‘Agent Elvis’ to the Rescue
Zap! Boom! Pow! The King gets to be a superhero at last in this great Netflix animated series
If Elvis Presley fell asleep in front of the three television sets in his “TV Room” at Graceland, one set broadcasting Enter the Dragon, another playing Pulp Fiction, and the third tuned into Batman (the 1960s TV series, natch), his subsequent fevered dream might end up looking a lot like Agent Elvis. In the new Netflix series, which launched on Friday, March 17, he’s reborn as both a rock star and a street fightin’ man, ever ready to swing his fist in defense of the American way of life.
Actually, it makes sense that Elvis would end up as an animated crime fighting superhero. He loved comic books as a kid, and imagined himself in their pages; as he once said in a speech, “When I was a child, ladies and gentlemen, I was a dreamer. I read comic books, and I was the hero in the comic book.” In the 1970s, he fashioned himself into something of a superhero in appearance, with his bejeweled jumpsuits (complete with cape) and necklaces that dangled a gold, diamond-studded lightning bolt (inspired by the lightning bolt on the chest of Captain Marvel’s costume). And in a last-ditch effort to revive his movie career, he contemplated putting his karate skills to use in an action film about a badass dude ala Shaft or Super Fly.
Well, now he gets his wish. Agent Elvis drops the King into an alternate universe, where he’s still a performer, but can always find the time to kick a little ass for a good cause. Episode 3, “Cocaine Tuesdays,” for example, has him leaving the set of his movie Change of Habit to take down a drug trafficking operation — a scenario that’s frankly a lot more interesting than any of his 1960s films.
The episodes are designed to not strain your attention span, running just under half an hour, freely mixing fact and fiction, and dropping a lot of in-jokes and pop culture references along the way. The introductory episode is a mash-up with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Presley tangles with Charles Manson’s gang, who turn out to be an army of the undead. As the series progresses, Presley (in a nod to Capricorn One) gets to fake a moon landing with Stanley Kubrick looking on, as “Space Oddity” plays on the soundtrack and Elvis director Baz Luhrmann does a voiceover cameo as—a director.
Once Presley joins the super-secret agency TCB (The Central Bureau), that apparently runs everything in the world, his first mission sends him to Altamont, riding on Peter Fonda’s Easy Rider motorcycle. Turns out the mayhem that marred the concert wasn’t created by drunken Hell’s Angels, but by a deadly sonic device that Presley manages to dump into San Francisco Bay. While in real life Presley wasn’t able to bring his gift of a handgun into the Oval Office when he dropped in on President Nixon, in Agent Elvis he does, with Tricky Dick picking up the piece and cackling, “Bet I could take down a drug-dealing hippie at fifty yards with this baby!” The series even resurrects Scatter, a diaper-wearing chimpanzee that joined Presley’s entourage in the 1960s, infamous for his penchant for getting drunk and lifting up women’s skirts.
While Presley has featured animated projects before—in Disney’s Lilo and Stitch, the Hawaiian tyke Lilo was an improbable Elvis fan—Agent Elvis appeals to an older viewership, slapped with a warning label for “Gore, language, nudity, violence, smoking.” It’s all in the interest of making the show a wild and crazy ride, but someone should sit the writers down and explain that vulgarity, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily comedy (“Fist me sideways!”—seriously?). Mind you, Presley doesn’t get too down and dirty himself; it’s Scatter who’s the show’s ardent coke fiend, and, given that the series’ time frame has him still married to Priscilla (voiced by the real Priscilla Presley), his relationship with Agent in Charge CeCe Ryder (Kaitlin Olson) is purely flirtatious.
Presley, voiced by Matthew McConaughey, manages to remain above the frantic antics, prone to cocking an eyebrow and making wry asides (when he’s not kicking a little ass). As John Eddie, the show’s co-creator, explained in an interview, “We wanted Elvis to always be cool and be the hero and everything going on around Elvis could be crazy and out of control and pushing the limits. But Elvis himself, we were very respectful to the idea of Elvis as a very cool individual.” Should Netflix pick up the show for future series, the plan is to follow Presley’s life up to and past his death in 1977, keeping the King a crime fighter in perpetuity.
As the show’s other co-creator, as well as an executive producer, Priscilla Presley would naturally hype the series as a “dream come true” for Elvis. But in this case, she’s probably right; Agent Elvis finally gives free reign to all of Elvis’s untapped cinematic potential. And it’s sure a heck of a lot more fun than Tickle Me ever was.