Another Period, Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot”
Written by Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome
Directed by Jeremy Konner
Airs Tuesdays at 10:30pm (ET) on Comedy Central
Another Period is more satire than parody, as it tackles our society’s perverse fascination with the lifestyles of the rich and famous by framing its turn of the century-era setting through the gauze of modern reality television. The twisted brainchild of Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome, the pair also star as Lillian and Beatrice Bellacourt, two parvenus who hope to raise their family’s social standing. In the pilot, the pair aspire to become members of the Newport 400 (“the 400 most important white people in all America”) after their best friends and rivals, the Claudette Sisters, die of TB. Their plan, however, is foiled when their older sister invites Helen Keller (Shoshannah Stern) over, exposing their social climbing ambitions.
Still suffering from growing pains (not unusual for a comedy series), not all the laughs land in the pilot. Caught between the absurdity of common held practices and beliefs and how they tie to modern day, when the comedy leans too heavily on the otherness of the past, it falls flat. Yet this is a relatively small quibble in a show that has a surprisingly confident tone. This seems particularly indebted to Natasha Leggero’s comedy stylings, which have long played on her image as the “mean girl” who seems completely unaware of her role as an outcast due to her ignorance and cruelty. This persona is what thrust her into the mainstream during some notable appearances on Comedy Central Roasts where her role as an exaggerated but distant sex-pot contrasted perfectly with her callous meanness. Her comedy as highlighted by her webseries, Tubbin’ with Tash, similarly relies heavily on awkward pauses and a cadence inspired by misplaced and empty narcissism.
The way that sex and cruelty are so deeply intertwined is among the highlights of the show, as both Leggero and Lindhome are presented as physical ideals who lack in all other aspects of virtue. This is a central aspect of the plot as the two are forced to compete with Helen Keller, the most famous woman in America at the time, who to this day is held up as a romantic ideal of heroism. This final act is wonderfully confrontational, exposing the dehumanization of deification by presenting Keller as a broadly comic, cocaine indulging, potential bisexual who maintains a beautiful dignity and sensitivity. As broad as the comedy may seem, thus far the show’s greatest moments rely on a certain level of vulnerability, such as Keller mistaking Anne Sullivan (Kate Flannery)’s rage for love during a pivotal fight sequence.
Similarly, the show’s play on class and gender will likely be the source of increased comedy. The best period-style laughs rely on the absurdity of inequality and the violence of oppression, as both women and the serving class are repeatedly treated as less than human. There is a deep sense of institutional hierarchy however, and even among “second class citizens” there exists an unforgiving pecking order. The pettiness of this social spectrum is mined for uncomfortable laughs and hopefully will be built upon further as the show progresses. It is, afterall, what the title of the show itself is hinting at, playing on the double entendre of period as a time frame as well as a common term for the menstrual cycle.
If anything, Another Period is a great demonstration of some of the best female talent working in comedy today. Even Christina Hendricks as a mostly straight-woman character brings tremendous depth to her performance. In a supporting role, Paget Brewster is equally compelling – and coming off the success of her addition to Community, might be having a late career breakthrough as an essential comedy talent. The show displays a feminine wickedness as seen from an outsider, a heartless period Mean Girls where the meaningless stakes reflect a meaningless existence. Let’s hope the show does not abandon its uncomfortable feminine energy moving forward and continues to build on the tensions and absurdities it has already established.