‘Harvey Birdman: Attorney General’ Review: Fiction Is (Almost) Stranger Than Reality

     October 12, 2018

harvey-birdman-attorney-general-reviewAn unstable billionaire has risen to the highest political office in the United States, seemingly overnight, only to surround himself with a cast of cartoonish characters masquerading as advisors. As luck (or satirical scripting) would have it, that’s also the plot of the upcoming Adult Swim special, Harvey Birdman: Attorney General. Look for it this weekend on Sunday, October 14th at midnight.

This half-hour one-off brings everyone’s favorite feathered attorney back into action after over a decade away. But Gary Cole‘s mild-mannered and well-meaning if occasionally inept superhero-turned-super attorney won’t be battling in the cartoon courtroom. No, this time, he’ll be in the Oval Office, as part of Stephen Colbert‘s megalomaniac billionaire President Phil Ken Sebben’s cabinet as this country’s next Attorney General.

Oddly enough, President and ghost-written bestselling author Ken Sebben hasn’t hired Birdman to help him do his job as the 46.5th Commander in Chief, but to help him get out of it. It’s up to Harvey Birdman and his team to find a way to remove President Phil Ken Sebben from office, either before everyone realizes that this was all some sort of terrible mistake, or before they’re all annihilated with the press of a big red button.

harvey-birdman-attorney-general-review

Image via Adult Swim

It’s fantastic seeing the core cast back in action in this special, but fans of the original series will also delight to see Mentok the Mindtaker (John Michael Higgins), Birdgirl (Paget Brewster), Peter Potamus (Chris Edgerly), X the Eliminator (Peter MacNicol) and a super special appearance by Black Vulcan (the one and only Phil LaMarr). The special was created and executive produced by Michael Ouweleen and Erik Richter, with Richard Ferguson-Hull and Evan Adler also serving as executive producers. The team picks up right where they left off with the series and delivers a mile-a-minute laffer that you’re going to want to watch a few times just to catch all the visual gags, “multiple entendres”, and not-so-subtle jabs at contemporary politics.

Harvey Birdman: Attorney General moves at a breakneck pace, fitting with that of the original series. Since it would be impossible to center the plot on the latest insanity in the 24/7 news cycle–something that Showtime’s animated production Our Cartoon President does better than most–the special opts for its own brand of insanity that has (thankfully) yet to fully play out in the real world. Essentially, Birdman is brought out of (a sad, and eventually becoming deeply depressing) retirement to impeach President Phil Ken Sebben during his own inauguration ceremony, resulting in what is history’s only “Inaugurpeachment.”

You can tell from the get-go that the signature Harvey Birdman flavor and frenetic pace is there, but you can also easily connect the dots to real-life inspirations. For example, Ken Sebben is an obvious stand-in for Trump, right down to the bright red hats Made in China; Peter Potamus is a red-faced, vein-bulged, radio personality akin to the Twitter-banned Alex Jones; there’s a Keebler Elf standing in for one of the fairy-folk in disguise, Jeff Sessions, etc. The rotating cast of characters in the cabinet soon take a back seat to Harvey Birdman’s antics once he puts aside his lucrative ghostwriting career and takes Phil’s offer to join him in DC.

harvey-birdman-attorney-general-review

Image via Adult Swim

The walk-and-talk pattern of dialogue that borrows from Aaron Sorkin‘s West Wing works in lockstep with Harvey Birdman‘s style, but the jokes and sharp satirical barbs fly so fast that you’ll have to rewind or watch it again to catch them all. Some are clever pop culture references or nods to the original series, while others are clearly meant as a venting of frustrations and a preaching of opinions/truths from the writing team. Don’t expect this to be a fair and balanced look at politics in America today. But if you’re concerned that a political agenda will overrule the crazy humor at play here, don’t be; there are plenty of cartoonish gags and outlandish laughs to be found. (For example, keep an eye out for a pint-sized pup character in the background of the sewer scene to get a good dose of the special’s dark humor.)

Ultimately, Birdman discovers that the job is not only not what was promised, but also not as cut-and-dry as it might seem from the outset. Fan-favorite supporting characters will factor into the plot both as Birdman’s allies and as his opposition, often in surprise reveals which we won’t spoil here. There’s plenty of fun to be found whether you’re a new or returning fan of Harvey Birdman (why, there’s even a musical number), but fans of the original will get the most bang for their buck. It’s a little on the short side for a special, owing to the fact that it’s hyper-focused on the Presidential plot, which is just fine for a one-off. But there’s also a dark streak that runs underneath all of the laughs, and you’ll have to stick around to the end (with fingers crossed for another special in the future) to see if there’s more to Harvey Birdman’s story to come.

Rating: ★★★ Good

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