Mixing an extra ingredient into the formula “tragedy plus time equals comedy” — namely, adding booze — “Drunk History” is a great title, clever concept and numbingly bad TV show. Adapted from a Web series produced for Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s “Funny or Die,” it’s a star-studded spoof of historical programs, teeming with recognizable faces in silly reenactments. But the real twist is in featuring narrators who become progressively intoxicated as they recount these well-known events, in one instance to the point of vomiting. “Drunk History” certainly isn’t that distasteful, but since it’s not particularly Funny, what was that other option again?
As constructed for TV, the first half-hour features three genuine historical stories — focusing on Watergate, the Lincoln assassination and Richard Nixon meeting Elvis — as separately explained by imbibing narrators.
Yet while watching someone get stinking drunk as they try to remain articulate can be fleetingly amusing, other than the slurred words, there’s nothing inherently funny about the stories as recounted, or for that matter seeing Stephen Merchant dressed as Lincoln, Jack Black squeezing into an Elvis outfit or Bob Odenkirk approximating Richard Nixon.
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The whole exercise has a distinct homemovie feel to it — a small-ball mentality suited to short bursts on the Web, perhaps, but an utter waste of empty, dimwitted calories blown up and out for television.
The fundamental question for Comedy Central, though, is that beyond being in business with the big-name production auspices, what’s the point? Presenting the show as a spoof of the kind of fare found on History or Discovery is too precious and narrow, especially since those programs are becoming less numerous as such channels chase younger demos.
So all that’s really left is watching various celebs play dress-up. Granted, they appear to be enjoying themselves doing it, but much like sitting next to a cheerful, sloppy drunk while you’re stone cold sober, the net effect looks like a whole lot more fun for the participants than it is for the viewer.