At the end of each episode of Comedy Central's new series “Another Period,” we get a montage of what we're told are clips from the next episode, which are entirely comprised of the characters screaming, crying, and/or smashing plates and overturning furniture. In a literal sense, these aren't an accurate depiction of what's coming next week, and not just because the clips aren't all from the same episode. But those montages really capture the anarchic, hilarious spirit of the thing: a show that will do anything – usually at top volume, and with all standards of good taste thrown out right along with the fine china – for a laugh. It's the kind of show that resorts to a prolonged Helen Keller joke at the end of its first episode – but not any kind of Helen Keller joke you've heard before.
The series (it debuts tonight at 10:30, though the first episode is already available online) spoofs “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” by way of “Downton Abbey” – or perhaps the other way around – as it follows an obscenely wealthy, profoundly stupid Newport, Rhode Island family circa 1902, along with the servants whose exist in a perpetual level of debasement.
The focus is on vapid, fame-hungry sisters Lillian and Beatrice Dellacourt, played by the show's creators, Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome, though the cast also includes Michael Ian Black (the head butler), Paget Brewster (their drug addict mother), Jason Ritter (their bachelor brother), David Wain and Brian Huskey (their semi-closeted husbands, who are only in it for the money) and Christina Hendricks (a new chambermaid), among many others. Like a lot of Comedy Central productions – including “Drunk History,” which shares director/producer Jeremy Konner with this show – it's an excuse for a lot of funny people to come and play in an environment that's less restrictive than the traditional sitcom world.
That world hasn't done particularly well by either Leggero or Lindhome, both of whom are much more gifted and versatile than the bitchy assistant or one-off girlfriend roles they tend to get. Lindhome had a creative success (if not a commercial one) by co-creating IFC's “Garfunkel and Oates” with her frequent partner Kate Micucci. She and Leggero (who had a recurring role on “Garfunkel”) not only fashion great roles for themselves in these two shallow, mean, hygiene-challenged sisters, but have put a lot of thought into how a Kardashian-style reality show would function in 1902 (assuming a parallel reality where television existed back then), what the various manufactured plots would be, and just how awful every single person can behave. When Hendricks' character arrives for her first day of work, the sisters take one look at this shabbily-dressed person (not even noticing that she looks like Christina Hendricks) and decide to rename her “Chair.”(*)
(*) Of all the members of the regular and recurring cast, Hendricks has the lightest comedy resume – though we know from “Mad Men” how funny she can be – and it's a treat to see her let loose in this role, responding with resigned contempt to Lindhome, Leggero, Black, Brett Gelman, and everyone else.
The show's essentially a sketch idea expanded to series length, and as a result is uneven. But when it hits, it's as hysterical as all those people screaming and breaking things in the clips from upcoming episodes.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org