Netflix Animated Series Is a Colorful Binge, But Low on Laughs
After almost four years in the pipeline, rock and roll’s first icon Elvis Presley is finally getting the small screen treatment with Netflix’s new raunchy, adult-animated comedy series Agent Elvis, premiering this weekend. But by no means is this colorful, glitzy 10-episode streaming romp starring the voice talent of Matthew McConaughey, the kind of world your grandparents once associated with Presley. Instead, it’s a Tarantino-style series featuring a barrage of bloody action sequences, animated sex care of a horny chimpanzee dilly-dallying with groupies, and profanities and drugs up the wazoo that will certainly have you “all shook up.” But even with all that modish appeal and an expected campiness stirring up entertaining situations, Agent Elvis doesn’t quite find its footing with comedy and is deprived of any bite as it’s way too light on humor with a devastatingly low laugh-to-gag ratio.
Though quick-to-binge and amusing to watch, Agent Elvis’ nearly 30-minute episodes follow our generation’s most influential artist as he trades in a signature sequined jumpsuit for a jetpack when he’s inducted into a secret government spy program via practices reminiscent of Jason Bourne. Those years Elvis was overseas for the United States Army from 1958 to 1960 were seemingly just a cover for his training as the government used celebrities like him to battle nefarious forces that threaten the U.S. Treating his spy job like any other intelligence agent would, Elvis does it all while holding down his musical career and balancing a family with Priscilla Presley (Priscilla Presley) and their infant daughter, Lisa Marie Presley.
McConaughey as Elvis is fun and adds a ton of charisma to the role, especially as he plays most charmingly with the animated version of Priscilla, voiced by the singer’s former wife. The Elvis we see in the series nailing the mannerisms and pizzazz, embodied by the Academy Award winner, is as sweet as humble pie and hates being called “The King.” With McConaughey’s honey-toned Southern drawl playing most complementary to Elvis’ family man persona, it’s a perfect marriage to the bright animation of bold hues, dark lines, and vivid colors that also gets strong design inspiration from John Varvatos for the agent’s detailed wardrobe. But he’s Elvis 2.0 and nothing like what we have ever seen in the movies. He goes full throttle into his love for karate, kicking and punching big baddies, all while still looking as sharp and dapper as ever.
Add into the mix of personalities assisting superspy Elvis for this full-tilt rock and roll tale lampooning reality, and you’ve got a hodgepodge of characters that bring the promise of shenanigans and fun through a talented, star-studded cast lending their voices. Joining McConaughey’s animated Elvis for the ride is a version of Presley’s real-world pet chimpanzee in the 1960s as the now coked-up, very trigger-happy monkey Scatter (Tom Kenny). The chimp is a weaponized, killing machine who does Elvis’ dirtiest work when the King of Rock and Roll isn’t slicing and dicing bad guys. By his side is CeCe Ryder (Kaitlin Olson), the unpredictable and highly skilled secret agent who is not a fan of his but has no choice but to work with him when he joins the TCB — also known as “The Central Bureau,” an organization of secret agents made up of influential celebrities, like Jackie Robinson, Dean Martin and Marilyn Monroe making America safe.
While it sounds like a funny joke lampooning celebrities, the caricature of Monroe’s sex appeal is tiresome and plays to one of the more offensive stereotypes of her legacy as she is an agent who sleeps with Russians to get secrets. Considering the understanding of how Agent Elvis attempts to portray Presley as more than what the public eye would see versus his dream of wanting to be a superhero with vibrant strength and fidelity to family and country, Monroe deserved that much as well instead of being reduced to a continuous superficiality using her sex as a joke.
With not a single mention of Presley’s problematic manager, Colonel Tom Parker in Agent Elvis, the authority creating stability for the performer is found in Bertie (Niecy Nash), Elvis’ agent who also doubles as his strong-willed motherly figure and perhaps, the type of character the real-life Presley needed. Nash is delightfully charming and brings a loving magnetism to Bertie, who gets herself tangled up in a “situationship” with Elvis’ TCB Commander (Don Cheadle), an unknown, mercurial spymaster who runs the covert agency and will stop at no means to ensure the secrets of the U.S. government are kept safe.
