Another Period: Comedy Central’s New Gilded Age Reality TV Parody

Comedy Reviews Another Period
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If you’ve seen the ads, you might assume that Another Period, the new Comedy Central show from Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome, is a parody of costume dramas like Downtown Abbey or Upstairs Downstairs. Although clearly familiar with those shows and how they portray class differences, Another Period borrows more from reality TV, showing us what Keeping Up with the Kardashians might’ve looked like during the Gilded Age, complete with dog wigs and cocaine wine.

The most striking thing about Another Period is the cast. Leggero and Lindhome play the Bellacourt sisters, the spoiled and uneducated daughters of a magnet magnate who aspire to be accepted by the upper crust of Newport, Rhode Island in 1902. This is one of those shows where almost every actor is recognizable, from Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks, to The State castmates Michael Ian Black and David Wain, to the surreal comic genius Brett Gelman. Paget Brewster, David Koechner and Jason Ritter round out the Bellacourt family, and Brian Huskey (who you’ll recognize, even if you don’t know his name) appears as Leggero’s husband. They’re all capable of wringing laughs out of even subpar material.

That skill might be needed to keep Another Period going, if the first two episodes are any indication. They don’t dig too deep into the premise, sticking to familiar riffs on reality TV couched in fairly obvious observations about the nature of the era. Most of the jokes involve the greed, laziness and ignorance of the Bellacourts, and especially the contempt they have for their servants. (The sisters think the name “Celine” is too fancy for Hendricks’ maid, so they rename her Chair. And that’s not Welsh—it’s Chair as in a chair.) There’s a bit of bite to the frequent jokes about how women are treated, with the Bellacourt sisters finding it ludicrous that a woman would ever want to vote, and believing that not only are sons the only children worth having, but that giving birth to a goat would be better than having a daughter. Joking about the anti-woman prejudices of 115 years ago feels kind of weak when Amy Schumer is making more cutting and daring attacks on present-day misogyny, especially with Inside Amy Schumer airing immediately before Another Period.

Another Period is mostly content to make fun of reality TV. The first episode ends with a cocaine wine-fueled brawl with Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan that’s as chaotic as anything on Love & Hip Hop. That entire cocaine wine scene is probably the highlight of the first two episodes, infusing the absurdity of reality TV with the show’s own distinctive voice. Other storylines deal with such soap opera and reality TV standards as incest, affairs and closeted homosexuality (and the joke seems to be less about how society forced homosexuals into the closet at the time, and more that these two men just happen to be homosexual at all). The show tries hard to be daring, but when your two main reference points are as specific as “Gilded Age costume drama” and “reality TV,” it’s hard to surprise the audience’s expectations.

Again, though, the superb cast goes a long way. The first two episodes of Another Period might not be as edgy or shocking as the show probably hopes, but everybody here is a hardened pro, and just watching the way they work together could be enough for diehard comedy fans. In that way it’s not too different from Childrens Hospital or NTSF:SD:SUV, where an all-star cast guarantees at least something worth seeing in even the most lackluster of episodes. With a cast this good Another Period shouldn’t be dismissed too quickly, no matter how slow it starts.

Another Period premieres on Comedy Central tonight at 10:30 PM ET. This review covers the first two episodes. We’ll also be running weekly reviews of individual episodes the day after they air.

Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections. He saw Louis C.K. do comedy once in a weird tent thing in downtown Newport, Rhode Island. Follow him on Twitter.