MacGruber Review: Well, It's Definitely Better Than the 2010 Film
Fair warning: MacGruber is shameless about its lack of nuance. It falls victim to many other Saturday Night Live sketches-to-spinoffs where it feels like it just keeps hammering you with a recurring joke for a long period of time in hopes that it invites at least a chuckle. Even if you cough, it declares that you laughed instead by its own absurd logic. I'll give credit to creators Will Forte (who also stars), John Solomon, and Jorma Taccone (both worked with Forte on SNL) to make it stretch across eight episodes on Peacock and actually showed the ability to allow its characters to develop.
The events of the series follow 10 years after the events of the 2010 Paramount film of the same name. Mac is incarcerated for going too far in killing and mutilating the corpse of Cunth (Val Kilmer), the villain from the film who killed his first wife Casey (Maya Rudolph), who makes the best of the check she cashed in the few scenes she's actually in. Mac is conditionally pardoned to go after the man who killed his mother in Enos Queeth (Billy Zane). Rejoining MacGruber since his incarceration are Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig), who since remarried while he was in prison, and Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe), who was discharged as an accessory to Mac's crimes.
Instead of Colonel Faith, who was played by the late Powers Boothe, we have Barrett Fasoose (Laurence Fishburne) who tries to keep Mac on track when it comes to the mission (and pretty much everything else). First, I'll have to give credit where it's due. There are strokes of brilliance and growth with Forte's character where he doesn't remain in scatological clown mode. Yeah, I get its part of his identity to rely on that type of humor and occasionally he gets others in on it when they're not mostly playing it straight. When Wiig pulls it off those MacGruberisms as Vicki, I found it to be more effective, because it's not within her MO. The humor does actually work. She does more than her fair share of carrying the series because she had a real progression from start to finish.
Lost in the shuffle is Dixon because Phillippe plays the straightest role that feels a bit redundant with Wiig already there. Like the 2010 film before it, he's the credible action presence that was supposed to fit that mold…until MacGruber actually embraced guns, which is when it gave up its ties to what it was spoofing in MacGyver. Once his aversion to guns is gone, there's literally no use for Dixon than to eye roll and play along as part of the gag. He's given a nickname "Checkers", because of reasons.
As far as the other characters go, Zane does everything asked for here as the stock 80s villain like Kilmer did before him. If the writers spent anywhere near the time developing Queeth as they did on Mac and Vicki, it would have been a major improvement to the series. Guess it's a fair enough point that he didn't need to, but honestly putting equal effort on all its major parts makes it memorable rather than just the typical recycled nonsense you see all the time out of most direct-to-video action schlock. Fishburne at least is allowed to tease with his straight man role at times but feels almost as wasted as Phillippe.
The last cast member worth mentioning is Sam Elliot, who provides that positive influence in Mac's life as his dad Perry. He's not much involved at the beginning but as his screen presence grows, he gets to be far more interesting. But putting the pluses and minuses together, I would have to say that MacGruber works for what it is, but this Peacock comedy feels more like a one-and-done than a series making a legitimate case for a second season.