The Pitch: The thing about MacGruber, the TV show, is that creators Will Forte, Jorma Taccone, and John Solomon did the tough part years ago. While the film they crafted in 2010 was not a box office hit, it became a cult favorite thanks to the very specific tone they were able to establish then, playing even the silliest jokes as deadpan as possible while still delivering some epic cinematic action.
Thus, the first season of the Peacock series just had to continue building on that proud tradition, while telling a slightly longer story across eight episodes. This is not to undersell the difficulty of that achievement — pop culture history is packed with examples of failed attempts to expand a short form bit into an extended narrative. See, for example, several of the films and TV shows listed on Lorne Michaels’ filmography. MacGruber, though, is in no danger of being a future embarrassment.
Gruber. Mac. Gruber: MacGruber the show picks up where MacGruber the movie left off (but if it’s been a while, don’t worry, there’s a literal recap at the beginning of the first episode featuring a very special guest star). Turns out there were some repercussions for that whole thing where the awesome-est guy alive, MacGruber (Will Forte), brutally killed Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer). But when the President’s daughter gets kidnapped, MacGruber’s there to save the day.
From there, of course, things get explosive, true to the nature of both MacGruber as a character and the genres being satirized, specifically classic ’80s action dramas starring gentlemen like Chuck Norris. There’s a slight twist to the approach, heavily emphasized by the opening credits — there’s an awful lot of classic James Bond in the mix here as well, if James Bond drank Molsons and talked a lot about his dick.
MacGruber Is a Christmas Show: That’s not a joke — whether a deliberate choice based on its potential release date or not, the series is set around the Christmas season and offers up some appropriately seasonal vibes.
The show doesn’t go full Shane Black with that element, but it adds nice color to the narrative, which is remarkably well-staged. Unlike other recent TV continuations of feature franchises (yes, Hawkeye, this is directed at you), shifting between archival clips of the original film and new footage shot for the show isn’t too distracting; both are equally cinematic.
A Colorful Cast: Forte’s post-SNL career reflects how singular a comedic voice he has, both as an actor and as a writer: While MacGruber is a literal rehash of his past work, he’s so dialed into the character that you can spend an entire scene watching his face, not sure what he’s going to do, but sure that it’ll be 100 percent true to the nature of the character, and funny as hell.
MacGruber’s pals also return, with Kristen Wiig slipping back into the role of Vicki St. Elmo so naturally, it’s easy to forget that she’s an actual goddamn movie star and not an action movie sidekick. Impossible to forget is that she’s one of the funniest people alive, both in spoken dialogue and in song.
Meanwhile, the way that Ryan Phillippe, as MacGruber bestie Dixon Piper, embraces his role as straight man opposite Wiig and Forte remains impressive, in part due to how un-show-y it is, yet also essential. Without doing anything, simply by existing in the same space as the other characters, he generates some serious laughs.
While the original cast remains strong, it’s two young bucks named Laurence Fishburne and Sam Elliott who manage to steal the show. The concept of “understanding the assignment” has rarely been demonstrated better, as both veteran actors bring the perfect amount of subtlety to even the most over-the-top moments. Real talk: Fishburne growling “I did it all for the nookie” is the ultimate distillation of everything that is great about MacGruber.
Also, shoutout to Marielle Heller as MacGruber’s tragically dead mother — another actor known for her dramatic work, who wrings brilliant comedy out of her small role simply by committing 1000 percent to said drama.
The Verdict: The one major critique to be made of MacGruber is that the eight-episode season could have pretty easily been six episodes — that’s about how much plot there is here, and many of the episodes feel a bit short in terms of length, even with the semi-regular digressions and side bits in which the show indulges.
If MacGruber were one of the greatest series of the year, this review would conclude with a demand that you, humble reader, immediately sign up for a Peacock subscription so that you can watch it as soon as it premieres. While it’s not necessarily on that level, it is worth noting that Peacock currently offers a seven-day free trial for both its ad-supported and ad-free plans — and you can easily finish watching the season in that time. Maybe twice. Just to be sure you’ve properly appreciated every single throat rip and dick punch.
Where to Watch: MacGruber premieres Thursday, December 16th on Peacock.