‘Agent Elvis’ offers creative spin on history and singer’s career

Written By Rachel Ross, Co Features/A&E Editor

Austin Butler says Elvis is cool again, in the unnaturally deep southern twang he’s held onto since portraying him. Like Freddie Mercury and Elton John before him, Elvis’ biopic has seemingly thrown him back into the modern zeitgeist, as following on the coattails of the film is Netflix’s new animated series “Agent Elvis,” which premiered on the platform on March 17.

“Agent Elvis” is a revisionist exploration of key elements of the singer’s career, as well as landmark historical events of the time, in the same vein as “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” (not just because both feature the Manson’s). When Elvis is recruited to be a spy, he is thrown into a series of missions relevant to the period, such as having to retrieve a sensitive document from Richard Nixon’s desk in the White House, or aiding in faking the moon landing. Along the way, Elvis becomes suspicious of the agency he’s working for, believing they may be withholding information from him. 

It’s definitely out there as far as ideas go, which is what drew me to it in the first place; I don’t really know anything about Elvis or have any particular interest in him, I just wanted to watch this to see what it could possibly be. Turns out, it’s even weirder in execution than explanation, yet somehow, it still kind of works. 

Matthew McConaughey lends his voice to Elvis, a match-up that works pretty perfectly; especially for this type of thing, with a light, comedic tone, I can’t think of anyone better to take the part. Kaitlin Olson of “Always Sunny in Philadelphia” fame voices Cece, another spy from the agency that often accompanies Elvis on his adventures. Other notable actors involved include Don Cheadle, Niecy Nash, Pricilla Presley, and Tom Kenny, Mr. Spongebob himself, as Scatter the monkey. 

The show’s sense of comedy leans heavily on the darker side, especially when it draws on references to the time period. I was a bit taken aback by it initially; it just wasn’t what I was expecting. I haven’t seen much of “Archer”, but I assume that’s what they were kind of trying to go for; sort of an “incompetent team stumbles through mission and somehow succeeds” energy. I found Matthew McConaughey and Niecy Nash to have the best comedic timing of the group, with Kaitlin Olson having the worst. I don’t know anything about “Always Sunny” or how she is in it, but I did not enjoy her character in this. I found her to be incredibly annoying, and often dragged otherwise entertaining episodes down with attempts to appeal to “relatable millennial humor.” I would have enjoyed the show a lot more without her character’s inclusion. 

The animation was pretty solid; it felt unique and fresh, which is seemingly harder and harder to come by these days. The action sequences had a good energy to them, often drawing upon spy movie or superhero comic cliches. 

As for the pop culture references, I actually found them to be pretty fun and unique, which isn’t usually the case for me. I appreciate that nothing felt overblown or overdone; references were used to serve the plot of the episode, not to shove in the audience’s face. I think the revisionist angle of the show was a fun way to go, and contributes to a lot of what makes it unique and noteworthy. It was fun seeing how they played with certain events or aspects of Elvis’ career. 

That being said, I’m both appreciative and wary of Priscilla Presley’s involvement with the show, being an executive producer. On one hand, I’m glad Netflix didn’t just swipe Elvis’ persona and livelihood for their show; to see that his wife, someone obviously very close to him, is behind the scenes and gives her stamp of approval made it feel less exploitative. However, on the other hand, it’s likely Priscilla’s involvement led to some bias infusion along the way. The show takes jabs at Elvis here and there, making fun of his larger than life persona, as well as acknowledges criticisms or shortcomings of the singer here and there, but some of these inclusions feel more like PR stunts than anything. 

For example, in the episode featuring Richard Nixon, Elvis starts out singing his praises; he refuses to acknowledge any of Cece’s criticisms about him and the questionable things he’s done. However, by the end of the episode, Elvis has switched sides, deciding that Cece was right, and Nixon really isn’t that great of a guy. For me, something like this takes the idea of revisionist history too far. Making a fun new timeline of events is one thing, but changing someone’s personality seemingly in an attempt to make them look like a better person is another. As far as I can tell, Elvis was through and through with his support of Nixon; he didn’t have a change of heart like the show suggests. This is where the idea of revisionist history gets dangerous, when instead of changing the narrative for fun, it does so to try and change the audience’s perception of a person and who they actually were. For the most part, the revisionism stayed in the realm of “light fun”, but there were definitely a few instances where it felt as though it had an agenda. 

Besides that however, overall, I found “Agent Elvis” to be a passably entertaining watch, with some unique ideas or concepts; it’s not the greatest show in the world, but if you’re looking for a new quick watch on Netflix, you could do worse than this one.