The funniest show on TV is hiding in plain sight on Peacock
One of the most annoying things about having a critic for a friend is, I imagine, when said critic loves a thing and won’t shut up about it. Pity anyone who knows me right now, because I’ve been preaching the gospel of Peacock’s MacGruber series ad nauseam.
I know how it sounds. A TV series spun off a movie spun off an SNL sketch that was only marginally funny. But 2010’s MacGruber wasn’t just a 90-minute sketch, and it wasn’t really a MacGyver parody anymore; it was much weirder and more wonderful, thanks to the endlessly game Will Forte. I hadn’t seen the movie since it came out, but have memories of watching it in a press screening and repeatedly guffawing while more refined journos around me rolled their eyes and pursed their lips.
I went back to watch it in preparation for the show, and I didn’t misremember: It really is hilarious, with only one real cringe moment that Forte has said he regrets. It is a pitch-perfect satire of every big action movie ever, foregrounded heavily by Stallone’s John Rambo and Bruce Willis in just about everything. Its jumping off point: America’s archetypal action hero is actually a psychopathic asshole with bad hair.
Creators Forte, Jorma Taccone, and John Solomon waded into the trope trenches, coming up with an endless stream of gags about an all-American war hero and smoldering icon of masculinity who’s petty, mean-spirited, cowardly, sadistic, credulous and dumb. Is it puerile? Fuck yes. The villain in the movie is named Cunth (and played, in a casting coup, by Val Kilmer); here, Billy Zane steps up as the new nemesis, Queeth. Yep, there’s more than a little teen-boy humor here, and that’s OK by me. The misogyny, at least most of it, is deliberate – MacGruber couldn’t exist without the wildly sexist oeuvre of Michael Bay to draw on.
The movie tanked and got a lot of bad reviews, but until recently I missed the part where it was resurrected as a cult classic, rightly recognized for its willingness to be as dumb and offensive as possible in service of skewering brainless shit we’re supposed to view as patriotic.
I’m happy to report that MacGruber the series, which picks up after its lead has spent more than ten years in prison, is an improvement even on the movie. Eight episodes lets the team really dip deep into their well of groaners; yes, there are moments where the fun flags, but never for very long. They’ve continued running gags from the movie, including our hero’s obsession with carrying around his Blaupunkt car stereo, his crazy-gory throat ripping, and his epically bad performance in bed.
And what a time for it! My love of Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar (another title I’ve been haranguing my friends, as well as Book & Film Globe readers, with) got me thinking about the tragic dearth of slapstick humor in pop culture lately, and MacGruber fills that hole (sfx: Beavis giggle) expertly. Not for nothing is Barb & Star star Kristen Wiig the love interest here; her Vicki St. Elmo nods at Priscilla Presley’s character in the Naked Gun movies and at the cartoonish excesses of Charlie’s Angels, with her blonde feathered helmet of hair, karate kicks, and starry-eyed love of a guy who tried to throw her under the bus for a crime on their wedding day, and later gifts her a locket of his pubes.
It’s also wildly satisfying to watch a bunch of comedy nerds rip toxic masculinity to shreds. Come on: The proliferation of gun-nut memes like Rep. Lauren Boebert’s deranged Christmas card? This culture is almost too ridiculous and enraging to riff on, but not quite, thanks to Forte and co.
I can’t find any stats on MacGruber’s ratings on Peacock, but based on an unofficial survey of everyone I know, it’s not getting a ton of love outside comedy fanatics (including Comedy Bang! Bang!’s Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott). This might be because next to nobody wants to pay to stream mostly old NBC shows. Which, fair enough. But I’m telling you, pony up the $5 for a monthlong subscription and binge this, then cancel. Classic MacGruber.