Agent Elvis Review: Finally a Cool Elvis

Elvis, acting as a vigilante, kicks down the door

I’m halfway through “Agent Elvis” on Netflix, and, dang, the pop culture figure I’d most like to have a conversation with is Priscilla Presley.

Priscilla is listed as a co-creator and executive producer on Agent Elvis, and it’s a really fascinating way to memorialize your dead ex-husband. As the series opens, Elvis is bored with his life making mediocre musical comedies, and he and his psychotic monkey pal are working as vigilantes against early 1970s drug runners.

Elvis is then recruited for a top-secret spy agency run by a deranged Don Cheadle and assisted by a perfectly cast Kaitlin Olsen. The snark and ultra-violence are turned all the way up, kind of like a B-tier Adult Swim show. The closest comparison would be Venture Bros (before it became a hangout show) or Archer (before it also became a hangout show).

It’s classed up by the voice cast and some nice mid-century pop culture references. Elvis’ disdain for Robert Goulet is a nice touch. Elvis vs. Charles Manson is the smackdown you didn’t know you needed.

The show’s best trick is scoring fight scenes to real Elvis songs. My favorite so far is a fight scene set to “Change of Habit,” the theme song to a corny movie where he romances a nun.

It’s not a hagiography – Elvis is impulsive, macho, slightly out of touch – but they leave out the big flaws. We never see him doing prescription drugs, and while he doesn’t spend much time with Lisa Marie, he’s not depicted as the absent father he is in the Elvis movie. He supports Richard Nixon and the war in Vietnam, which is accurate, but he’s willing to change his mind when given new information.   

What’s really notable about “Agent Elvis’” how cool Elvis is. Matthew McConaughey turns in an understated performance, somehow getting a smoldering gaze with just his voice. Elvis is usually a still presence among the chaos of the show. Elvis is off his pop culture prime, but he’s still cooler than the other side of the pillow. He’s dead sexy. And he’s super-good at karate.

This Elvis is funny and flawed, but he’s not a joke. That’s the difference.

Which brings us back to Priscilla. She made a show about a man who charmed her as a teen, married her and broke her heart – then set her up for life. A man who’s been dead nearly 50 years. Is this how she remembers him? We should all be so lucky.

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