Nick Kroll and Pamela Adlon star in "History of the World, Part II," premiering Monday. Photo courtesy of Hulu
NEW YORK, March 6 (UPI) -- Better Things alum Pamela Adlon said her new Hulu series, History of the World, Part II, honors Mel Brooks' gifts for satire and parody and shows how the comedic filmmaker has influenced generations of funny people.
"Not only is this giving him his flowers," Adlon told UPI in a recent Zoom interview, "he's involved in this and he can work and he is in his 90s and he feels adored and relevant. We need this right now when everybody is so afraid of pushing the envelope and doing naughty, risky things. That was Mel."
The eight-episode sequel to Brooks' 1981 classic comedy film, History of the World, Part I, premieres Monday on Hulu. Two new installments packed with time-skipping sketches will become available each day through Thursday.
In addition to co-writing and executive producing the show, Brooks' instantly recognizable voice can be heard enthusiastically introducing different segments.
Playing various historical and fictional characters are Adlon, Nick Kroll, Ike Barinholtz, Wanda Sykes, Jack Black, Taika Waititi, Zazie Beetz, Dove Cameron, Jake Johnson, Jay Ellis, Seth Rogen, Josh Gad, Zahn McClarnon, Johnny Knoxville and Sam Richardson.
Kroll and Barinholtz are also writers, directors and producers on the project.
Adlon said it is a bit surreal to be working on a fresh project with Brooks, who is 96 and hasn't made a film since 2005's musical adaptation of The Producers.
"I can't even believe I made the cut," she said. "I'm so happy."
Adlon recalled being obsessed with the book and record album Free to Be You and Me when she was growing up in the 1970s.
"I imitated Mel and Marlo Thomas as the babies and that formed my ear with voices," said Adlon, who for years has brought to life animated characters in the TV shows King of the Hill and Recess.
"I know every word. I imitate their voices," the actress said, referring to Brooks and Thomas. "2,000-Year-Old Man and High Anxiety and Young Frankenstein. Now, you're going to ask me when I saw History of the World. I don't know because it's always been in me. You never forget."
A scene from History of the World, Part I that inspired Adlon was Bea Arthur's deadpan depiction of a civil servant interviewing unemployed gladiators in ancient Rome.
"'Have you killed today?'" Adlon said, reproducing Arthur's raspy-voiced, eyebrow-arching line delivery from the movie.
Asked if she expects 2023 viewers to know their history well enough to understand the show's rapid-fire humor, Adlon laughed. "We might be a little bit dumber than we were" in 1981.
"Maybe the great thing would be that this might entice people to look up what these things are," she said, singing a few bars from "The Inquisition," the Spanish Inquisition-themed song from History of the World, Part I.
Adlon was also thrilled to be part of the show-stopping musical numbers in Part II.
"It was ridiculous. These people are not only brilliant, but they are fearless and they are kind. So you felt safe and you felt like everybody was there to really score," she said of her fellow castmates, who were happy to break into song and dance regardless of how silly the circumstances were.
Like Adlon, The Mindy Project, Blockers and Afterparty star Barinholtz was raised in a "strong Mel Brooks" household.
"He really has been a guiding light in all of the comedies that I have enjoyed throughout my whole life," Barinholtz said. "There was never a movie before Mel Brooks where people were holding their sides from laughing so hard."
Kroll -- best known for his work in Big Mouth, The Oh, Hello Show and Sing -- said it was essential to prominently feature Brooks' voice in History of the World, Part II.
"To feel and hear Mel Brooks throughout was important and, when he agreed to narrate the show, that was very exciting -- until we had to then direct Mel Brooks in the narration, which was exciting and terrifying," Kroll said.
"Trying to give notes to your hero is very difficult," he said. "Directing Mel in those moments when he would either say, 'Good idea!' or 'That's terrible!' were equally thrilling."
Being surrounded by talented friends with whom Barinholtz and Kroll had worked with before helped assuage any anxieties they had in taking on the momentous task of following up the beloved original.
"They were very easy phone calls to make. We knew most of the people we were reaching out to," Barinholtz said. "When you call someone and you say, 'Do you want to spend a couple of days working on a Mel Brooks production?' they cannot get there fast enough."