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Whatever happened to last year's breakout stars?
The slogan that most succinctly captures the current approach to manufacturing cultural products is a slight paraphrase on the tag line for Lay’s potato chips: “bet you can’t eat just one.” Any well-formed, tasty cultural treat— a movie, a TV show, a book, some random tumblr, a Web series about drunk people relating historical events — will be replicated and the results — a sequel, a remake, a movie based on a book, a book based on a tumblr, a Comedy Central show based on a Web series about drunk people relating historical events — will be all but forced down audiences’ throats. On occasion, this second force-feeding tastes pretty good, in which case, a third is likely forthcoming. But more often than not, even though they won’t let you eat just one, they should have.
“Drunk History,” which premieres tonight on Comedy Central, is a half-hour show based on a popular Funny or Die series of the same name. In both, very drunk people with a pretty solid sober grasp of certain historical events, narrate while famous people — past participants include Michael Cera, Will Ferrell, Don Cheadle — act out their every word. (There’s also a very special Drunk History Christmas segment that involves Ryan Gosling.) The sketches are about six minutes long, and the new show contains three of them per episode. In the premiere, drunk people tell the story of Watergate, the Lincoln assassination and the time Elvis got a narcotics badge (which of these things is not like the other?).
As the drunks narrate, ask for a cookie and even puke, the likes of Adam Scott, Bob Odenkirk, Jack McBrayer, Stephen Merchant, Fred Willard and Jack Black, all in costume, lip sync their exact words. So you get, for example, Scott dressed up as John Wilkes Booth staring into a mirror saying, “Lincoln? What does it all mean? What is he talking about? Slavery. I don’t even get it,” as he decides to assassinate the president. Despite this dialogue, the history is not totally mangled. The people who are talking, one suspects, practiced a lot when sober. One probably shouldn’t write a history paper based on what’s relayed here, but one could definitely do worse.
How funny you find all this basically depends on how funny you find drunk people. And not fake-movie drunk people, but realistically drunk people: a little confused, no longer so good with words, and very sleepy. It also depends on how much fun you have watching the clique of calmly famous dudes who like to do comedy have fun with each other as they hang out, dress up and pretend to be, say, Richard Nixon. Personally, I found it funny and fun about one sketch at a time. I kept thinking, “Oh, one of these could make for a great viral video,” which is, of course, how they started out. Now they are just viral videos that will have aired on broadcast television first. “Drunk History” is a Web series that became a TV show that will still be best and most watched on the Internet, a snake eating its own tail, but one that makes money for everyone involved with each chomp.
Willa Paskin is Salon's staff TV writer. More Willa Paskin.
The star of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” charmed practically everyone at the Oscars, where she was the youngest best actress nominee ever; she went on to film a remake of “Annie” opposite Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz.
Carly Rae Jepsen
Jepsen, who had 2012’s song of the summer with “Call Me Maybe,” released the fifth and final single from her debut album in January 2013. She toured the U.S. in mid-2013 -- just as Daft Punk and Robin Thicke battled to succeed her as icons of the summer.
Honey Boo Boo
2012’s biggest reality star, the young pageant contestant Alana Thompson, had a quieter time this year, with a second season whose ratings were strong but whose buzz was a bit muted. America was, by now, accustomed to young Thompson, and outraged or scandalized reactions were reserved for other TLC programming, like “The Man With the 132-Pound Scrotum.”
Ocean missed out on the top Grammys for which he was nominated in early 2013; he bounced back quickly with featured appearances on albums by Kanye West, Jay Z and Beyoncé, and is at work on a new album. Things are looking up!
The “21 Jump Street” and “Magic Mike” star had a marginally less charmed 2013, with “White House Down” failing to connect with moviegoers and “Foxcatcher” delayed until next year. It may get worse before it gets better: His big 2014 sci-fi flick, “Jupiter Ascending,” looks … well, a little weird!
With their third album in 21 months hitting No. 1 immediately upon its fall 2013 release, the boy band that broke into America in 2012 would seem to be here to stay for a while. Still, they looked a bit nervous in their reaction shots during the Video Music Awards’ ‘N Sync reunion; maybe not this year, maybe not next, but eventually, the Justin of One Direction is going to break out. For now, though, things look good!
Lana Del Rey
The famously uncomfortable “Saturday Night Live” musical guest overcame endless mockery from 2012 to land her first top-10 hit in the summer of 2013 -- a remix of a year-old song, “Summertime Sadness.” As the co-writer of “Young and Beautiful,” the love theme from “The Great Gatsby,” Del Rey is such a front-runner for the best original song Oscar (last won by Adele) that there has been a direct-mail campaign to academy voters against her. The song was also played at the most romantic event of the year: Kanye West’s stadium marriage proposal to Kim Kardashian.
Wilson, who charmed fans of 2012’s “Pitch Perfect,” had a rockier 2013, with her sitcom “Super Fun Night” struggling creatively and in the ratings. Her next planned movies are both sequels, to “Kung Fu Panda” and -- hoping lightning will strike twice -- to “Pitch Perfect.”
Another 2012 music icon, Gotye won the record of the year trophy at the 2013 Grammys for “Somebody That I Used to Know.” He released no new singles in 2013, and has told the press he has been struggling to complete new material. Good luck, Gotye!
The golden boy of the 2012 Olympics, without feats of aquatic derring-do to distract the public this year, saw his always-tenuous persona completely shift from “amiable jock” into “utter dolt” with his E! reality series. Worst of all, the series was canceled.
In 2012, the young actress -- best known for her role in the indie “Winter’s Bone” and a supporting part in the “X-Men” franchise -- had marquee roles in the first “Hunger Games” film and in David O. Russell’s comedy “Silver Linings Playbook.” In 2013, she played to her strengths: After winning an Oscar, she starred in the second “Hunger Games” movie, on whose publicity tour she managed to charm everyone in America, and had another role in a David O. Russell comedy, “American Hustle,” for which she might just win ANOTHER Oscar. By 2014, she may end up running a major studio, or serving as president.
The breakout bikini model of 2012 made a repeat appearance on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue -- and got to do high-fashion spreads in Elle, Vogue and Vanity Fair. She was cast in a Cameron Diaz comedy, too. Some types of appeal are eternal!
E. L. James
The “50 Shades” novelist now gets to help share some input into a movie adaptation set for release in 2015. She probably never needs to work again! Isn’t that great? Isn’t that … just … great?
The “Gangnam Style” phenom performed at New Year’s 2013, but will spend New Year’s 2014 flipping channels to find his pistachio ad, his goofy antics having been outdone in the past year by “The Fox” singers Ylvis. Nothing meme can stay.
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