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'Downton Abbey' Meets the Kardashians: Inside 'Another Period'

How Comedy Central's hilariously crass parody of reality TV and PBS dramas could be their next hit

Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome in 'Another Period.' Credit: Comedy Central

"Oh, he knows what a snood is!" Natasha Leggero releases what can only be described as a squeal of delight, and then she and Riki Lindhome start laughing in tandem. "The fact that at least one viewer can actually say, 'Snoods, right'. . .we're halfway there already," Lindhome jokes. The item in question, an old-fashioned scarf-like piece of clothing, serves as the punchline for a gag roughly 30 seconds into the first episode of Leggero and Lindhome's new TV series Another Period; as this parody of Masterpiece Theatre-style aristocratic dramas takes place in 1902, it's a historically appropriate detail, if one that's likely to have folks Googling the term en masse. But should you think that a lack of knowledge about antiquated accessories would keep you from enjoying the show, don't worry — stick around for a few minutes, and you'll be treated to giant thatches of pubic hair being sprayed with perfume and a "cocaine wine party" that ends with a hopped-up Helen Keller punching someone. Upstairs Donwstairs this is not.

Premiering tonight on Comedy Central, Another Period centers around Lillian and Beatrice Bellacourt, two dim-witted debutantes hoping to make a name for themselves on the Newport, Rhode Island high-society circuit. The former is greedy, petty, childish and obsessed with status, while the latter is merely brainless to a fault; a deep bench of ineffectual husbands, snooty fellow one-percenters and put-upon servants fill out the show's lineup. (The all-star cast includes Michael Ian Black, Paget Brewster, David Wain, Jason Ritter, Brett Gelman and Mad Men's Cristina Hendricks.) But given the sisters' penchant for giving straight-to-the-camera testimonies, the series is just as much an extreme goof on reality-TV vamping as it is on drawing-room dramas — a Keeping Up With the Kardashians set during the Teddy Roosevelt era, complete with a theme song by Snoop Dogg.

"People think this desire to be famous is a modern idea invented by TV and the media," Leggero says. "But really, it's been around since the beginning of time . . . or at least since the days of Oscar Wilde." The comedienne had been kicking around the notion of a faux-reality series based around "stupid people who had movies based on cereal brands — just complete idiots" when she and Lindhome, one half of the musical duo Garfunkel and Oates and a friend from the L.A. stand-up circuit, started looking for project to collaborate on. Brainstorming over a bottle of wine one night, Leggero mentioned both the reality-show concept and another idea she had about doing a ridiculous version of Downton Abbey. Why not do both, Lindhome suggested, and a lightbulb went off. "It quickly went from having nothing to work with," she says, "to 'We have to narrow down our options for storylines,' because there's just way too much good material to work with here."

The two then traveled up to Newport to start researching the era, delving into the minutiae of life among New England's upper crust. As they started writing, Lindhome had remembered seeing the early Drunk History shorts on Funny or Die and tracked down the co-creator, Jeremy Konner; they were able to nab him as a director right before the Web series was picked up for a full show order. Eventually, Another Period's pilot made its way to Comedy Central, which signed the trio up for 10 episodes — apparently, they recognized that a high-as-a-kite Helen Keller rampaging through an old-fashioned sitting room was indeed comic gold. "Everyone knows that if you're going to throw a cocaine-wine party, having Helen Keller there is a must," Lindhome deadpans.

And in addition to tackling such torn-from-yesterday's-headlines topics such as morphine addiction and the suffragette movement ("If women have the right to vote, what's next? Horses? Tulips?"), the creators promise a dinner party in which all the guests are dogs, celebrity cameos — including Jack Black and Ben Stiller, whose company Red Hour Films is producing the show — and a lot more of good old-fashioned, early 20th-century stupidity. "I don't see these characters getting any smarter," Leggero jokes. "We'll keep making jokes about idiots and pubic hair," Lindhome adds, "until the snood revival comes and we get really rich."