Rounding off Elvis’ very humble needs, his best friend and sidekick is the goofy but lovable Bobby Ray (Johnny Knoxville) who will do anything for him, even being a lousy stand-in for the 1969 classic, Change of Habit. Knoxville brings as much comedy as he can for the role along with his co-stars, like Jason Mantzoukas as the infamous star-turned-inventor and Agent Elvis’ gadget-maker Howard Hughes, wearing tissue boxes for shoes. These eccentric combinations offer an innate confidence for assured comedy, but even with all of that, it still falls so short.
With Presley always dreaming of being a superhero from an early age, Priscilla honors that wish with a series that brings glitzy fun but falls flat in delivering its main entrée of comedy. Blending the appeal of Archer and Hit-Monkey, Agent Elvis is zany and over the top with its alternate-history mayhem that only animation can carry out effectively, but it’s really nothing more. There are no laugh-out-loud moments, no one-liners that will stick with you, and it’s actually really upsetting. For a show that was anticipated for years and one that yours truly was eager to watch, there is not much else going for the series except for its gorgeous animation and the stellar cast, who are all comedic geniuses but that talent did not balance the writing whatsoever. Instead, the series focuses on Kingsmen-style shoot-’em-up violence that finds characters losing their limbs, tons of cartoon blood, and sex with plenty of sex talk and adult situations, which works for the campy atmosphere. But as it should be noted, Elvis, is much more wholesome, apple pie-Americana than the other characters and does not engage in the latter.
Agent Elvis is only occasionally funny amid its consistent irreverence but often falls foul to clichés and just humorless and cheap jokes that at the most, prompt a snicker and a few chuckles. This doesn’t mean the show is unwatchable or has no chance to get better if Netflix greenlights Season 2, which could happen. It just means it’s not very funny and needs to find stronger writing to honor Presley’s memory and the comedy he was capable of, as Priscilla has told outlets he had a “sick sense of humor.”
With Agent Elvis bringing up questionable moments in history that provide a way in for comic relief, like Charles Manson’s cult or the moon landing, the series just can’t quite find its footing like other adult animated comedies. Even with the writers of Archer sharing their talents across its 10-episode arc for a tongue-in-cheek series, the humor isn’t very good and there’s no particular reason it shouldn’t be, which makes it a sad case — especially when you factor in the supporting cast and talent, like Ed Helms, Kieran Culkin, Asif Ali, Chris Elliott, Fred Armisen, Simon Pegg, Craig Robinson, and Ego Nwodim, just to name a few.
Officially ordered to series by Sony Pictures Animation as an action-comedy in 2019 from co-creators John Eddie and Priscilla Presley (The Naked Gun), Agent Elvis has some serious graphic novel vibes with its explicit escapism, which makes the series attractive and inviting. Extract every Elvis Presley aspect from the show, however, and you’ll see exactly what it is. This is a series that would not work without adding Presley into the mix and feels almost like a template for any celebrity, which might be ironic as the series delves into the very commentary of celebrity culture acting as a conversation for influencing specific agendas and keeping the order.
But add the boy from Tupelo back in as a “Puppet on a String” for the Presley brand to stay young and grow into youthful fandom worship as opposed to out, and the charm of Agent Elvis is in how it subverts real-life historical events to create an alternate universe. It’s in this entertaining appeal that the show could have succeeded as it falls into satirical conspiracy theories that are hilariously bonkers, and align distinctively with our ever-pervasive culture of celebrity obsessions and a social empire of influence. Yet, no matter how many stars you pack in, the amount of cool Easter eggs dropped into the series, and the most, coolest soundtrack from Presley’s nearly 25-year musical career juxtaposed to fiery action scenes that appeal to the TikTok generation, these elements are not enough to save the show’s uneven blend of silliness and satire. Instead, the rose-colored action-comedy fantasy is simply an amusing, casual watch honoring the late performer’s wish to be a hero by saving the world. Tragically, it just could have been funnier.
Agent Elvis is now available to stream on Netflix.