[Note: Although Harvey Birdman, Attorney General doesn’t air on Adult Swim until tomorrow night, it’s currently streaming on the Adult Swim web site.]
Whooooo is the man in the suit? Who is the cat with the beak? Do you really want to feel him?
Do you even remember who he is?
Admittedly, it’s been 11 long, unpleasantly eventful years since Harvey Birdman last took the case—or drew breath, for that matter, since his show’s original 39-episode run ended with him getting plowed into by a bus back in 2007. That’s the sort of life-ending injury that a lot of Harvey’s early Adult Swim contemporaries could shrug off as nothing more than one more nihilistic joke, but Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law was always marginally more interested in playing fair with its own storytelling stakes. (That’s an extremely relative distinction, given the narrative chaos of an Aqua Teen Hunger Force or Sealab 2021, but still.) And so it’s not surprising to learn that the show’s new special, Harvey Birdman, Attorney General, does, indeed, address how Harvey is up and flapping around again, while also delivering a rapid-fire series of familiar in-jokes, legal silliness, and even a smidge of the light political mockery its title promises.
Unfortunately, those tuning in looking for hard-hitting governmental comedy are the ones most likely to be disappointed by the half-hour HB, AG. The special’s satire never gets much deeper than the initial premise, which sees deranged billionaire Phil Ken Sebben wake up one morning to find himself America’s “46.5th President,” an unhappy (and unremembered) rise to power that he immediately starts trying to get out of in the most destructive ways possible. And while it pokes plenty of fun at the (literally, as it turns out) mindless American citizens who unwittingly voted a self-serving madman into power, the special feints away from any more pointed critique in favor of focusing its ire on Harvey’s old office mate Peter Potamus. Peter was always Harvey Birdman’s most convenient stand-in for easily frustrated alpha male bullshit, so it’s only natural to see him sliding into the role of an Alex Jones yell-a-like, one who helps mastermind the entire plot as part of an effort to unload more red hats and other merch on the gullible public. Politics come and go, the special suggests, but assholes on the grift are timeless. (This message brought to you by an AOL/Time Warner Company.)
Harvey gets roped into the nonsense when Phil starts playing chicken with the fate of the entire planet, threatening to nuke Washington unless his old punching bag can find a way to “inaugurpeach” him. (He never got a proper inauguration, see, so he figures he might as well kill two birds with one ICBM.) And so Harvey ditches the tranquil New England life where he’s been hanging out for the last 11 years (complete with an unnamed wife who exists as little more than an unsatisfying joke about the way his life has supposedly evolved), performing a tour of his oldest friends and foes in order to unravel the plot.
It’s here that Attorney General makes its real priorities clear: Serving as a reunion showcase for one of the best voice casts to ever grace an animated series. It’s remarkable how right everybody sounds, from Gary Cole—whose Harvey sounds like he could have wrapped up recording on season 4 last week—to consistent guest star all-stars like Peter MacNicol, John Michael Higgins, and Paget Brewster. (In a typical Harvey Birdman kick ’em while he’s down moment, it turns out that Judy/Birdgirl is the actual Attorney General, and Harvey’s just her assistant.) A few of these—like the digression out to X The Eliminator’s tropical island—feel a little shoehorned, sure, but it’s worth it to get these weirdos back on the screen after too long away. It’s just a shame that not everybody could be back; it would have been nice to hear Michael McKean and Lewis Black reprise their roles as Spyro and the Deadly Duplicator, too.
The obvious stand-out vocally, though, is Stephen Colbert, who returns both for his role as Phil, and as shrinking-obsessed attorney-turned-event-planner Myron Reducto. Colbert’s schedule-dictated semi-absence was the worst thing about the show’s final season, but he returns here in force, and with an energy undiminished by the passage of time. Those worried that a decade of respectable TV comedy might have dulled the edges of the Late Show host’s verbal mania will be happily surprised, too, as he gleefully tears into every “Ha ha!” and “Back off!” Creators Michael Ouweleen and Erik Richter seem just as pleased to have their MVP back in the fold, even giving him a big musical duet—with himself—that’s the special’s most joyfully absurd moment.
But really, that sense of timelessness extends to almost all of Harvey Birdman: Attorney General. It’s striking how much of the special feels like the show is picking up right where it left off back in 2007, from the in-joke signifiers—the bear, the tiny detective, the clown car—to the way it slips back easily into its own quickfire, absurdist rhythms. Even the intentional clusterfuck of an ending, which suggests that Phil might have set the whole thing up, possibly as part of a plan to promote his James Patterson-wannabe airport novels, is of a piece with a show that would end itself by slamming a bus into its hero—only to see him rise again when America (sort of) needs him most.
- The special’s most euphoric moment comes eight minutes in, when Harvey’s new digital “assistant” busts out the updated reprise of the show’s brassy theme tune.
- Meanwhile, we open with a little Heraclitus, in the form of Phil’s dream turtle, warning that you can never go home again. (And our first “Ha ha!”)
- Potamus’ HippoWars offers up “populist, shadily financed wisdom” that “speaks truth to power except when truth becomes inconvenient to power,” which, again, sounds about right, and as specific as any of the special’s political jabs get.
- Harvey has spent the last 10 years ghostwriting books about train stations and airports for Phil. His titles include Final Approach; Violent, Deadly People; Full, Upright And Dead; Hit Or Missile; Cross Death And All Fall; Terror On The Tarmac; Peanuts, Pretzels, Or Death; Scare Pocket; Approved For Bump Off; One Personal Item; Dial MTA For Murder; Overheadless Compartment; Cleared For Stabbing; Ice Or No Ice; Fright Train; Full Scream Ahead; Die Priority; Connecting Fright; Frequent Dier; The Slayover; The Terminal Station; Fright Plan; Greyhound Of The Baskervilles; Exit To The Fear; Violent, Deadly Peep Hole; and my personal favorite: Fright Attendant.
- “Come to Papa Tongue!”
- Oh, and Holy Crap, They’re Dead.
- Reducto, obviously, is drawn to Phil’s “tiny hands.”
- As with most things in life, Amazon only makes the situation worse (with Alibaba quickly following suit).
- “You weren’t supposed to get this far!”
- Mentok’s quite the silver fox these days. (He’s also the one responsible for bringing Harvey back to life, which is almost kind of sweet.)
- “The perfect crime! Until I told you about it.”
- Peanut’s apparently spent the last decade running in circles, celebrating Harvey getting smooshed. (Also, the special de-widescreens itself when we return to the offices of Sebben & Sebben, which is a nice touch.)
- Black Vulcan was America’s last president, stepping out of a very familiar presidential portrait to save the day.
- X has crossed out and replaced the comma on his “Welcome, Birdman” sign at least three times.
- And that’s a wrap on Harvey Birdman: Attorney General. See you all in 11 years. Ha ha, unless we’re all dead!