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I’m not saying Drunk History should pack it’s bags and wish us well, but the most recent episode of the hilarious show where comedians drunkenly recall historical events that are later reenacted, flubs and all, felt like an unspoken completion of whatever weird journey Derek Waters and company started not so long ago.
If you’ll recall, in the long-long-ago of 2007, Drunk History began as roughly five minute shorts for the website Funny or Die. The first of those shorts featured actor Mark Gagliardi drunkenly recounting the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Reenacting this masterfully inebriated tale were Michael Cera as Hamilton, Jake Johnson as Burr, and Ashley Johnson as Elizabeth Schuyler-Hamilton.
The video was charming and hilarious at the time and remains so, but it really highlights how far Drunk History has come since its web series/YouTube days. The camera quality, set design, and the costuming are the epitome of a home movie production. Most likely this was out of necessity, though one could argue strongly for the intentional use of a low budget aesthetic simply because it’s funnier. Regardless, the videos became popular and because of the viral nature of the internet it became clear to the decision-making people at Comedy Central that there was something in Drunk History worth developing.
Fast forward almost a decade and Drunk History has now devoted an entire episode to Alexander Hamilton as recalled by the adorkable writer, lyricist, and former lead of the Tony award winning Broadway musical Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda. Recorded while Miranda was performing in the show (his hair is still long), the episode spans Hamilton’s life and eventual death in the infamous duel. There are a few new tidbits of information such as the ship bringing Hamilton to America catching fire, which gave me my favorite quote of the episode (“Sick ass Hamilton on a flaming ship!”), but for anyone familiar with the musical and its additional material it’s a very by-the-book half an hour of television. The draw of the episode is, obviously, drunk Lin-Manuel Miranda and the reenactment.
I can say, without question, that Alia Shawkat and Audrey Plaza killed it as Hamilton and Burr respectively. Both play up the arrogance and swagger of their historical analogs, but the hilarity comes from how much fun they’re having miming Miranda’s stories for the camera. Filling out the cast are Bokeem Woodbine as George Washington, Tony Hale as James Monroe, David Wain as Thomas Jefferson, and Dave Grohl as a guy who happens to be there. Hey, Dave Grohl!
Again, it’s a staggering comparison between the original video and the show as it is now; full on battlefield engagements filmed like mini-movies, sets that look like they might have attempted filming in Independence Hall, and costumes that come from a bigger budget and production value rather than a Halloween costume store. I did like that they made a callback to the first video by mirroring the exchange of letters between Hamilton and Burr, but overall the episode is bigger, brighter, bolder, and other b-word adjectives!
Lin-Manuel Miranda has been having a banner couple of years and the future only seems to be getting brighter for him. The core of his character, however, remains genuinely sincere, passionate, and extremely humble. He’s also adorkable to the nth degree, which makes him and the episode that much more endearing to watch. The special appearances by the Roots’ Questlove and Chris Jackson (original George Washington in Hamilton) on FaceTime, including a West Wing quote from Miranda to Jackson, speak to the man’s indefatigable joy and unrelenting humor. The affection he has for his friends, music, and the stories he’s become custodian to make the boozy interview yet another bullet point on the “List of Reasons Lin-Manuel and I Would Be Best Friends” we’ve all been making in our heads…or writing on random notepads with little hearts, stars, and Lisa Frank stickers everywhere.
As a blanket disclaimer, let’s just agree that SPOILERS may and probably will show up. This isn’t an extensive review, but in order to talk about what I’m about to talk about (English is Fun!) I need the rest of the movie available for referencing.
Consider that your warning!
First of all a big, and I mean HUGE, thank you to the Russo Brothers, Kevin Feige, and Marvel Studios for the superhero palate cleanser that is Captain America: Civil War. The third installment in the Captain America branch of Marvel solo films, it also qualifies as an Avengers movie with only Thor and Hulk missing to complete the set. Make no mistake, though, the story heavily leans on Cap (Chris Evans) but he’s got the best of frenemies in Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr) as the two fight a war of ideology that quickly snowballs into an Avenger-on-Avenger showdown, with one or two shocking revelations, that have very real repercussions for the characters in the aftermath.
Plot-wise, Civil War earns its title because of Tony and Steve’s disagreement over the Sokovia Accords – a law that would make the Avengers an arm of the United Nations as a means of putting the group of super-powered heroes in check after a mission goes south. Tony, still reeling from lingering feelings of guilt since his first foray as Iron Man in 2008 and a more recent condemnation post-Age of Ultron, thinks the Accords are necessary. Putting limitations on where the Avengers go would “theoretically” reduce collateral damage, thus saving lives and preventing disastrous events like New York and Sokovia. The reality of the situation is clear to Tony: Who are the Avengers accountable to in the wake of their cataclysmic battles? How many lives have they ruined after their supposed victories?
Steve, however. sees the Accords as a means of shifting the burden of responsibility. Instead of the Avengers holding themselves accountable, they’d be at the beck and call of a governing body with its own agenda. Additionally, the Avengers would be stripped of their own freedom to choose where to go and who to help. The reality of the situation is clear to Steve: How many lives will be lost if the Avengers have their hands tied? How can they put their trust in the United Nations to make the right call? Suffice it to say when the Winter Soldier, aka “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan), is brought back into the fray, under mysterious circumstances, it tests the limits of Steve and Tony’s convictions as well as their friendship.
