Comedy Central’s Another Period, written and created by Natasha Leggero (Chelsea Lately) and Riki Lindhome (Garfunkel and Oates), follows a wealthy Newport family as sisters Lillian (Leggero) and Beatrice (Lindhome) attempt to become famous in 1902. The show, which premiered last week and airs Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m., features a knock-out cast and sumptuous costuming. And the exuberant arrogance of Leggero’s and Lindhome’s performances provide plenty of reasons to watch — that is, if the joke-a-minute writing hasn’t grabbed you first.
What’s more, Leggero and Lindhome join the ranks of other successful women running their own series — they have good company in Amy Schumer (Inside Amy Schumer) and Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson (Broad City) at Comedy Central, while Shonda Rhimes (Scandal) and Lena Dunham (Girls) reign in their respective television genres. The show wears its politics on its (wrist-length) sleeve, but it also exemplifies a growing trend in cable television to let the talent do the work and pick up shows with a built-in fan base and practically guaranteed critical success. Another Period sends up violent patriarchy, unbridled capitalism and class struggle in a most uproarious way.
The first thing that jumps out at you about the show is its cast of heavyweights and hidden gems: Michael Ian Black (Stella) as the haughty butler, Jason Ritter (Parenthood) as the incestuous Frederick, Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) as servant/mistress to the patriarch of the house (David Koechner, yes please), and Brett Gelman (Married) as the hilariously revolting vagabond Hamish. But Legerro and Lindhome steal the show with their gloriously out-of-touch and over-the-top heiresses. If anything, this show is packed with too many interesting characters. From the rest of the Bellacourt family to scene-stealing guest stars like Thomas Lennon and Jack Black, episodes can get hung up on too many plot lines for 21 minutes in order to jam in as many jokes as possible.
Not only is the writing so full of jokes that you have to watch episodes two, three (okay, five) times to catch them all, the cast delivers them flawlessly. Beatrice’s insistence that “They can’t make me vote!” after a discussion about women’s suffrage drips with joyful irony; when Lillian describes her husband as “the most vile, hateful person I’ve ever met” and then quips “you’d think we’d get along better,” her confidence amplifies her comedic timing.
What’s more, the show lampoons sexism, racism and classism in ways historical comedies only can. “Period” is usually used to describe dramas, like Downton Abbey which Another Period overtly parodies, but comedies set in the past are usually relegated to film (think Young Frankenstein or Dazed and Confused). Within the context of the sitcom, however, Legerro and Lindhome have created a perfect vehicle for highlighting the absurdities of high capitalism or the dehumanization of Victorian gender roles.
But historical pieces also reveal opinions and critiques of the present; Another Period achieves a perfect balance of contemporary political commentary and silly, nerdy, or (most likely) vulgar humor. As Chair (Hendricks) comforts a male servant who has been ‘ravished’ by a houseguest, she explains that “we live in a ravish culture. It’s everywhere we look: nickelodeons, daguerreotypes, etchings.”
In addition to their subversive humor, Legerro and Lindhome help to diversify television’s offerings — a little. They are straight, white and beautiful, after all. Regardless, more women producers is a good thing. Comedy Central has been one of the quicker networks to realize young women were a relevant market and jump on that opportunity. At the same time, independent television production reduces the network’s risk: let a couple of funny friends hammer out an idea for a while (Leggero and Lindhome had been working on Another Period on and off for three years before it got off the ground) until the writing is stellar, have them get together a bunch of their talented actor friends, and then pick up a brand new series with popular and critical potential. It’s a much cheaper alternative to spending millions of dollars on pilot seasons that only produce one or two hits and results in more independence for creatives and a better final product for television viewers.
Don’t get me wrong — there are plenty of reasons to be critical of cable networks, but this seems to be a system that’s working. Broad City and Drunk History both had successful Internet careers before making the jump to television, and The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail delivers viewers with its rotation of (comedy’s) A-list guests. Now that networks have apparently abandoned any semblance of a season schedule, Comedy Central provides an annual procession of quality humor, and Another Period should have a regular place in that lineup.