Mel Brooks Takes Another Bow in HBO Special

For all the TV I watched last year, there probably wasn’t a more purely entertaining hour than “Mel Brooks and Dick Cavett Together Again,” a one-hour conversation in front of a studio audience (including a visit with Carl Reiner, Brooks’ “2000-Year-Old Man” collaborator) turned into an HBO special.

Melbrooks2012The pay channel dips back into that well with “Mel Brooks Strikes Back!,” and while there are some very amusing moments courtesy of Brooks’ rapid-fire wit and skill as a raconteur — including a story of how Gig Young had to be replaced on “Blazing Saddles” — it’s a fairly pallid follow-up to the previous showcase.

Here, Brooks is interviewed by BBC director Alan Yentob, who comes across as a less-inflated version of James Lipton. Obviously, Yentob is just there to play straight man, but the conversation (edited from an evening taped at L.A.’s Geffen Playhouse) spends too much time on Brooks’ early life, and not enough on his career.

The clips chosen are also just so-so given the wealth of material that’s available. With only an hour to kill, was Brooks and Anne Bancroft singing in Polish from “To Be or Not to Be” really the best they could do?

If the first special felt like an effervescent romp, this one (produced by Brooks’ company, Brooksfilms) is breezy, yes, but also more self-indulgent, and considerably less memorable.

At 86, Brooks remains something of a marvel, but his latest victory lap — however well-deserved — is another one of those sequels that just sort of makes you long for the original.

“Mel Brooks Strikes Back!” premieres Dec. 10 on HBO.


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