Eagleheart: “Bringing Down Bunju”
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Eagleheart: “Bringing Down Bunju”

All accusations of joke thievery and filmography sins aside, Dane Cook managed to produce some genuinely hilarious moments on his debut album, Harmful If Swallowed. The best sequence is a four-minute stretch on childhood toys and games: the Slip ’N Slide, Speak & Spell, Operation, and Monopoly—the last one of the most tedious popular board games. Anyone not in that 5 percent of people who get off on the despotic joy of greedily winning Monopoly can sympathize with the mounting irritation that comes with playing such a meticulous and lackluster excuse for diverting fun. “Bringing Down Bunju” takes that frustration to its surreal extreme with Scribblers 8, a game so mind-numbingly incomprehensible that it drives players to madness and can bring about nationwide war.

What makes the Scribblers 8 plot so surprising is that it’s buried beneath a surface plot that almost feels too heavy for the show: Monsanto and the other marshals bringing in Bunju, a man who turned his nation “into his own personal death parlor.” It is incredibly ambitious to take on a topic like brutal African dictators in a 12-minute comedy series, and even more daunting to try and explain that unspeakable violence through something as trivial as a board game. But Eagleheart manages to acquit itself well with the material, always playing the violence as comically enhanced, like Kill Bill.

Monsanto and Brett guard Bunju before his execution, and get roped into playing Scribblers 8, while Susie goes to her Uncle Avery to find out the history of the board game. That history can’t come about in a simple fashion—instead, Susie watches her uncle kill himself after he hears the game has reached the United States, then he watches a videotape outlining the terrible story of Scribblers 8, before killing himself again in the video.

Turns out Bunju isn’t really an Idi Amin surrogate—even when Susie puts his hands around her neck, he can’t bring himself to choke her. He’s just a humble game designer, so tortured by his rejection on Invention Hero years ago that he rose to power and installed Scribblers 8 as his country’s official board game, outlawing all others. In the aftermath, the game caused so much widespread anger over how confusing the rules are that violence broke out. Bunju doesn’t take baths in the blood of his enemies—it’s just tomato juice to keep up the appearance of vicious dictatorship, when really, it’s all the work of an evil board game.

Of course, no episode of Eagleheart would be complete without a fantastical final sequence. To fill that quota, Scribblers 8 comes into corporeal existence at Bunju’s execution, trying to bring chaos to the entire world through nonsensical rules and an overly complicated game that has no end. But the marshals have realized that board games are dumb and families only play them so they don’t have to talk, and then utter the Jumanji phrase to end the game and defeat the metaphysical projection: “This game sucks. Let’s do something else.”

Eagleheart has quietly been on some kind of roll in the back half of this second season. Starting with “Blues,” every week has offered the same layered, surreal mini-structure, but the show has leaped through a myriad of genres to demonstrate a wide range of parody success. Hollywood, training videos, board games, dictators, the art world, and more are at the show’s disposal, and the interplay between Monsanto, Brett, and Susie is always quippy enough to land a few one-liners and put-downs within the ever-changing style.

Childrens Hospital has done a lot of work to deepen the characters in its world, which has made it extremely successful within the quarter-hour format, but Eagleheart has found the same level of success by doing almost the complete opposite. The characters change rapidly to fit the genre of the week, to the point where the show can be trusted to land anywhere within a wide range of topics and still create laughs.

Stray observations:

  • Okay, one last thing about Dane Cook: Mr. Brooks isn’t terrible, but the guy has never been in a good movie. He’s in Torque, Employee of the Month, and Good Luck Chuck. I wouldn’t wish that albatross trifecta on my worst enemy, and I’m not optimistic for Next Caller.
  • The corporeal form of Scribblers 8 gets what might be my favorite line of the season so far: “Monopoly will play Scattergories against checkers, and chute will lie down with ladder.”
  • Eagleheart constantly throws barbs at Susie—forgetting her in the trunk of the car, the argumentative voice-over narrator—but she does solve this mystery, which subtly undercuts that joke about her abilities as a marshal.

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