‘Another Period’ Tackles Too Much at Once

anotherperiodAnother Period has a lot going on. Like, so much going on. So many things.

Parodying two genres of TV about rich people — the ones on our costume soap operas, like Downton Abbey, and the real, modern ones on our celebreality or Housewives shows — it has all the twists and turns that make these shows compelling. Wine throwing? You got it. A pregnant secret prostitute? Sure. Gay Husbands? I mean, makes sense. Incestuous siblings? Isn’t that a little more Game of Thrones? Plus: historical figures, illiteracy, and lawn boating.

There has been a long, if not grand, tradition of soap opera parody: there was Soap, the reruns of which confounded me as a child, and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, which confounded just about everyone, even in the 70s. Soap operas are so bombastic by nature that any attempts to parody them tend to feel like a stretch. There’s not much you can do to up the stakes, when the stakes already involve false murder accusations and secret abortions and the constant specter of death.

The funniest soap opera parodies are real soap operas — I mean, did you ever watch Revenge? It was hilarious. Or Passions? That nonsense had a talking doll boy and his witch.

But, because Another Period has so much going on (god, so much), it has a lot going for it — almost entirely in the form of talent. So many of our friends are there: comedy friends, like creators Riki Lindhome of Garfunkel and Oates (which I, for one, devotedly liked pretty well) and Natasha Leggero of roasts. Plus State alums and everywhere people Michael Ian Black and David Wain, Brett Gelman, David Koechner, and Brian Huskey. It also has TV friends we might have thought we’d lost, like Joan Holloway, and generally appealing actor friends like Jason Ritter and Paget Brewster. It has solid time-period jokes, like the well-to-do Bellacourt sisters’ beauty routine, which includes pubic hair perfuming, and their abiding disregard for women. And much like Drunk History, there are appearances by historical figures: Helen Keller, her nurse Annie Sullivan, and Charlie Chaplin, which are kind of delightful in set-up, if not always execution.

Despite knowing exactly what Another Period is — Kardashian Abbey — it’s sometimes hard to know what it’s going for, because it doesn’t resemble either of the genres it takes on. The opening scene involves the wealthy Bellacourt sisters (Lindhome and Leggero) and their husbands (Wain and Huskey) abusing their maid, Blanche (Beth Dover) for minor mistakes and things out of her control. It’s amusing to watch these wealthy people be entitled and terrible, but as a parody of reality TV or costume drama, it’s a confusing choice. The preening, image-obsessed women and men of reality TV know better than to treat the help poorly. The preening, image-obsessed family in Downton Abbey lives by code of decorum, at least in the public space of their own opulent living room. Of course, the Bellacourts are American new money. So would this kind of needless screaming have happened? Maybe! Probably! Eat the rich! But it doesn’t have anything to do with any scene on PBS or Bravo, and it struggles to place us in a hybrid world that we need some help settling into.

The strange notes continue from there. Bellacourt siblings Beatrice (Lindhome) and Frederick (Jason Ritter) share a love that dare not speak its name: incest. I know this kind of thing pops up in say, The Borgias (maybe? I don’t know), but here it feels way more soapy than costume soapy, and the plotline distracts from the jokes it exists to help make. The punchline that when Beatrice and Frederick spend time “alone” time, they are surrounded by the furniture-like servants necessary to undress them, was muffled by my protests of, “Wait, these siblings are doing it? WHY?”

The second episode featured a through line about rape, here called “ravishing.” Jokes about ravishing, jokes about how men should like being ravished, jokes about ravish culture, jokes about offers to ravish as a compliment, jokes about how people feel about ravish jokes. I laughed at “ravish culture,” but the repeated callbacks feel the way these jokes always do, like, “oh, you did it. You proved there are ways to make rape jokes. What an American, free speech hero.”

At some point, soon, the jokes about gay husbands and incestuous siblings and maybe even ravishing will run out — the material is plentiful here but ultimately limited. They might be replaced by evil twins or snake oil sponsorship deals for the sisters or murdered archdukes, or they might be replaced by more gay jokes, more incest jokes, more ravish jokes. Perhaps the show will find its footing, or maybe it will become a series of unrelated hissyfits, dully edgy plotlines, and Buster Keaton cameos.

There’s so much material, and overlap, between costume drama and reality TV, I’m just not sure why Another Period goes so far afield so often. But I have suspicions. While it’s parodying genres that tend to be more popular with women, and was created by two women, Another Period still feels broad in a way that implies that maybe it’s supposed to appeal to dudes. Sketches from both Kroll Show and Inside Amy Schumer have implied that Comedy Central, as a network, has a lot of opinions about how a show can appeal to its core audience, Tosh.0 viewers. It feels like perhaps Another Period doesn’t know who its audience is. I know I don’t know who its audience is, but as a woman who loves both jokes and these particular genres of TV garbage, it doesn’t feel like it’s me.

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