The drunk histories told in “Games” are a little off the beaten path—dealing with the strange intricacies of board game-empire origins, pinball policy, and chess legends. It’s only fitting that an episode featuring some of the quirkier stories Drunk History tells bring back the quirkiest narrator in the Drunk History game. Rich Fulcher returns for his fourth turn in the narration chair, and he does not disappoint in his over-the-top, sound effects-laden retelling of Bobby Fisher, “King Of The Chess People,” taking on Russian chessmaster Boris Spassky.
Fulcher has the obvious advantage over other Drunk History narrators of being a human soundboard. Right away, Fulcher works unexpected vocal tics into his storytelling, bringing an almost fantastical quality to the reenactment. Sometimes, I have no idea what Fulcher is talking about, especially when he drifts too far from the plot of the story (“Not the New York Mets, not the Klondike bars”), but even on his wacky tangents, Fulcher is mesmerizing, and he provides a nice little break from the narrators who stick a little too close to their bullet points.
No disrespect to Lauren Lapkus and Craig Anstett, who both do a solid job of drunkenly recounting moments of history in “Games,” but Fulcher has that special quality that makes it clear that only he can tell a story the way he tells it. He adds more than personality to his storytelling: He adds sound layers that give the stories their own specific tone and rhythm. He also gives his reenactors super hard mouth noises to then match with their own mouths, but if anyone is up for the challenge, it’s Taran Killam and Jake Johnson, who play Fisher and Spassky, respectively. Killam and Johnson are both extremely physical comedic actors who rise to the occasion of twisting their lips and tongues into the odd, ugly formations Fulcher graciously provides them with. And Drunk History ensemble player Tim Baltz perfectly nails that “hrumph” sound Fulcher gives after “Fisher forfeits the match.”
“Games” has some fun outside of the retellings, too. I easily could watch a full half-hour of Lapkus and Waters just playing Vodka Roulette. Lapkus’s reactions to her own fate—“that was vodka,” she strains with disgust—as well as her anger over Waters’s refusal to say whether he’s drinking vodka or water every time come off as completely genuine and natural, making them all the funnier. And Craig Anstett is also very sincere and unguarded in the moments leading up to his retelling. In fact, his reaction to Waters telling him he’s his only friend he’ll slap across the face is actually pretty sweet.
But Lapkus and Anstett are a little outshined by their reenactors, who really take their words and characterizations to the next level. Topher Grace brings a very specific physicality to Milton that makes the board game emperor seem like a very chill dude. That little fist pump he does as Milton watches the soldiers play his game perfectly contains that laid-back bro essence. And Zach Gilford makes the story of pinball legend Roger Sharpe so much smoother—sexy, even. First of all, those terrible 1970s hairpieces they’ve put him in are just fantastic. And Gilford is totally committed to the slick pinball wizard vibe. Both Gilford and Grace find the games of their characters and play them to the max.
- Between Gaius Charles last week and Zach Gilford this week, is Drunk History staging a multipart Friday Night Lights reunion? Connie Britton has also appeared on the show in the past, so I’ll be patiently waiting for Kyle Chandler to show up.
- I’ve praised the ensemble players as a whole before, and they’re all hard at work in “Games,” but I want to specifically shout out Aasha Davis and Craig Cackowski, who both have exceptionally great performances tonight—subtle as they may be.
- Johnson is a close friend of Waters and also was one of the first guys Waters bounced his Drunk History idea off of back when he first thought of this show. He’s always a welcome face as a reenactor, especially because of his extremely expressive face.
- There’s some wonderfully bad wig work in this episode.
- Last week’s most challenging word to say while drunk was “anonymously.” This week, it’s “midst.” That ‘d’ is tricky, y’all.
- I love board games. Who knew the reason for so many of them all goes back to Abraham Lincoln’s beard?!