To say I grew up an Elvis Presley fan is an understatement — I went to many a costume party dressed up as the King and spent plenty of Christmas Eves listening to his holiday tunes. But while I adore the man’s music and stage presence, I’ve never once liked a film with him in it, whether it be him as an actor or a character. Perhaps a TV show could change my mind with Netflix’s latest adult animation offering, Agent Elvis.
Set in the late 60s, the show sees Elvis Presley as a secret agent, chasing bad guys and fighting crime when he’s not performing to thousands of adoring fans. Sadly, the comedy spy show ended up being another Elvis entry unable to win me over, although it wasn’t without its moments.
Adult animated comedies are a dime a dozen these days, and Agent Elvis doesn’t have much going for it that makes it stand out from the crowd — other than having Elvis as its protagonist, of course. It’s not very funny or exciting, and a lot of its elements feel like ones we’ve seen countless times before in other (better) adult animation shows, including the most obvious one: Archer.
Agent Elvis has its title character working for a secret agent facility, which means he’s working with other agents, and the set-up makes this show very easy to compare to Archer, which is the better show in almost every respect. It’s funnier, has better characters and running jokes, has more fun action sequences, and is far easier to get invested in.
Part of that is because Agent Elvis features some very uninteresting missions — the premise of Elvis as a secret agent sounds ripe for plenty of unique missions, but most of it is just standard spy stuff: busting drug operations, stealing items from the White House, and beating up people who want to kill you. It feels like wasted potential to have your show revolve around a secret agent who’s also a larger-than-life celebrity, only to give him missions that feel like they could be carried out by anyone.
Aside from Archer, Agent Elvis also lends itself to a lot of BoJack Horseman comparisons. While it doesn’t attempt the same heavy commentary BoJack Horseman had on fame and celebrity culture, it does often attempt the same type of humor based on pop culture references.
Agent Elvis, of course, does 50s and 60s pop culture references, but plenty of its jokes follow the same joke structures BoJack Horseman had: celebrity name-drops, satirical jokes based on famous people’s personas, even just random appearances by recognizable faces.
None of the jokes are even half as clever as the ones BoJack Horseman had, and while I admit I did get a chuckle out of seeing Dean Martin point a gun at Elvis Presley, the show does go overboard with its pop culture references. Man, does this show like to name-drop. Dennis Hopper, Stanley Kubrick, Marilyn Monroe — even George Lucas makes a cameo here as an up-and-coming filmmaker.
Not only does this get annoying fast, it also poses the question: Who was this show made for? Anyone old enough to have lived through the 60s would have to be in their 60s themselves or older, but the show’s action-packed and energetic nature makes it feel like it’s aiming for a younger demographic as well.
Being in my mid-20s, I do recognize names like Martin and Hopper, but I also barely know any of their work, so a lot of these jokes feel like inside jokes I’m not a part of. The Dennis Hopper joke, for instance, is about him being a hippie, but most audience members who weren’t alive when the actor was popular will probably scratch their heads and think ‘oh, he was a hippie, was he?’
The show’s soundtrack is great, too, but that’s mostly because the majority of its tracks are by Elvis himself. They’re used in creative ways, though — his songs play in the background of multiple action sequences, so while the action sequences themselves aren’t very engrossing to watch, it’s pretty amusing to see someone get beat up while an otherwise wholesome Elvis Presley song is playing.
Agent Elvis also goes for a comic book feel with its art style — one of the first few scenes is a character reading an Archie comic book and shouting at Jughead — and this has to be one of the most successful attempts at making a film or TV show feel like a comic book in motion. Take the 2003 film Hulk which attempted to do the same thing, but the constant split-screening and overlapping transitions felt awkward and forced, especially since the film was live-action.
Agent Elvis already benefits from being in 2D animation, so the comic book elements feel seamless. One of my favorite moments was when a character talked about the layout of a plane, while the blueprint of the plane showed on the top half of the screen. It fit so well, it felt like reading something from Image Comics. Agent Elvis pretty much nails it presentation-wise, with several scenes feeling straight out of the pages of a comic issue.
However, the show’s biggest failure is that it doesn’t have any characters worth caring about. None of them even feel like characters, more like a repetitive set of jokes: Elvis names-drops a lot and uses his celebrity status to get through missions, his fellow spy CeCe is sarcastic and sardonic and is most definitely not an Elvis fan, Elvis’s ape sidekick speaks in monkey talk and constantly acts wild, and so on.
Unfortunately, Agent Elvis doesn’t do much with its fun premise, resulting in a show that’s not very funny, exciting, or even unique. The show feels largely like a waste of time when you could be watching a bunch of funnier and better-written shows. If you want action spy stuff, watch Archer instead. If you want celebrity satire, watch BoJack Horseman. And if you want the King himself, you’re probably better off watching the live-action movie that got nominated for eight awards at the 95th Academy Awards.
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Agent Elvis looks like an angel but doesn't walk and talk like one, and while it isn't so terrible that it's the devil in disguise, it also isn't clever or funny enough to be worth a watch, especially when Netflix already has so many other better adult animated comedies.
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