After a recent string of very solid episodes, “Old Gary” ends the second season of Eagleheart on a less-than-stellar note. It’s fine, just not quite up to the standard set by “Blues” or “Honor Thy Marshal.” Plenty of jokes still land, but the familiar formula of an Eagleheart episode goes more unnoticed when the laughs fly fast in the short running time. If not, then despite a setting and theme the show hasn’t sent up before, it feels like a rote walk in the park following some easy to follow guidelines.
The premise is simple: Chris, Brett, and Susie go to the great outdoors. Chris hates the woods, and Brett even calls trees the “Starbucks of the forest” since they’re everywhere. But as the loggers tell the marshals, the woods aren’t safe—they’re being hounded by an aggressive pack of hippies, including Bruce Green (better known as the guy who repeatedly suggests burning down Eagleton’s fence—“You know…set it ablaze?”—in Parks and Recreation).
The early scenes have two small competing arcs. Monsanto wants to help the loggers cut down the forest and get rid of the hippies. It’s the standard conservative generalities taken from Walker, Texas Ranger. Of course, Brett follows Chris’ lead, but Susie is defiantly supportive of the hippies.
Susie tries to demonstrate her love for the natural products that the hippies make and foolishly decides to buy into their gambit. At first, she’s delighted by their quaint sensibilities, but she’s epically annoyed that they don’t take credit cards. Then, after the marshals figure out that the hippies conspired to murder a logger and Susie’s back scratcher is the guy’s severed arm, they offer no refunds.
But the allure of the forest is too much for Monsanto. Specifically, one tree, Old Gary, catches his eye, and after a night of passion, he wakes up naked and covered in leaves, ashamed of himself. Chris isn’t a dendrophiliac, at least not outside of the jokes in this episode, but he’s not alone. Some of the hippies and even one of the loggers also had sex with Old Gary, and what’s worse is that the tree is pregnant and everyone but Chris wants to shirk the responsibility of the hybrid tree baby. But not Monsanto, so in the typically batshit crazy final minutes he builds a cabin out of Old Gary’s remains and raises the tree child until it leaves the nest. Then he sits in the cabin for centuries until he’s rooted to his spot and becomes a tree. At this point, that’s standard operation procedure for Eagleheart.
During all the tree-loving revelations at the end, somebody yells out “Is that why we’re here? I don’t even know anymore.” It’s one of the first times in all the mind-bending switchbacks that someone questions the delicately crazy structure of an episode. Though Eagleheart tries very hard to explore a wide range of settings, not every iteration of its standard plot structure is equally funny. There’s setup, complication, and a surreal twist to each episode, and that’s fine as long as the jokes land consistently, and “Old Gary” wasn’t on the same level as many episodes this season.
At the start of the second season I wondered what Eagleheart had to add to the quarter-hour, quick fire comedy lineup on Adult Swim and elsewhere. Instead of going deeper into the bloody, cheesy Walker, Texas Ranger parody that made up so many of the episodes from the first season, the show drifted more and more from the standard marshal mockery. Instead, it delved into wildly different genres, taking the violence down just a bit in order to invest in surreality. That paid off significantly in some memorably hilarious scenes, and a few episodes that I would count among the funniest of the year so far. It's not a wholly consistent show, but when it manages to spread over so many different genre experiments, at least its ambition shines through.
- For what it’s worth, this was the fourth episode in terms of production order in this batch of twelve. “Honor Thy Marshal” was the last one produced, which would’ve ended the season much like Childrens Hospital mockumentary episodes. Perhaps this one got shuffled to the end of the run because it was a little weaker and would have interrupted what was otherwise a very strong back half.
- After Monsanto tells Brett to swallow his tongue, Susie says she hates everyone in her life. She’s had that moment of clarity a few times this season, and I’ve somehow still laughed every time. Her melancholy has always made for good humor.
- My top 3 episodes of the season would be “Blues,” “Tramps,” and “Exit Wound The Gift Shop.” My least favorite was “Little Dude.”
- Thanks for reading along these past few months, and putting up with my many references to the ways Eagleheart resembles Walker, Texas Ranger. I really grew to appreciate Eagleheart and its particular surreal spin on the quarter-hour bite of comedy.