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Television review: 'Eagleheart'

'Eagleheart,' part of Adult Swim on Cartoon Network, is well-suited for Chris Elliott.

February 03, 2011|By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • Chris Elliot stars in "Eagleheart," a new live action show on Adult Swim.
Chris Elliot stars in "Eagleheart," a new live action show on… (Adult Swim )

The world can be divided into people who have been waiting for Chris Elliott to get another television series and those who have not. The second group may in turn be separated into those who don't know who he is, those who know but do not care, and those whom he makes so uncomfortable they would prefer he just stay away.

Ready or not, here he is: The subject of your rejoicing, or wailing, is "Eagleheart," premiering Thursday at midnight on Adult Swim, the mature nighttime component of Cartoon Network. Not counting Elliott's year on "Saturday Night Live," on which his daughter Abby is now a cast member; a recurring role on "Everybody Loves Raymond"; and several years as a writer-performer on "Late Night With David Letterman," where he was known for such characters as the Guy Under the Seats, this is Elliott's first series in nearly two decades, when "Get a Life" ran its brief span on Fox.

On that show he played a 30-year-old paperboy, and even here, at 50, as Chuck Norris-inspired federal marshal Chris Monsanto, there is something permanently, pathologically prepubescent about him. The series, which comes in 15-minute episodes like a cartoon, suits him, as does the venue: His disquieting blandness and baseless swagger, the sweet mien and soft edges that mask incipient mayhem — this is the very essence of the Adult Swim aesthetic.

You can read his influence, or at least some common cause, in Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim's "Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!" and Rob Corddry's "Children's Hospital." Even "The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack," which runs on plain old Cartoon Network, seems to owe something to Elliott's 1994 "Cabin Boy." Unloved in its time, the film has since become an object of cultish veneration, just as its star is revered in a way that has not interfered with his being only moderately well-known.

Elliott didn't create "Eagleheart," but its shape has been molded (by Jason Woliner, Michael Koman and Andrew Weinberg) to that thing he does. The deadpan melodrama at the heart of his work is perfectly embodied in the opening episode, which mixes an old-school revenge story with the sticky sentiment of an after-school special, as the marshal tenderly nurses a brain-damaged archenemy back to his evil self in order to kill him with a clean conscience. Like most Adult Swim series, "Eagleheart" is parodic but not satirical; it plays with attitudes rather than ideas. That it's a violent comedy does not make it a comedy "about" violence; it's just violent, because violence is funny now.

Abetting Elliott are new deputies Brett Gelman and Maria Thayer, whose feathered hair is meant to recall some earlier time in which the series is inconsistently rooted. A barely recognizable Michael Gladis (Paul Kinsey on "Mad Man") plays their chief, with his cheeks puffed out and chin tucked into his collar, in a voice that suggests a bad impersonation of Richard Nixon.

With its bagatelle episodes and remote time slot, "Eagleheart" constitutes a quiet sort of triumphal return. But some comedy is born to live on the margins.

robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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