Crime gets a punch in the nuts (a death punch to be precise) with Eagleheart. This recent addition to the Adult Swim lineup displays all the hallmarks of a show dreamt up by lunatics for lunatics...in other words, it's a natural fit.
Federal Marshall Chris Monsanto (Chris Elliott) is tough on criminals and even tougher on his partners. He has a habit of taking them on pretty dangerous missions that usually leave them feeling pretty dead. When his latest partner manages to leapfrog right into the moving propeller of a plane (couldn't make this up if I tried), he is assigned two new teammates. As his boss (Michael Gladis who seems to be channeling Orson Welles) explains, this is a positive change since Chris will only be half as sad if one of them dies (can't argue with math). The new duo includes intelligent Susie (Maria Thayer) and not-too-bright Brett (Brett Gelman). She is destined to be ignored by the guys while they do increasingly stupid things and he...well...he's really, really dumb.
Simply put, Eagleheart is high-concept silliness that's being parceled out to us in easily digested chunks. As per the Adult Swim tradition, each episode is only 11-12 minutes long sans commercials. This is probably for the best because I'm not sure my brain cells would survive any of these tales being told in a longer format. Although the show finds inspiration in Walker, Texas Ranger, this is much more than a simple parody. Over the course of 12 episodes, a parody would turn repetitive and boring. Eagleheart is anything but. Practically every episode is built around a daringly absurd idea that almost starts to feel rational by the time all the over-the-top details have been colored in. This devotion to its skewed internal logic is what keeps the show slightly grounded, preventing it from flying off into the ether of goofy ephemera.
The show establishes its anything goes aesthetic in the very first episode ('Get Worse Soon') where Monsanto nurtures a mentally impaired villain back to health just so he can exact vengeance upon him. Ultraviolence gives way to something resembling a twisted Lifetime movie before ending in a double reversal so gloriously stupid, you won't know whether to laugh or shake your head disapprovingly. From there the writers just get crazier with people that are pressure-molded out of cocaine ('Me Llamo Justice'), a swingers club that doubles as a militia ('Chris & Susie & Brett & Malice') and a life-giving ruby that has to be protected by mountain lions ('Danger: Mountain Lions'). Absolutely none of it should make sense but for those 11 or 12 minutes, the writers will make you believe.
Of course, any time a show puts on such a high-wire act, it risks making a big splat whenever it hits the ground. The only criticism I can level against Eagleheart, is that this happens a bit too often for my liking. Take the example of the 'Death Punch' episode. Besides having an awesome name, the episode starts with Monsanto administering the titular move which literally turns a thug into a bloody mist. After such an auspicious start, all good will slowly bleeds out by turning the aftermath into a weird family drama that furrowed my brow more often than not. The same thing happens to a lesser extent with a few other episodes. In every case, the problem could be traced back to the dogged pursuit of laughs in what turned out to be comically barren terrain.
Despite being on the fence about the uneven nature of some of the stories presented here, I have to give kudos to the cast who go for the gusto every single time. Chris Elliott gives us a lead performance that finds a delicate balance between hubris and silliness. He injects so many fun little throwaway moments into the show that even below-average episodes don't feel like a total loss. With that said, I did get the sense that the writers were having a tough time pinning down exactly who Monsanto was supposed to be. This becomes apparent through tonal inconsistencies across the episodes and the way Elliott's reactions sometimes deviate from what has already been established about his character.
Maria Thayer and Brett Gelman provide excellent backup by really rounding out the central team. Every episode that features them prominently is all the better for it. Conversely, a few of the episodes that reduce their presence in order to play up Elliott's schtick tend to suffer. Thayer takes the thankless role of 'straight (wo)man' and gets laughs by letting her frustration seep out at regular intervals. Gelman is a glorious hurricane of stupidity. His character would quickly become annoying if it weren't for his disarming child-like wonderment. In an early episode, Monsanto and Brett look at a school bus that's been shot to hell. Monsanto remarks "It looks like someone really hates school buses". To this, Brett responds with a giant smile "Or really loves tiny holes." I can't help but get behind a show that not only dares to give us a character like that but insists on putting a gun in his hand.
The show was presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. The image was fairly clear but I did notice a touch of softness in a few of the early episodes. This wasn't distracting and didn't take away from my enjoyment of the show. The flat color palette accentuates the intentionally low-rent appearance that the show strives for.
The audio was presented in an English Dolby Surround 5.1 mix. The mix stays mostly focused on the front of the soundstage with the rear surrounds only coming out to play in some of the more action-packed bits. I didn't notice any obvious defects as dialogue was delivered with sufficient clarity. English SDH subtitles were available.
This release features a substantial number of extras that are sure to please any fans of the show. We start off with Deleted Scenes and Outtakes (21:36). Although, these scenes are occasionally funny, you can tell why they were deleted. None of them feel essential enough to enhance one's enjoyment of the show.
The next extra is far more interesting. Scenes from the Never-Aired Eagleheart Pilot (9:46) give us a peek at the production churn the show went through before it came to air in its current incarnation. When it was first conceived, the show was supposed to be about an over-the-hill actor named Ray Vanderhoff (Elliott) and his misadventures while filming a low-budget action show called Eagleheart. While some of the absurdist tone remains intact, it makes its unlikely inspiration even more apparent. Elliott looks even more like Chuck Norris and the show within the show is unmistakably based on Walker, Texas Ranger. While there are a few laughs to be had here, the biggest chuckle comes from a cameo by Conan O'Brien who plays an exaggerated version of himself.
Next up, we have a segment dedicated to the show's panel at the New York Comic-Con 2011 (23:51). After a short sizzle reel, we are treated to roughly 20 minutes of warm and witty banter with the writers and cast of the show. The cast even answers pointed questions from the audience like "how much of your acting is beard-based?" This is capped off with a sneak peek at Season 2. It's safe to say that the crazy is here to stay. A Kill Reel counts off all the bloody deaths on the show while Promos gives us 30 second looks at each of the episodes.
The final extra can be a hefty one if you're an audio commentary junkie. There are 20 Audio Commentaries spread out across the 12 episodes of this season. A number of episodes are graced with 2 commentaries each. The first includes the central cast and the writers of the show while the second features only the writers. As you may expect, the cast commentaries are jovial but less focused while the writer commentaries have a lot more information regarding the creation of the show. I especially enjoyed the writer commentary for 'Me Llamo Justice'. It's a riot listening to 4 grown men trying to impose a narrative on what is best described as shameless idiocy (the good kind).
The fact that nobody thought of doing a silly ultra-violent take on Walker, Texas Ranger before this is a real shame. At least the fine folks behind Eagleheart do the idea justice. In fact, once you get past the image of Chris Elliott strutting around in a cowboy hat, it quickly becomes apparent that this show is its own beast. It is willfully absurd and damn proud of it. The writers have a talented cast on their hands with the central trio of Elliott, Thayer and Gelman holding nothing back. This season does go through some growing pains with a few episodes failing to deliver consistent laughs. With that said, I sincerely hope that future seasons will continue to draw on the wonderful dynamic that has been established by the core cast. Recommended.