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Drunk History: “New Orleans”

B+
B+

Drunk History

"New Orleans"

Season 3 , Episode 3

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In its past two episodes, Drunk History hasn’t quite reached the same level of giddy excitement as the season premiere captures, but “New Orleans” still embodies the strange magic of the show, spinning three thematically and tonally disparate stories into equally immersive, drunk worlds. “New Orleans” features another solid panel of narrators, but this week, they’re slightly outshined by their reenactors, who all bring the same level of intense commitment to the slurred script as Maya Rudolph does in “Miami.”

First up, Jason Momoa plays pirate Jean Lafitte, the pirate at the heart of the first retelling, told by a very drunk Allan McLeod (You’re The Worst). But it’s Jack McBrayer who steals the show as Major General Andrew Jackson, adding a very strange physicality to the character and moving his lips in exaggerated ways that make McLeod’s musings much more fun. McLeod has narrated for Drunk History a few times (once for the webseries and twice prior to this on the show), so he knows the drill by this point. Still, there’s something a bit reserved about his storytelling as he starts to worry too much about his errors. He has a particularly hard time getting out “major smuggling ring,” but instead of being amused by his “spuggling” and “majorlor” slipups, he becomes a little too self-conscious. In my review of the premiere, I noted that Drunk History tends to show us many different types of drunk. McLeod is a slumpy drunk, who almost gets swallowed up by the couch as he sinks deeper and deeper into a drunken stupor, and that kind of low-energy drunk can make sustaining the fun of the story difficult. His best moment comes at the very end when he delivers an uninhibited summary of his retelling: “The fucking point is that fucking pirates are fucking good at fighting and stuff is my fucking point, man.”

New narrator Gloria Calderon Kellett retells the story of Sam Zemurray, and while she definitely has a distinct voice as a storyteller, again, it’s the reenactors who really take the story to the next level. Thomas Middleditch, who somehow hasn’t shown up on Drunk History until this point, plays Zemurray with the kind of conviction that heightens all of the drama as well as the fun of the story. The gravitas Kellett puts behind her delivery of “I want everyone in the world to taste what’s in my mouth right now” is pushed even more over-the-top by how straight he plays it.

Season three so far has really been all about the closers. Every episode this season has ended on its strongest retelling, and “New Orleans” is no exception, closing out the show with Daryl Johnson, who picks Sazeracs, a local New Orleans absinthe-based cocktail as his poison. “Sazeracs do something special,” he warns Derek Waters. On purely a narrative level, Johnson’s retelling of Louis Armstrong’s early years is definitely the most engaging story of the episode. It’s always fun when Drunk History takes a well known historical figure and explores some of their lesser told stories, like the tale of Armstrong’s childhood. And again, the reenactments are on-point, with the youngest star of ABC’s Black-ish, Miles Brown, playing the youngest iteration of Armstrong. Brown brings the same irresistible charm he has as Jack on Black-ish to his performance here, and it’s especially funny to hear Johnson’s voice coming out of his tiny body. Johnson also owns the most laugh-out-loud hilarious narration moment of the episode with his Jewish lullaby: “We’re Jewish, and we love it.”

But it’s not just the main characters who bring “New Orleans” to life. It’s high time I acknowledge the ensemble players of Drunk History, who flesh out the stories told in Drunk History and are often responsible for the show’s funniest little tangential moments. Bennie Arthur, Tim Baltz, Maria Blasucci, Mort Burke, Craig Cackowski, Michael Coleman, and Aasha Davis are some of the many familiar faces of the Drunk History ensemble who spice up the tales of “New Orleans.” Baltz, who has appeared in over a dozen episodes of the series, has a great moment here as one of the banana boat workers.

The three stories told in “New Orleans” each have a very distinct look to them that reinforces the tone and feel of the particular story being told. The visuals of Drunk History can be described in more or less the same way as the narrators: sloppy yet somehow coherent. Even at his drunkest, McLeod remains committed to telling the story and telling it well: “I want to do this right,” he says. Just as the narrators somehow always manage to tell a clear story with a beginning, middle, and an end, the art department and editing team behind Drunk History manage to craft a visually enthralling universe with intentionally low-tier aesthetics. Action sequences on Drunk History look fake as hell, but that’s all part of the fun. There’s something strangely beautiful about the kind of low-budget effects that the show favors, just as there’s something strangely smart about people recapping history at their messiest. Drunk History is one helluva polished hot mess.

Stray observations

  • In honor of her banana story, Kellett and Waters dip bananas in their gin and tonics, a combination Kellett first touts as the “new chocolate and bananas”...until she actually tries it and realizes it’s disgusting. Still, they trade in limes in favor of banana pieces to garnish their G&Ts.
  • I hate that Drunk History often romanticizes aspects of history, although I understand the thinking behind sticking to the fluffy stuff when alcohol is around. At least Kellett sort of tells it like it is: “Like, yeah, did he do some bad shit? He did!”
  • The talking trumpet adds a great touch to the Armstrong story.
  • McLeod’s inability to handle the very simple task of getting ice cubes out of an ice tray is very relatable.
  • Johnson, by the way, is the type of drunk who just closes his eyes a lot. Kellett is the kind of drunk who feels the need to explain exactly what she means by “mf.”