Review: Netflix ‘Roasts’

(Above: Jeff Ross. Source: YouTube video)

Comedian Jeff Ross, aka the “Roastmaster General,” hosts a new six-episode Netflix series that puts famous figures from history on the hot seat.

The premise of Historical Roasts with Jeff Ross is promising. An array of eclectic guests representing two millennia of politics, sports and culture – Abraham Lincoln, Freddie Mercury, Anne Frank, Martin Luther King, Jr., Muhammad Ali, and Cleopatra – get politically incorrect treatment from their contemporaries.

In the first episode, Lincoln (Bob Saget) is skewered by wife Mary (Natasha Leggero), Harriet Tubman (Yamaneika Saunders) and John Wilkes Booth (John Stamos). Booth gives a bewildered Lincoln the finger, while Tubman questions the president’s evolution on emancipation and Mary comments on Abe’s failings as a husband. Thanks to Saget and Stamos, some Full House jokes are in the mix.

Jeff Ross and Bob Saget. Source: Netflix

Episode three puts Anne Frank (Rachel Feinstein) front and center. Ross, wearing a yellow Star of David armband, prepares the audience with a brief, sobering prologue about Frank’s life before launching into the bad taste tributes. The real butt of the jokes, however, is not Frank but Adolf Hitler, played by Gilbert Gottfried. That brilliant bit of casting is augmented by the presence of FDR (Jon Lovitz) and a World War II era Don Rickles (his daughter, Melissa Rickles). Toward the end, God (Fred Willard), who is sitting in the audience, gives a rambling explanation as to why the Holocaust happened.

Rachel Feinstein, Ross and Jon Lovitz. Source: Netflix

Episode five, starring Cleopatra (Ayden Mayeri), is at a 2,000-year remove, making that roast feel safer but decidedly less resonant. Cleopatra is presented as the first powerful woman in history. A bitter Julius Caesar (Ryan Phillipe) learns just before he takes the mike that Cleopatra had slept with buddy Marc Antony (Ken Marino), who, for his part, resembles a Vegas comedy club act. The Goddess Isis (Bridget Everett) sings a ditty about Cleopatra, and Shakespeare (Rory Scovel) admits his play about the famous queen pandered to the Elizabethan hoi polloi.

Ayden Mayeri. Source: Netflix

There were more misses than hits in the three episodes we watched. That said, the show deserves more time to find its footing.

Incidentally, if you’re searching for a more family-friendly show that mines history for laughs, we recommend the The Who Was? Show. Written for eight-year-olds and up, that series presents historical figures via improv, sketches, impersonations, music videos and animated shorts.

The famous figures include Julius Caesar, Bruce Lee, Joan of Arc, Marie Antoinette, Picasso, Queen Elizabeth, Frida Kahlo, Gandhi, Benjamin Franklin and Louis Armstrong.

You can watch all 13 episodes of season one now on Netflix.

Finally, we highly recommend Drunk History. Co-created and hosted by Derek Waters, Drunk History features historical reenactments by celebrities, narrated by inebriated storytellers.

You can stream all five seasons of Drunk History with a Hulu subscription; or buy individual episodes for $2.99 from Amazon.

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About Larry Greenberg

A former local beat reporter and film critic, co-founder Lawrence Greenberg has more than 25 years’ experience as a writer and public relations executive.

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