Photo: Comedy Central

“There’s always someone behind-the-scenes that’s helping people,” Lauren Lapkus declares at the end of her Drunk History segment about Katharine, Orville, and Wilbur Wright. She immediately walks that statement back, clarifying that it’s probably more of a “sometimes” thing than an “always” thing. But her observation touches on a big part of what makes Drunk History special. The show often champions underrated, underexplored stories from history. The most compelling of those are usually about a particular person who has been erased or flattened by mainstream historical discourse. Drunk History turns historical figures into real people with more dimension than textbooks afford. The broad, relationship-based theme of “Siblings” allows for character-driven stories, which is always where Drunk History thrives.

Advertisement

Katharine Wright’s name never came up when I learned about early aviation in elementary and middle school. Lapkus centers the Orville narrative on Katharine, highlighting not only her academic contributions to the brothers’ success but also her emotional contributions. Katharine was there to give her brothers the confidence they needed to fly, performing the emotional labor that women throughout history often do without credit. And she was as smart and innovative as them, too.

Beyond the subtle subversiveness of her segment, Lapkus also delivers some weirdness that gets heightened in the reenactment. The Orville siblings were tight…a little too tight, according to Lapkus’ interpretation. Wilbur, Orville, and Katharine made a pact to never marry, pledging to be an inseparable trio. The dynamic trio of Derek Waters, Jason Ritter, and Jenna Fischer characterize the siblings with fun specifics, Fischer embodying Katharine’s hesitation and general uneasiness about the pact in a way that gets progressively funnier. And Ritter is one of Drunk History’s finest reenactors, especially when it comes to playing with weirdness. His characterization of Orville’s obsessive love for his sister fortifies the reenactments. His jaw-drop when Katharine makes out with her new husband in front of him is one of the funniest moments of the episode. Fischer is equally committed to her portrayal of Katharine, sneaking some subtle funny expressions and movements into every scene. And her look directly into the camera after Lapkus makes a bad right/Wright pun is a nice little wink to The Office.

Another dynamic trio anchors Mike Still’s segment: Elizabeth Olsen, Rachel Bilson, and Drunk History ensemble member Maria Blasucci, playing the Kopp sisters. Together, all three infuse their reenactment with over-the-top, goofy physical comedy that lands. Bilson, in particular, is an unexpected gem. Her lip syncing while she’s reading the letter is nothing short of masterful. Olsen crushes the lip syncing game, too. Her delivery of Still’s slurred but urgent “guys, I was tryna take a dump and I was getting shot at” has been a season highlight for me ever since it appeared, sans context, in the trailer. With the context, it’s even better, along with Bilson and Olsen’s dramatic turn to the camera. I was unfamiliar with the Kopp sisters, and even though they didn’t play a major role in history, their story is exciting and provides a snapshot of a specific time and place, centered on women who defied the gender roles of their time.

Advertisement

The entire setup of J.D. Ryznar’s segment is fantastic: a ghost story told fireside. I remember being underwhelmed by Ryznar as a reteller last season, but he’s captivating here, aided by the fact that his segment features Drunk History editing at its best. From the commercial break timing to the music to the timing of Waters’ ghost detection that gets punctuated by puking, the last third of the episode is fantastically edited. In an episode full of hilarious physicality, Sarah Ramos and Sugar Lyn Beard stand out as the funniest physical players, with Ramos in particular delighting with her giddy presence.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe this is the first time a narrator has ever forced a flashback within a reenactment. Ryznar’s somewhat cocky control over his story pays off. He knows Waters has to construct the narrative around whatever he says, and he relishes that notion, freezing the reenactment and instigating a Wayne’s World-inspired flashback, complete with a wavy transition effect, which Ramos and Beard elevate with a little wavy arm dance. But while the narrators are made to feel like they’re in control, they aren’t really. Waters and the editors ultimately pull the strings. Drunk people always need that more put-together friend keeping tabs on them, making sure they’re not falling over or texting their exes or getting into a stranger’s car thinking it’s their Uber. “There’s always someone behind-the-scenes that’s helping people,” remember? Ryznar gets drunk enough to puke in a bucket, but his story never falls apart, because he has that friend carefully looking over him and making sure it all comes together. The commercial break’s timing is a stark reminder of who’s really in charge.

Stray observations

  • I really like that this episode doesn’t devolve into stories about “sibling rivalry.” That would have been an easy way to create drama, but Drunk History instead focuses on more complex and grounded relationships between siblings, which was the smarter move.
  • “I like ‘hey guys.’ It’s very podcasty.”
  • Still’s cartoonish villain voice is very fun.
  • “We’re gonna nurder you.”
  • Fischer, Bilson, Ramos, and Olsen are seriously all so good at this. I hope to see more from these ladies in future Drunk History seasons.
  • Even though I anticipated exactly how they were going to play the joke of Ryznar’s commercial break cut, I laughed nonetheless.
  • Drunk History is doing an election special next week!

Advertisement