There’s an inherent developmental disconnect in “Another Period,” a Comedy Central series that seeks to spoof programs like “Downton Abbey,” laboring to find the elusive sweet spot between a knowing send-up for those who watch such fare and a farcical take-down for those who wouldn’t be caught dead doing so. Series creators/stars Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome have certainly attracted a first-rate cast to assist with the silliness, only to settle for the below-the-belt aspects of turn-of-the-century mores. There are amusing moments, but the conceit ultimately seems better suited to a “Saturday Night Live” sketch than another series. Period.
Set in Newport, R.I. in 1902, the show focuses on the Bellacourts, a filthy rich family vastly outnumbered by their doting servants, whom they generally treat like furniture. Indeed, a sexual tryst is dragged out as the two upper-crust participants wait for their butlers and maids, silently standing watch, to gradually undress them; while Leggero’s spoiled ingenue, Lillian, rings a bell every time she wants a bite of food, opening her mouth as if this were the hospital scene in “A Clockwork Orange.”
Sister Beatrice (Lindhome, half of IFC’s “Garfunkel and Oates”) is equally pampered and vacuous, and both seem blissfully unaware that their husbands are not-so-secretly having an affair with each other. As for that attractive new maid (“Mad Men’s” Christina Hendricks), the sisters decide remembering what to call her is too difficult, and simply rename her “Chair.”
Produced by Ben Stiller’s company (which recently delivered the refreshingly inventive “Big Time In Hollywood, FL” to Comedy Central), and directed by “Drunk History’s” Jeremy Konner, “Another Period” has loaded up on talent, including Hendricks, Paget Brewster and David Koechner as the sisters’ parents, Michael Ian Black as the snooty butler, and Jason Ritter as the taboo object of Beatrice’s affection.
Everyone seems to be having a good time playing dress-up, but it’s a struggle to consistently share in the mirth, in part because so many of the gags hinge on cheap sex jokes. By itself that’s hardly an indictment in this context, but the occasional reach for something possessing a bit more flair — say, a visit from Helen Keller — usually doesn’t go much of anywhere, making this “Period” feel more crass than clever. The same pattern applies to the second episode, in which Lillian hears of something called a divorce, and begins to undergo various contortions in the hope of getting one.
It’s too bad, since there’s more promise in the idea, and scale in the execution, than many of the live-action projects Comedy Central undertakes. Yet the series, well positioned behind “Inside Amy Schumer,” more than anything plays like one of the network’s naughty cartoons.
Granted, Mel Brooks did pretty well for himself delivering spoofs of popular movie genres, but this attempt to transfer the process to TV — in much the way IFC’s “The Spoils of Babylon” satirized soapy miniseries — feels less like “Young Frankenstein,” and more like “Robin Hood: Men in Tights.” Or, actually, women in ball gowns.