Eagleheart is, even by Adult Swim standards, a weird show. This is not by accident.
Premiering in 2011, the series began as something of a bizarre Walker, Texas Ranger parody starring comedy veteran Chris Elliott — odd enough, given that it started 10 years after the Chuck Norris vehicle left the air. Eagleheart soon became something much stranger, with storylines including blood spatter as modern art, Maria Thayer’s character Susie turning into a lycanthrope as part of an undercover mission, and a surprisingly sinister Mickey Rooney.
The show looks to keep on its absurd and violent path in its third season, which kicks off tonight at midnight, but with a significant shift: Rather than a series of barely connected one-off episodes, all 10 episodes of Eagleheart: Paradise Rising, as the new season is called, will tell one serialized story, involving the bloody death of Brett Gelman’s character Brett, who apparently fell into a woodchipper. The move was partly inspired by the love of the show’s creative team for compelling dramas like Breaking Bad.
“We didn’t want to keep doing the same thing,” executive producer Jason Woliner told Spinoff Online at a press event in Burbank. “We just started writing these episodes without asking permission to do so.”
“None of us had ever worked in serialized TV, so it was a challenge for us to see if we could do it,” added executive producer Andrew Weinberg.
That change also affected the cast: The show is shot out of order, giving the actors more to keep track of during production.
“It was more important that we knew what we were doing in each scene,” Elliott said. “In season one and two you could just play it sort of goofy, or know that you’re supposed to be mad. This season you kind of had to know why you were mad.”
Key to each season of Eagleheart is that it doesn’t look like a typical TV comedy, but is shot closer to the television dramas it sort of spoofs. With the shift to a serialized story, the third season put an even greater emphasis on the visuals.
“There were some shots we just didn’t use because they were so pretty, that it felt too dramatic,” Woliner said. “How serious is serious enough without being too serious?”
The cast employs a similar approach.
“I feel like I don’t ever try to make anything funny on this show,” said Thayer, a veteran of another cult-favorite comedy show Strangers with Candy. “Which is such a weird thing to say. I don’t think I ever [say], ‘It’d be funnier if I did it like this.'”
“It’s funnier when things are just played straight,” Elliott said. “These guys, especially in this season, manage in the writing to actually make you give a shit about some of the characters. You’re not just looking at people being goofy on TV for 10 minutes. You actually are drawn in to, what is happening here? What’s going on? What’s happening in that relationship? I think if you played it for laughs, you’d lose all of that, completely.”
The season-long arc of Eagleheart: Paradise Rising started from a practical place: Gelman wasn’t initially available for the entire season due to his commitment to NBC’s since-canceled Go On.
“He is a presence in this season is all we should probably say,” Woliner said. “Which is the other exciting thing this year. We’ve never had to even deal with spoilers before, but it is part of the fun of watching it. You should really know as little as possible going in.”
“It gave the writers a place to take Maria’s character and my character together, so we had kind of an arc we didn’t have in season one or two,” Elliott said. “Season 1 and 2 was mostly me just walking around insulting Maria, and although I do plenty of that in Season 3, there’s also an arc where I kind of need her and sort of have to rely on her brains. Ugh.”
The Eagleheart team made it clear that though each episode this season picks off where the other one left off, a viewer can still theoretically watch one out of context and still enjoy it, without being aware of the larger mythology.
“Even if you’re not paying that much attention, there’s jokes, there’s weird stuff,” Woliner said. “There’s something to get out of it even if you’re not really involved.”
“I don’t think it’s weird for weird’s sake,” Weinberg added. ” When you get past the bizarreness of it, the basic stories make sense. They’re just regular jokes that are hopefully funny, and not in the 12th level of consideration.”
Still, Woliner admitted that the format shift likely “narrowed the window” of people who might enjoy the already-niche show but he seems alright with it.
“It’s a mystery to us who the fans are, really,” he said. “We love going to comic cons and doing that kind of stuff, but there’s never been anyone dressed up like a character from the show, or anything. That would be nice.”