Sometimes the IP-driven days of streaming can be very generous, in ways that we could not have expected five years ago. The latest example is “MacGruber,” a new series that is essentially a four-hour movie based on the 2010 cult action-comedy character borne from bite-sized “Saturday Night Live” skits. For long-held worries that one of the best action-comedies in years wouldn’t get a sequel, Peacock now gives its character a massive, totally on-brand treatment. Best of all, it’s just as infectiously self-amusing as the movie, blitzing through all the countless jokes and throat-ripping, silly macho gesturing, and terrified nudity that it so pleases. There are no references to the almighty “KFBR392” joke from the original, but throughout eight cinematic episodes, "MacGruber" the show is about as stupidly funny as you would hope.
Co-creators Will Forte, Jorma Taccone, and John Solomon continue the story of the American wannabe hero by building more of the backstory, including that of how his mother (played by Marielle Heller) was murdered when he was a boy, an act that “destroyed” his father. This past comes back when MacGruber faces off against Brigadier Commander Enos Queeth (Billy Zane), a friend of his dad and a former teammate of MacGruber’s before MacGruber left him to die with others. Now Queeth wants a certain poisonous gas that MacGruber is inexplicably in possession of. To defeat Queeth and his plan, MacGruber enlists the help of his estranged partners like his ex-wife Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) and Dixon Piper (Ryan Philippe). MacGruber faces some animosity from General Barrett Fasoose (Laurence Fishburne), who has begrudgingly brought Forte's character into the fold, and is also living with Vicki.
All of this is presented with the same orange and blue sheen of the original, to place him in a Michael Bay universe, and that becomes one of many ways that the series more or less continues what the movie was giving viewers (Taccone, who directs many episodes in the series, directed the original film). The action in general is well done too, a part of how this show uses its self-aware nature and sharpness to then actualize the very dumb, very silly violence that is MacGruber’s raison d’etre.
As someone used to scouring the 90-minute movie for more jokes to laugh about, it’s strange to have so many good one-liners, bizarre scenarios, and inspired performance moments from Forte and co. to sift through here. It was always a story that thrived on its fast-and-furious nature, but this series keeps much of that energy with its twists (the main villain keeps changing in surprising ways) and also humor. The flaws here are more from the expanse: a character who could use some punching up here (Zane's character seems like a missed opportunity), or a strand of plotting that seems out of control there. But it’s only in the moments that fill in backstory about personal drama and family that it starts to feel a little rambling, as it tries to give some focus to relationships that are nonetheless a part of an overall sarcastic world, where the non-action scenes should be as funny and punchy as the blowing up sequences. So while it might be amusing to see characters played by Kristen Wiig and Laurence Fishburne work through their love life, it also reads like a show killing time.
But when it gets back to Forte and whatever dimwitted plan is forming in MacGruber's head, this series proves why the character deserves such an epic resurrection, and a second season. Forte has created such a unique sense of humor with this character, this soldier of fortune who mutters one-liners to himself as if he’s living in the gory, hypersexual action movie that he’s seen a thousand too many times. You can never predict what prim, ridiculous insult will come out of his mouth (“little f**king dumbass Dilbert fan”) or what over-the-top way of violence he will unleash as nonetheless the dumbest guy in the room. The show almost hints at a type of timelessness to himself, that he wasn’t only parodying Michael Bay jingoism or the series "MacGyver," but all the ridiculous ideas of the fabled American hero. MacGruber is the curdled id of all who came before him, and the writers and creators still have plenty of reflective gags about that significance in their arsenal. He is our idiot.
After all of these years, “MacGruber” is still a mighty funny idea for an action hero, and it’s entertaining and heartening to see him get to play on a scale. But I should warn, that as much as we might have missed the character, it’s not recommended for binging. You gotta let this show and its rhythms constantly pop, or otherwise it'll seem like just any other comedy show, just another silly character. I recommend that you take "MacGruber" in pieces, like the special treat that it is.
All of season one screened for review. "MacGruber" premieres today on Peacock.