One of the challenges Drunk History faces in the editing process is cutting down a whole lot of sloppy footage into a somewhat coherent and yet still silly bite-sized story. Narrators spend hours telling their respective stories with Waters, and those hours get distilled into a matter of a few minutes. More often than not, the editing is extremely tight, maintaining a beginning, middle, and end for the retelling while also throwing in just enough drunk tangents to give the story a more meandering, drunk feel. Last week’s season three premiere features top-notch narration, with the storytellers getting swept up in the fun of their historical tales without getting too distracted from the major plot points. Each segment feeds on the energy of the last and heightens the excitement. This week’s “Miami” sometimes feels too much like a checklist, with the retellers focusing a little too much on hitting the main beats of their stories instead of thoroughly developing the world and adding personality to the characters.
Greg Worswick kicks off the episode with the story of Private Clark Gable, movie-star-turned-World-War-II-gunner. The best moments come from Worswick’s strange sound effects and vocal inflections, like the whispered “hey” during Gable’s war poster photoshoot and the drawn out yet very soft “noooooo” he throws in twice. Then, of course, there’s the very long tangent of Worswick just making over-the-top explosion sound effects while playing with a toy plane. But it’s that giddy energy that I wish came through a bit more in Worswick’s story. There are times when I can almost see the checklist in his head as he tries to race through the story’s big beats. That’s naturally a result of the alcohol, but this retelling feels a bit more rushed and formulaic than the histories Drunk History usually churns out. The real star of this first segment is Josh Hartnett as Clark Gable. He takes those peculiar variations in Worswick’s voice and turns them into funny little character moments, handling the very slow delivery of Worswick’s final line particularly well.
Jessica Meraz narrates next, recounting the tale of “rich kid dickface” Diego Columbus (played by David Koechner) and his feud with Juan Ponce de León (played by Johnny Knoxville). Again, probably because of alcohol-induced jitters, her storytelling sometimes comes off as a checklist, and some of the more interesting parts get glossed over. That’s not to say that her narration isn’t without personality. Right at the top, she calls out white people for their poor pronunciation of “Juan Ponce de León,” and her slip into Spanish dialogue later on reads as wonderfully unplanned. She also has a classic Drunk History moment where she just stops midsentence, completely forgetting what she was about to say.
If anything, Meraz’s narration only seems subpar because the story she’s telling doesn’t have a definitive hook. It’s hard to care about and impossible to root for Diego Columbus or Juan Ponce de León. Drunk History doesn’t always tells triumphant hero stories about good people (hell, the next segment is about a violent drug lord), but the show’s take on Spanish colonialism is a little idealized. That can be one the problems with distilling history into such short standalone stories and likely why the writers of Drunk History make a point to avoid subjects considered “too polarizing.” It’s not necessarily the role of Drunk History to explore colonialism in depth. After all, these stories are being told by drunk comedians not historians or academics—and that’s the fun of it. But even though Diego Columbus is presented as a douche, there’s still a bit of romanticism to the story that’s just a little off.
Much like “New Jersey,” “Miami” saves the best for last, ending with a segment about Griselda “The Black Widow” Blanco, narrated by Community creator Dan Harmon. And leave it to Harmon to get Waters completely wasted. Usually the so-called “drunk whisperer” keeps it mostly together, but this time, Waters winds up on the floor doing some sort of leg exercises and telling Harmon that he can’t see him, to which Harmon replies “I see two of you.” The final retelling stands out for more reasons than just Harmon though. Maya Rudolph lends her incredibly expressive face to the story, playing Griselda with a manic energy that just takes the humor to the next level.
The world of this story is the best constructed in the episode—partly because of Rudolph, partly because of the detailed set design, and partly because of the weird quirks Harmon brings to his storytelling. Much like Slate last week, Harmon’s little slightly ahistorical embellishments and tangents give a little something extra special to the story. The mouth-kissing sidebar between two of the DEA agents he throws in twice doesn’t necessarily inform the major plot points of the story, but it does flesh out the world and add weird humor in a way that makes the retelling distinctly belong to Harmon.
- Worswick’s reaction to Waters saying “that’s why I love you, kid” is priceless.
- Worswick: “I just had a lot of fun and hope you did, too.” This confession as Worswick is stuffing his face with tortilla chips comes off as so genuine and adorable and is exactly how I imagine most narrators feel at the end of their shoot.
- Matt Besser makes a great King Ferdinand.
- The Black Widow shoot-out scene is staged so well. I love that on Drunk History, things look the best when they look really bad.