Oh man, I was really ready to love this episode. Knowing guest stars like Jack Black, John Lithgow, Tony Hale and Nick Kroll were in the lineup set my expectations pretty darn high, but something about “Hollywood” never quite takes off. While the actors all bring their A-games, the segments themselves lack a little oomph, partly because they lack the gravitas of more traditionally historical events and partly because two of the three stories are already generally pretty well-known.
Casting Black as Orson Welles and Lithgow as William Randolph Hearst makes perfect sense, since both actors know when and how to play big. Storyteller Steve Berg gives Black solid material to work with, allowing him to channel Welles’ confident flair for the dramatic. Lithgow feels more underserved, relegated primarily to looking stern all the time, though he does get a great comedic moment portraying Berg’s offscreen giggles when his train of thought drifts off the rails. Perhaps as an ode to Welles, the segment itself is beautifully shot, a highlight among Drunk History’s consistently high-quality production design. But the story overall falls flat, saved at the end by Berg’s punchline about Welles’ final film role, as a voice in 1986’s The Transformers: The Movie.
Derek Miller gets the night’s strongest segment, mostly because it’s rooted in what Drunk History does best: putting the spotlight on a lesser-known, unappreciated name from the past. Here it’s the story of Ub Iwerks, who was the primary designer of Mickey Mouse, even though co-creator Walt Disney gets the more famous credit. Hale gets to showcase his comedic range as Iwerks, joyfully proud one moment and righteously indignant the next. Interpreting Miller’s laid-back delivery, Michael Angarano gets to play a much looser—and more profane—Disney than we saw in last year’s Saving Mr. Banks. (Imagine Tom Hanks telling an employee the importance of “productivity and blaaauuaagghh.”)
Drew Droege puts his best foot forward describing the romance of Ronald and Nancy Reagan (Kroll and Lindsay Sloan), trying valiantly to tell a good story despite his drunkeness, only to end up literally poking himself in the eye. It’s a moment Kroll plays well in the scene, and overall he has just the right mix of charm and smarm to make the portrayal work. Sloan plays young Nancy with the sexy, just-say-yes confidence Droege ascribes to her, giving the scene some genuine chemistry between her and Kroll. But again, the narrative kind of goes nowhere, primarily because there’s nothing new to tell and partly because Droege barely knows where he is.
Next week Steven Yeun from The Walking Dead, Ken Marino and Jason Mantzoukas are on the docket for “Hawaii,” which sounds awfully promising. But then again, the events of Drunk History—much like those of actual history—can be impossible to predict.