“Drunk History: Hamilton,” Comedy Central, Tuesday, 10:30
WHAT IT’S ABOUT With host Derek Waters, “Hamilton” star/scribe Lin-Manuel Miranda gets drunk -- or claims to get drunk, or does a reasonable facsimile of someone getting drunk -- then proceeds to tell the story of Alexander Hamilton. As usual, the “DH” narrator’s words -- or facsimile of words -- are then turned into dialogue performed by actors. Doing the honors Tuesday: Alia Shawkat as Hamilton; Aubrey Plaza as Aaron Burr; Tony Hale as Burr pal James Monroe; and Bokeem Woodbine as George Washington. (David Wain and Dave Grohl are also on board, as a couple of trash-talking founding fathers).
MY SAY First, you’ll probably be relieved to know that Lin-Manuel Miranda can hold his liquor – or whatever that rust orange swill Waters was pushing on him. He never slurs, hardly loses his train of thought, and manages to tell a reasonably concise overview of Hamilton’s life and death, complemented by colorful dialogue. When oratory of his characters soars, or threatens to get long-winded, Miranda resorts to the rhetorical shortcut all of us (drunk or not) employ: “blah blah blah blah blah ...” (Which – of course – is recited blah by blah by the actor ...)
Miranda’s most vivid concession to contemporary street talk is liberal use of a particular four-letter word.
Hamilton and Burr would hate all this. But you probably won’t. As usual with “Drunk History,” the comedy isn’t in the telling but in the acting. Left to recite only a few messy, throwaway lines, Shawkat, Hale and Plaza instead really have to work the non sequiturs. There are many. For example, when Hamilton writes a long apologia defending his actions with regards to a mistress, Miranda says “it reads like a Penthouse letter.” Cut to a gauzy candlelit screenshot of Hamilton/Shawkat, with quill in hand, as he/she begins to chronicle some not-entirely-unpleasant memories: “ ... so one day this bodice-ripped woman shows up at my door ...”
At one point, Miranda’s cellphone vibrates. Cut to Hamilton, Burr and Monroe, who abruptly stop whatever country-building efforts they are engaged in, then pivot their attention to the cellphone one of them happens to have. It’s Questlove calling. Everyone is charmed. They then do (what else?) a selfie.
Or: The night before the fatal encounter in Weehawken. Both Burr and Hamilton are together in a tavern in New York, getting (what else?) drunk. Miranda decides this final encounter has homoerotic overtones. As emphasis, he begins to sing that old Semisonic panegyric to love-at-first-sight that’s romantically enhanced by too many screwdrivers consumed amid the dim, dark squalor of a dive bar: “Closing Time.”
Finally, through his own personal haze, Miranda even finds irony in the story of Hamilton: “He wins! And in like 200 years, we’re writing musicals about him in a martyr-type way ...”
BOTTOM LINE The hit Broadway musical based on this story is far better – but I’m pretty certain it’s not as funny.