With the outrageously funny Eagleheart, Adult Swim continues its recent live action hot streak, delivering a series that lives up to the quality of Children’s Hospital and Delocated. The first episode, “Get Worse Soon,” aired late last night and it exceeded the high expectations I had for the series. It’s great to see Chris Elliott back in a leading role (his first since 1994’s Cabin Boy), but he’s not the only one doing exceptional work here. Eagleheart is a production brimming with talent on both sides of the camera.
Going in, I had some reservations about whether or not the 15-minute format is right for this series. Without commercials, the show clocks in at just over 11 minutes, and that’s not a whole lot of time to work with, especially considering how rushed and awkwardly-paced comedy pilots normally are. Eagleheart, however, manages to sidestep all of these problems. The pilot doesn’t waste any time with needless exposition, plowing straight into an original and offbeat story.
The rule of thumb with these 15-minute shows is that the premise can’t sustain itself for a full 30 minutes. If a 15-minute show is a snack and a 30-minute show is a meal, then stretching a 15-minute premise into a half-hour would be like eating an entire can of Pringles for dinner. But Eagleheart isn’t junk food. The show’s rapid-fire comedy and strong character work could easily fill 30 minutes, but instead, everything is crammed into half that time and the show functions better that way. Not a second is wasted; the show is packed with hysterical throwaway gags that reward multiple viewings. Eagleheart isn’t a handful of Pringles, it’s like eating a four-course meal in 15 minutes.
The premiere episode’s plot involves Chris Monsanto (played by Chris Elliott) going after his nemesis Vargas, who killed his last several partners (he hangs their pictures up on the wall under a sign that says “Avenged”). The sequence that quickly flashes back to Monsanto’s recent partners’ deaths is a funny introduction to the tone of the series and worth watching a couple of times to catch everything. Monsanto’s partners aren’t being repeatedly killed because Vargas is a cunning villain, but rather because Monsanto takes his time searching for the perfect quip before attacking his enemy, like all good action stars. It’s a keen observation about cop movies drawn out to hilarious extreme.
Chris Elliott anchors the cast and although he was not involved in the show’s writing process, Eagleheart certainly holds true to his offbeat style, continuing the straight-faced genre experimentation that he began toying with in the ‘80s. The show feels like Get a Life as an action movie parody. Supporting cast members Brett Gelman, Maria Thayer, and Michael Gladis don’t get a lot of screen time in the first episode, but that’s understandable considering the short runtime. They each get a few moments to show off their chops, my favorite being Gelman and Thayer hanging their own pictures up on the wall under a “Not Yet Killed” sign on the wall at the U.S. Marshals headquarters. Gelman’s lament over a sandwich he dropped on the floor is equally hilarious, with the actor fully committing to the absurd moment.
Behind the camera, Conan O’Brien is producing the series through his production company Conaco. It’s the first scripted comedy Conan and his company have produced since the ill-fated Andy Richter vehicle, Andy Barker, P.I., but Eagleheart has found its voice much faster than that particular program. The script to last night’s show, written by series co-creator Michael Koman, is tight and fast-paced with laughs abounding. Jason Woliner, the non-acting fourth member of Human Giant, directed the premiere, and he does an amazing job. Woliner captures the look and feel of a cop drama, adding an extra layer of quality to the program. Since this is a 15 minute show on Adult Swim, one can assume it has a lower budget than most other TV series, but Woliner hits it out of the park here, making the show’s appearance indistinguishable from a big budget Hollywood action flick.
While some new shows take a little while to find their footing, Eagleheart feels fully-formed right out of the gate. Although the show is perfectly satisfying at 15 minutes and it works well that way, there is certainly enough here, in just the pilot episode alone, to sustain a half-hour series. If the show chooses to move to a 30 minute format for the second season, a la Delocated, I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to it. All things considered, the premiere of Eagleheart left me very satisfied and I look forward to seeing what this talented group has in store for us in the next 11 episodes.
Bradford Evans is a writer living on the edge.