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Raising a Toast to ‘Drunk History’

For a kid growing up in the 70’s, there were few joys as pure as those breaks during Saturday morning cartoons when you would be treated to an episode of Schoolhouse Rock. Just a minute or two long, these animated music videos delivered lasting lessons about things that real school made painfully dull. A kid could learn about American Independence and the American Revolutionary War and other interesting moments from America’s past.

But over time the lessons were learned, the videos grew stale, and we grew up. Thank god for Drunk History, which appeared in 2007 to fill that aching chasm in our collective conscience and do so with an extra twist: the lessons are delivered by people who are absolutely hammered. This year the TV gods (as well as producers Adam McKay and Will Ferrell) have blessed us with another season.

If by some chance you are unfamiliar with Drunk History, the format is quite simple. A (typically minor) celebrity gets wasted and then recounts for host Derek Waters (also wasted) an anecdote from days of yore. Footage of the narrator is interspersed with clips of a troupe of actors reenacting the story and lip-syncing along to the narration. It is a special kind of alchemy that turns this idiotic style of storytelling into something magically hilarious.

And make no mistake: the title promises drunkenness, and the show delivers on that promise. The narrators suffer long pauses of confusion, stammering, repetition, slurred speech, laying on the couch with eyes closed, crawling on the floor, and, every now and again, a brief interlude for throwing up (off camera, mercifully). And all the while, Waters sits there, stone-faced or smirking, but also obviously inebriated. Occasionally he’ll get this look in his that says “I can’t believe how drunk this person is.” His incredulity is our incredulity.

This newest season kicked off with Are You Afraid of the Drunk? In which Richard Fulcher (The Mighty Boosh) sits around a campfire to regale Waters and guest host Kirby Howell-Baptiste (The Good Place) with the story of the creation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The story stars Seth Rogen as Dr. Frankenstein and Will Farrell as the monster, but it is Evan Rachel Wood as Shelley that steals the show, the gusto with which she lip-syncs Fulcher’s retelling is fantastic. She somehow almost manages to make him sound coherent.

Drunk Mystery, Pt. 2 is a “special episode” formatted like an old Unsolved Mysteries, in which JD Ryznar (the genius behind the seminal web series Yacht Rock), tells us the story of The Skidmore Bully. It is another standout moment is TV drunkenness. Ryznar downs two bottles of champagne (and ultimately walks off set in search of a third) in explaining how a man named Ken McElroy (played by Jerry O’Connell) terrorized his small town for years with a series of thefts and acts of violence. In total, it is believed that he was indicted 21 times but somehow avoided conviction all but once. As Ryznar tells it, the town finally decided they’d had enough and McElroy was shot dead in the street in broad daylight in front of a crowd of dozens of people. No one in the crowd could (would) ID the shooter and investigations by both the DA’s office and the feds failed to lead to any charges.

Season 6 of Drunk History also features the talents of Elijah Wood, Thomas Middleditch, Jayma Mays, Jake Johnson, Vanessa Hudgens, Rachel Bilson, Josh Hartnett, Alison Brie, Jay Duplass, Chris Parnell, Minka Kelly, Malin Akerman, Lake Bell, Dermot Mulroney, and Bobby Moynihan recreating stories as diverse as the birth of the national parks system, Alcatraz, the 1919 Balck Sox, the origin of Dog Day Afternoon, JFK’s drug use, Mata Hari, and the story behind the hit musical Chicago. Really, there’s something for everyone.

Drunk History airs at 10pm ET Wednesdays on Comedy Central; new episodes will be available Thursdays on-demand.