When MacGruber was introduced to the world in a series of Saturday Night Live sketches, the joke was its brevity. Over the course of about a minute, Will Forte’s MacGruber would embarrass himself, parody the classic 80’s series McGyver, then accidentally blow himself and his team up through his own stupidity. As MacGruber has expanded into his own 2010 film – which, fittingly, was also a bomb – and now a Peacock series premiering today, the character has become all about absurd grandiosity, whether in the ridiculous ways the character kills his enemies, his insane speeches, or the larger-than-life villains that he comes across. This is a series that begins with the words “this is the story of the greatest man to ever walk the earth,” and MacGruber would almost certainly agree with that statement about himself.
MacGruber has gone from commercial-length sketches to an entire series, and like the character the series is named after, it’s almost surprising how long this has survived. As the scope of MacGruber grows now into an eight-episode series for Peacock, the question becomes if expanding MacGruber might be too much of a good thing. While with MacGruber, the jokes might be largely the same, and the story is almost non-existent, you’d have to be a freakin’ turd to not at least enjoy what creators Forte, Jorma Taccone, and John Solomon are doing with MacGruber.
MacGruber has been in jail for the last decade, after murdering Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer) by shooting him off a cliff with a machine gun, throwing a grenade at his body, then peeing on the remains. While MacGruber has been locked up, his wife Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) has moved on and married General Barrett Fasoose (Laurence Fishburne), while Ryan Phillippe’s Dixon Piper is now a drivers-ed teacher with a wife and child.
MacGruber is finally let out of prison when the president’s daughter and dog are kidnapped, and is sent on a suicide mission to get them back. What starts as a simple hostage exchange leads MacGruber to one of his biggest enemies – Brigadier Commander Enos Queeth (Billy Zane) – and on a throat-ripping adventure to save the world.
One of the main complaints about movies and TV shows based on comedy sketches is that these adaptations can often feel like little more than a collection of bits strung together. As much fun as 2010’s MacGruber was, that was also the case, and at times, Peacock’s MacGruber can feel the same way. This new format, however, does allow these bits to breathe a bit more and explore various types of action films to parody. For example, MacGruber’s third episode “Brimstone” becomes more of a First Blood spoof than a McGyver one, and the fourth episode, “The Scientist,” puts MacGruber, Vicki, and Dixon in their own Mission: Impossible-style heist.
Yet for the most part, Peacock’s MacGruber is hitting many of the same jokes that made the movie a cult favorite. The action may be bigger, and the jokes slightly more ridiculous, but that’s to be expected in MacGruber’s biggest story yet. We know that MacGruber will go over-the-top with his insults, underperform when the bullets start flying, and will likely disappoint everyone in his general vicinity. Even though MacGruber can at times feel like an elongated version of the film, these jokes still land, the idiocy of MacGruber still works, and the insanity of this adventure remains entertaining throughout the eight episodes.
But this foolishness largely works because of Forte’s dedication to being an enjoyable douchebag, and his over-confidence and catastrophic failures never get old throughout the series. MacGruber has always been a one-note character, but Forte can make that one-note sing. MacGruber also gives Wiig’s Vicki much more agency, as she’s torn between her current and ex-husband, but Vicki is also given far more to do in the field on this adventure. Wiig perfectly matches Forte’s lunacy, and can often seem just as confounded and chaotic as Forte.
While Forte and Wiig can get as big as they want in these characters, it’s those characters that have to play these bombastic scenarios with a straight face that makes MacGruber really work. Phillippe’s ability to be the only one with any common sense in this universe remains just as funny as it was in the film, especially when MacGruber keeps piling on the irritations. But maybe the biggest surprise of MacGruber is just how brilliantly Fishburne and Sam Elliott work in this world. Both are asked to be a part of some incredibly ridiculous scenarios, and again, what makes them work so well is just how straight they play their ludicrous roles in this series.
Even though MacGruber packs each episode with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, and preposterous action, the series still feels spread a bit too thin. Did this need to be eight episodes? Probably not. Is this going to contain any surprises for anyone who saw the 2010 film? Likely no. But Forte’s arrogant action hero remains hysterical after all these years, even if we’re frequently being given the same joke just in a different way, and Phillippe, Fishburne, and Elliott’s ability to play their roles with complete conviction never grow old. MacGruber is all about making the most with very little, and the MacGruber series certainly knows how to recycle what has worked in the past effectively and with hilarious results.
All episodes of MacGruber premiere December 16 exclusively on Peacock.