The pivotal moment of the movie, however, isn’t the thoroughly entertaining fight that occurs between the two “warring” sides of the Avengers. No, that belongs to a small, quiet scene right in the middle of the film. After an extensive chase through Bucharest in pursuit of the Winter Soldier, Bucky is finally brought in for bombing the UN and killing several foreign dignitaries including King T’Chaka of Wakanda. The damage, however, has been done to the city as well as Steve’s faith. Believing his brain-washed friend to be innocent of the accusations in Geneva, Steve can’t deny that his best friend is dangerous. In his efforts to get Cap on his side and see reason, Tony makes a play of nostalgia by bringing along an old WWII artifact – the pens Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt used to sign the Atlantic Charter in 1941. His father just happened to have them because Howard Stark.
Through Tony’s lens, the Atlantic Charter was an eventual step towards the formation of the United Nations – countries with differing opinions still working together for the sake of the global community. Through Steve’s lens, it pushed America closer to war – a show of good faith that played its part in the attack on Pearl Harbor only four months after the document was signed. The significance of the scene isn’t just in the different yet valid concerns of both Tony and Steve, but the fact that they’re discussing how adding one’s signature to a document can steer the course of history. The most meaningful display of power in Civil War isn’t in the fists of its heroes (though they get plenty of licks in), but in the mundane action of signing.
Tony’s play almost works. The pens, talking about his father, and revealing his relationship with Pepper is on the rocks all seem to push Steve towards signing. Tony even guarantees Bucky will get the help he needs, but in his enthusiasm for things finally going his way he goes a step too far and mentions that Wanda, aka Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), is being kept at the Avengers compound for her own “safety.” And suddenly WWII and the pen Steve holds takes on another meaning: internment. Roosevelt signed many significant documents during his presidency. One of which, Executive Order 9066, approved the internment of people of Japanese descent. Some suggest it was signed out of fear and paranoia, only two months after Pearl Harbor, while others suggest it was for the “protection” of Japanese citizens in danger of retaliation by white Americans, but it’s still a piece of history that we look back on with regret. Time and distance haven’t changed the harsh reality of what the American government did, all under the blanket of benevolence: We thought we were doing the right thing. We thought we were doing what’s best for everyone.
When Cap gives the pen back, it carries the weight of history and the consequences of a signature.
That’s right, you. You’re the one who’s still obsessed with the greatest musical that ever musicaled. Not me. You. You’re the one who goes to bed singing “The Schuyler Sisters”. You’re the one who wakes up with Washington’s rap from “Right Hand Man” bouncing around your skull. You’re the one who uses the Aaron Burr, Sir rhyming scheme nonstop. You’re the one who referenced another Hamilton song within a sentence about your obsessive need to incorporate the previous song into your daily life.
Okay, that escalated quickly.
But fear not, readers, for I have come here to curate a sampling of Founding Fathers/American Revolution themed media that’s sure to continue enabling my obsession. I mean your obsession.
Let’s start with an easy one. Perhaps this obsession has also become entwined with your love of Broadway and musicals in general. Well, never fear, you can fall down the rabbit hole of Ham4Ham videos on YouTube where the cast and crew, under the direction of Lin-Manuel Miranda, perform for an audience of hundreds participating in a lottery for tickets to the show. A mere ten dollars gets you a five minute performance from the stars of Hamilton or from some of the many familiar faces from Broadway’s past and present.
The one that started it all. Need I say more?
As I mentioned in the latest podcast, Histeria was a show created by the same teams responsible for Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain. It was a show designed to – get this – make history entertaining for kids and pre-teens. Weird, right? It only aired for two years and it has yet to be released on DVD, but you can watch the episodes on YouTube for free! Best of all, they have several episodes devoted to the American Revolution featuring a very Bob Hope-esque George Washington.
It was a simpler time…
Need more Revolution Era rap? Looks like JibJab might have beat Lin-Manuel Miranda by a few years…
In need of more Founding Fathers singing that isn’t rap? Okay, I guess that’s cool. Well look no further than 1776, a musical about the creation, ratification, and signing of the Declaration of Independence. You won’t find any signs of Hamilton here, but John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin sure now how to…sing about eggs.
Wondering why Alexander Hamilton had such a problem with John Adams? Well maybe watching a bunch of clips from the miniseries will make clear what’s only glossed over in the musical. Adapted from David McCullough’s biography of John Adams, we see the Revolution and the Early Republic through the eyes of one of the less popular presidents. Paul Giamatti carries the miniseries deftly upon his shoulders, but he’s also surrounded by an impressive cast of amazing actors, including Rufu Sewell as Hamilton.
You heard me.
Well, hopefully that keeps
me you satisfied for the time being. Lord knows it’s hard to say no to this craving for more Hamilton oriented media, but I’ll you’ll just have to hunker down and wait for it to calm down. Then, maybe, we can get some work done around here, people!