Octavia Spencer as Harriet Tubman in Season 3 of Drunk History
Drunk History, Season Three
(2015; various dirs., including Jeremy Konner and Derek Waters)—One of those rare, obvious, so-stupid-it’s-actually-brilliant comic conceits that’s both infinitely renewable and funny as hell, the third season of Derek Waters’ soused, civic-minded riffing on our great nation’s landmarks, legends and lore remains far better than it has any right to be.
Although it has moved from its earlier home at FunnyorDie.com to Comedy Central, Drunk History
remains as pure and simple as a shot and a beer. Each week Waters, a gentle, short-armed, kind-eyed deadpan artist, visits a new city, sits down with some people he likes who either live there or were originally from there, has a bunch of drinks with them, and listens to them talk about a key or overlooked moment in American history. Meanwhile, Waters, his supporting cast, and a surprisingly varied lineup of game guest stars perform period-appropriate re-enactments while lip-synching the words of their increasingly loaded narrator.
As Season Three guest narrator Tess Lynch pointed out in a recent interview on Previously.tv, the show is far more structured and deliberate than it appears. Each narrator has to memorize a script; each narrator is encouraged to research their topic independently; the final story involves plenty of rehearsal and multiple takes; and a medical team is present at every taping in case the boozing gets out of hand. But the final product—loose, colloquial, surreal, often hilarious—somehow feels like it was made up on the spot by a perfectly bombed barfly savant who’s tapped into a level of historical knowledge and comic invention unimaginable in our increasingly timid and calumnious high school social studies textbooks.
The high point of the season so far is Crissle West’s version of the adventures of Harriet Tubman, the “regular-ass person” who, after freeing 750 slaves during the Civil War (allegedly) declared, “This shit is dope as hell!” Tubman is played by Academy Award-winning actress Octavia Spencer, which is hardly surprising in a fictional cosmos where 30 Rock
’s Jack McBrayer appears as both Clarence Darrow and Andrew Jackson.