable. Almost.
But if there is one major bit about the series that calls into question the reason for its reality show aspect, it’s the fact that it could easily just be a comedic soap opera. The talking heads in the pilot suffer from a case of diminishing returns, until Chair’s nefarious one to close the episode. Then again, her delivery of “I hope it’s an heir. I mean, a boy.” is as soap operatic as any thing that Another Period has to offer. While the characters like the Bellacourt sisters (even Hortense) are obviously reality show caricatures made to fit the circumstances, everything else about the show simple screams soap opera. The reality show beats work for now, and only time can tell if they will continue to. Still, it could be worse: There could be the eternal question of who is filming said reality show.
- Welcome, everyone, to weekly Another Period coverage. I am still in awe of how the show has such a stacked cast.
- Brian Huskey shouting “THIS IS DISGUSTING” right before the cut to credits is probably the best example of what this show is. Either that, or the “next week on Another Period” segment, with all of the screaming.
- Victor (re: Beatrice’s telegram): “Oh, what does it say?”
Beatrice: “I don’t know how to read.
- Bellacourt Magnets: “For Business and Pleasure”
- Peepers: “Now, some of your duties will include: winding the clock, exercising the swans, bloodletting, ghost removal—” I’m still not certain it wasn’t “exorcising” the swans. By the way, Michael Ian Black’s accent work is a confusing highlight, and during All Meal, I’m pretty sure he was doing some sort of an Indian accent. I approve.
- Lillian (re: Celine): “That’s not a servant’s name. You should be called Barb.”
Dodo: “Oh no, that won’t do. I had that cat named Barb.”
Beatrice: “Ooh, I know—you should be called Chair.”
- The more I watched the Frederick/Beatrice “sex” scene, the funnier I found it to be. I have a feeling this is a show that will have ultimate rewatch potential.
- Hamish (Brett Gelman): “Boo hoo! All of our mothers died at child birth!”
- Not one menstruation joke yet, but we do get to see Lillian and Beatrice’s 20th century bushes.
- Lillian: “Blanche, put a sheet over the blind girl!”