Derek Waters guides us, drunkenly, through history
The Story So Far...
There are some fantastic stories brought to popular light here, including the growth of the cocaine trade in Miami, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory author Roald Dahl's sexy spy background, the story of the first black casino and the tale of Nellie Bly and her trip around the world. The show is at its best when it corrects commonly-held misconceptions, like in showing how truly impressive the whole story of Harriet Tubman is, or when it shines a spotlight on sadly lesser-known historical figures, like Mary Phelps Jacobs, the inventor of the bra. But despite such inspiring tales, as well as touching stories like the love story between Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan (which brings narrator Holly Laurent to inebriated tears), the series is all about the laughs, of which there are many.
As in previous seasons, the narrator role calls on a mix of lesser-known talents, like Lucius Dillon and Jessica Meraz; some up-and-comers like Cameron Esposito, Lauren Lapkus and Claudia O'Doherty; and a few big names, including Jenny Slate, Community creator Dan Harmon, Wet Hot American Summer director David Wain, Drunk History all-stars Paget Brewster and Jen Kirkman and bon vivant Paul F. Tompkins. Some are better than others in letting their personality shine through their stories, while some make it more about themselves, sometimes getting out of hand by knocking over lamps, pawing at boom mics and wrestling with Waters. All in all though, there are no "bad" narrators and no story falls flat. They all work in some way or another.
A big part of that, of course, is the re-creations, which use the voice of the narrator as the dialogue. A core troupe of actors, including Waters, Bennie Arthur, Craig Cackowski and Maria Blasucci, are joined by an assortment of guest stars in telling the stories visually, including Tony Hale, Christopher Meloni, Jason Ritter, Justin Long, Greg Kinnear, Stephen Merchant, Johnny Knoxville, Joe Lo Truglio, Horatio Sanz, Maya Rudolph, Matt Besser, Thomas Middleditch, Jason Momoa, Jack McBrayer, Octavia Spencer, Alia Shawkat, Will Ferrell, Samm Levine, Ron Funches, Topher Grace, Taran Killam, Jake Johnson, Kat Dennings, Colin Hanks, Jaleel White, Jason Alexander, Michael Cera, Haley Joel Osment, Ellie Kemper, Natasha Leggero, Jack Black, Zach Woods, Rob Huebel, Jason Mantzoukas, Thomas Lennon, Patton Oswalt, Parker Posey, Martin Starr, Michael McKean, Chris Parnell, Henry Winkler, Sam Rockwell, Ben Schwartz, Dennis Quaid, Adam DeVine, Chelsea Peretti, Paul Scheer and Nathan Fillion. That list is simply ridiculous, and they are all incredibly fun to watch, in both minor roles and lead ones, particularly Rudolph, Kemper, Quaid and Parnell, who really just dive into their characters and seem to be enjoying themselves.
The way the period costumes and settings bang up against the casual way the stories are told creates a hilarious disconnect, especially when something happens to distract the narrator, which usually is reflected in the recreation hysterically. Thus, when Tompkins has a case of the hiccups, Frank Sinatra does as well, and when Drew Droege imitates a police siren, it sidetracks everything. The effect of the lip sync really is the strongest element of the series, and makes anything funny, especially when there's a distinct gender mismatch between the narrator and the actor. And, as juvenile as it may be, watching a historical character rant drunkenly or curse casually is surprisingly funny.
If you wonder what Derek Waters brings to the series, take a quick look at the British version of the series, which has no host in the segments (just an off-screen producer.) Then hurry back to the colonies with a new appreciation for Waters, as the two series couldn't be more different. The only place the series could do without Waters is on the host's side jaunts, like when he hits up a wrestling school or goes on a zero-gravity flight. These are too disconnected from the concept and less engaging than the stories (feeling like a better fit for Dave Attell's fantastic, much-missed Insomniac.) He should just stick to the drinking and the talking.
No change in terms of the audio, as the Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks remain consistent but lacking in dynamic presentation, as the voices set up shop in the center channel, and the music finds a home in the sides and rear channels. There are no issues with distortion and the elements all have their own but that .1 just doesn't have much of anything to do, thanks to the nature of the show. However, you'll hear all the F-words in solid clarity, thanks to uncensored audio.
All of the extras (46:07 in all) are found on the second disc, broken down by episode and moment, unfortunately without a play-all button. There's an assortment of clips available to wander through, including some deleted historical scenes, some narrator outtakes and some extended clips, but the highlights have to include Slate's near-death story, Harmon's impromptu mattress commercial, four-plus minutes of Kirkman trying not to sneeze her brains out and more than a minute of Tompkins laughing uncontrollably.
As enjoyable as some of the clips can be, disappointingly, it's a lot less than the first release, where season two had over two hours of extras on its own, and there are no sober reveals this time around, which was one of the best parts of the first DVD.
The Bottom Line