When Adult Swim's Eagleheart returns tonight, the show will feel a little different. For one, the season premiere is the first 30-minute episode (it usually runs 15 minutes), but the major change to Eagleheart this season is that the writers are telling one long, serialized story like a TV drama.
I've seen four episodes of the 10-part season, called Paradise Rising, and it finds Eagleheart expanding the scope of its storytelling and character development while going off into some stranger, more unexpected tangents than the show has explored in the past. It's still the fast-paced, joke-dense series it was in seasons one or two, but the focus on an ongoing plot and the writers' willingness to let the story take some hilarious detours makes Eagleheart: Paradise Rising sharper and funnier than the show has ever been.
Paradise Rising starts with Chris Monsanto (Chris Elliott) trying to clear his name after the death of a fellow US Marshal, and the first episode finds him wrapped up in a scheme from an unambitious, old-timey con man, while Chris's partner Susie Wagner (Maria Thayer) struggles with his involvement in the murder. The story goes from there, taking a lot of twists and turns. A chunk of the episode focusing on the con man and leaving the show's regular characters behind for a bit is particularly funny and a well-executed out-of-left-field genre exercise. Subsequent episodes get even weirder and better.
The season premiere is Eagleheart's first 30-minute episode, and while the show goes right back to its regular 15 minutes (or 11, if you take out commercials) for most of the rest of the season, it's still a delight to see them tackle the longer format and succeed. Eagleheart's writers, Conan alums Michael Koman and Andrew Weinberg (who created the show) and Human Giant's Jason Woliner (who also directs the episodes), have talked about how this isn't the kind of show you can have on in the background. If you look away from the screen for a second, you may miss a key plot point and get totally lost. That's as true for the half-hour premiere, which sees Eagleheart running at the same frenetic pace it has at 15 minutes instead of slowing things down a bit. At least one more episode this season is a half-hour long, maybe two. It may not be worth it or possible to expand Eagleheart's running time for good, but the longer episode does everything the show does well while giving it a little bit of room to experiment.
In addition to being more ambitious with their storytelling, the Eagleheart crew has upped the ante when it comes to special effects too. The show has always looked sharp and featured plenty of elaborate moments, but the new episodes are chock-full of cartoonish action that looks as good as anything on TV, let alone better than you'd think an 11-minute cable show's budget would allow.
At a Q&A/screening of the new season this week, Chris Elliott was asked about Eagleheart's relation to his cult hit early '90s Fox comedy Get a Life, and he said the Eagleheart's writers have taken the tone and style of Get a Life and surpassed it. Eagleheart differs from Get a Life in a lot of ways (the action, the fast pace), but I'd have to agree with Chris Elliott. With Paradise Rising, Eagleheart has grown into one of TV's funniest shows and a fitting spiritual successor to Get a Life. I can't wait to see the series continue to evolve from here.