In honor of the holidays, Drunk History sets its sights on food this week, and because the show is never one to go for the obvious stories, it presents three weirdo food histories in which the food is just one small part of a larger story. Tess Lynch’s tale of the artichoke wars is ultimately a story about the Mafia’s power in 1930s New York City. Lyric Lewis tells a story about Julia Child that shows she was much more than just a famous kitchen personality. Lucius Dillon touches on the dangers of valuing profit over public safety.

Though thematically different, the three stories all bring a lot of action to the table. Things kick off with the artichoke wars, and Kevin Pollak gives a fittingly over-the-top performance as mobster Ciro Terranova. The sequence of him walking through the street, casually fucking things up and then quite literally sticking his finger in every pie sets the overall tone for the segment, which plays out like a charged but goofy mob tale. Any time Drunk History gets to take on action, it does so with glee, and the campiness of this episode is really on point.

The person who really injects the episode with giddy fun though is Lewis. As a narrator, she gives the reenactments a ton of material to work with, whether it’s her distinct, hilarious dialogue (“Hey, everybody, who wants to play Scrabble later?”) or the props she inadvertently gives birth to, like the bottle of Against Blood. Her mistakes make it to the overlaid text (“The Office Of Strategic Serdisis”), as often happens on the show, but there are a few extra little quirks to her reenactment, like Sri Lanka on the map lip-dubbing her “hey, girl, hey” and the man in a shark costume who lip-dubs her timid shark dialogue. Even just her descriptions are great: She calls Julia Child “dumb tall” and Paul Child a “tall glass of milk/tall glass of almond milk if you are vegan/tall glass of soy milk if you are vegetarian/tall glass of goat milk if you don’t like cows.” She keeps the whole episode “cool, cool, cool, tight, tight, tight.” And the World War II spy setting continues the episode’s fun, campy action scenes.

But even more so than just bringing her original voice to the story, Lewis humanizes Child in a way that’s nearly more interesting and deep than other on-screen depictions of the woman, like that of Julie & Julia, where Meryl Streep plays a vivacious but ultimately one-note Child who seems more personality than person. Where Julie & Julia most succeeds, though, is where Lewis also excels: the deeply romantic and captivating love story of Julia and Paul. But Lewis recognizes Julia’s sexuality, making her human and relatable and more specific than other depictions of the looming figure. In Lewis’ story, Julia is a smart and horny spy, determined to excel in her work but also determined to get her man. Aside from just being straight-up hilarious, especially in the hands of Michaela Watkins, who elevates the humor skillfully, this characterization adds something refreshing to the story. Though it isn’t the focus—and it shouldn’t be—Lewis doesn’t take human desire out of her interpretation of Julia Child’s life.

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Meanwhile, there’s a general disdain for the food on display in this episode. Derek Waters and Lynch reluctantly nibble on artichoke leaves, Lynch concluding that they’re terrible (I personally love artichokes, but they just steamed theirs in a microwave, so I’m not surprised they’re disgusted). “If god could shit on licorice, that’s what it would taste like,” Dillon says about a spoonful of molasses. It wouldn’t feel right for Drunk History’s foray into food to be a pretentious dive into foodie culture. Instead, they contemplate gross food (artichoke leaves dipped in mayonnaise), overpowering flavors (straight-up molasses), and the rich, buttery offerings of Child, which are all very representative of a drunk person’s fucked-up palette.

And it’s not so much about the food as it is about the people. As I often observe, Drunk History’s best segments focus intently on the historical figures, on what their motivations are and who they were beyond the flattened depictions we get in history textbooks. The molasses flood segment isn’t the strongest of the episode, but it at least attempts to look at a weird tragedy with humanity and pathos. Jason Ritter, who usually goes full weird in Drunk History reenactments, turns in a more subtle, grounded performance this time around as the worried stonecutter. It’s a solid segment, and Dillon is a compelling narrator. But it’s Lewis who makes “Food” a delectable treat, giving the editors and reenactors a lot of juicy stuff to work with and also serving up “horny Julia Child,” which is probably the most quintessentially Drunk History phrase to ever be uttered.

Stray observations

  • Waters’ “all his squad” dance in the artichoke reenactment is great. Waters plays everything so straight in the narration scenes that it’s always fun to see his sillier side in the reenactments.
  • “Yeah, we’re gonna scoop hollandaise tonight, son!”
  • “Who wants the pencil pusher, when you can get the maker of the wood?”
  • “Yes, girl, go get your man.”
  • When hugging Dillon at the end of the episode, did Waters say friendship is “rare,” “real,” or “weird?”

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