“What do you say we go hang around the ladies’ changing rooms at the TJ Maxx for a while and then go to the morgue?”
Re-read that sentence, take a good look at it. It’s a line spoken by Chris Elliott’s character in last night’s Eagleheart, and I can’t think of another show on the air that could pull of a line as twisted and odd as that one. That’s because Eagleheart is a show unlike any other on TV; it marches to the beat of its own drum. Tonally, the show falls somewhere between the genre-mocking tongue-in-cheek humor of Chris Elliott’s earlier work and an absurdist, joke-filled Conan O’Brien sketch. It’s a great marriage of styles, unique in that the writers manage to keep the irony grounded, with not too much distance between the material and the performers. Eagleheart is right on the verge of becoming a parody of action movies and TV, but it never goes too far in this direction. The show doesn’t wink at the audience too hard, it feels like a complete story in and of itself.
Last week’s series premiere exceeded my expectations, cramming a ton of comedy and story into a mere 11 minutes. The newest episode “Creeps” keeps the momentum going, while providing a better look at what a typical episode of Eagleheart might look like. The pilot had a lot to accomplish, establishing each of the characters and introducing Chris Monsanto to his new partners, all while telling a complete story. With all of that exposition out of the way, we were given a more straight-ahead episode this week, and the results were very satisfying.
Chris and his team are summoned after a series of creepy guys are mysteriously murdered in what looks like related incidents. Upon investigating, they find the man behind the crimes is Neil Phipps (played skillfully by character actor Brett Rickaby), a highly-successful developer of to-do-list software. Phipps is how Mark Zuckerberg might have turned out if he had invented something far, far less significant, and the character is a spot-on commentary on self-made Internet entrepreneurs. Making to-do-list software Phipps’s claim to fame is a nice touch. It’s such a funny, specific reference, but still vaguely believable that he could amass this grand fortune from such a useless invention.
Chris and Brett’s descent into creep-dom is fun to watch and it provides for some of the episode’s best moments, including the quote at the top of the page. While Eagleheart succeeds with character and plot-based humor, small moments also provide some of the big laughs this week. Chris Elliott had two great, quick bits of physical comedy that I rather enjoyed: 1) the minute but distinct facial twitch he gives as a creep and 2) nonchalantly gargling ginger ale at Phipps’s house after being asked to leave. It says a lot about Elliott’s abilities that he can make me laugh so hard with such minor moments.
In coming weeks, Eagleheart will continue to define itself and establish its own comedic identity. The show’s first two episodes have been fast-paced, joke-filled eviscerations of action movies, nicely blending subtle offbeat jokes with over-the-top violence and oddball touches. This formula has worked superbly so far, and if the show continues on this track, we have ten more hilarious, demented episodes to look forward to.
Bradford Evans is a writer living on the edge.