In January 2007, the first MacGruber sketch aired on Saturday Night Live, and suffice to say, no one could have predicted that in 2021, the character would be starring in his own streaming series debuting this week on Peacock… and not just because Peacock didn’t exist at that point and streaming services were still an unknown territory.
Speaking to Fandom about the strange path MacGruber has taken from a hyper specific parody of the action series MacGyver to a feature film and now to a series itself, Will Forte remarked, “We didn’t even think we’d do a second sketch!”
Forte recalled, “After three or four versions of the sketch on SNL, I think we started realizing, ‘Oh, this is something I think some people are liking’ and Lorne [Michaels] would come and ask us to do it. But every step of the way has been a surprise. Getting to do a Super Bowl commercial was a very pleasant surprise. And then somehow getting to make a movie was a surprise.”
While the hysterical 2010 MacGruber movie would go on to become considered a cult classic, it was a financial bomb when it came out. Said Forte, “Obviously, not a lot of people went to see it so that should have been the final nail in the coffin of MacGruber. But we really made it our goal to not let it end like that. We were proud of the movie and we loved it, and we thought let’s not let this be the end of it. And thank God Peacock has come in to let us do this.”
For years, Forte and his MacGruber collaborators John Solomon and Jorma Taccone would be asked if there might ever be more for the character, while they pondered the possibility themselves. As Forte explained, “It was just something we always hoped to do, but never thought it would happen, so it’s a pretty special thing to have gotten to have this experience that many years later and get back together with all these awesome people that you had so much fun with in 2009 making the movie and and get to have another another crack at it.”
COWARD TO MOST,
CRAZED KILLER TO SOME
Let’s face it, MacGruber is an absolute slimeball, which is one of the reasons he’s so funny. He’ll sell out anyone, do whatever it takes to save himself, and has shown moments of unbelievable cowardice.
Jorma Taccone told Fandom that they always felt that, at his core, MacGruber is, “The American Id of [the] badass, one-man army. He’s got all of the flaws that you would never expect Schwarzenegger or Stallone to have, just put on full display. He’s terrified and just f***ing up left and right. It’s our goal to create a very cinematic, real action movie world and then destroy it with the wrong character.”
Taccone mentioned the backstory conceived by Forte and Solomon for the film about the hatred between MacGruber and his enemy, Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer), noting that once you get the details, you realize, “’Oh, he created this bad guy!’ I was like, this is unbelievable, to get that deep into a movie and be like, he’s the problem.”
That continues in the TV show, where Taccone noted, “We have a couple moments that are very thrown away, where you’re just like, ‘He did what!?’ He’s so selfish. Our goal in this series was to hopefully heighten everything that you love from the movie and I think we accomplish that.”
“We love doing that stuff where we throw him into a situation where he’s petulant and stupid and ineffective,” said Forte, though he acknowledged that’s not the case 100% of the time. “It’s pretty crazy, because we ping pong back and forth with his level of intelligence. Sometimes he’s the stupidest person in the world and then sometimes he just knows everything there is to know. It’s the same with his fighting skills. Sometimes he can’t even punch his way out of a paper bag and then we’re led to believe that he can rip people’s throats out and pull somebody’s nose off. We just kind of bounce all over the place with that and thank God people stick with it.”
When I mentioned that it seemed to me that MacGruber had his own sort of berserker rage moments, when he suddenly becomes a killing machine, John Solomon replied, “That’s a good description of it. I think it’s like when somebody’s pinned under a car and they get super strong. He has that berserker skill set, but he’s totally incompetent otherwise.”
Taccone noted that the third episode of the series, directed by Solomon, opens with, “One of the most violent things of the series. He’s berserker, truly, like a feral animal in the woods.”
Forte grinned, explaining, yes, they sometimes do ask, regarding MacGruber’s alternating skill set, “’Wait, does this line up with this over here?’ And most of the time we say, ‘Ah, it’s fine! Let’s just do it. It seems fun for the moment.’”
If you ignored the whole “he seemingly dies at the end of each sketch anyway” thing on SNL, the MacGruber movie kinda-sorta worked in unison with the sketches, providing an explanation for what happened to Casey (Maya Rudolph), his assistant in the earliest incarnation of the sketches, before she was replaced by Vicki (Kristin Wiig).
The MacGruber series — which also stars both Wiig and Ryan Phillippe, reprising their roles from the film — much more directly contradicts the sketches though by introducing MacGruber’s father, Perry, played by none other than Sam Elliot – even though SNL had MacGyver himself (Richard Dean Anderson) as MacGruber’s dad.
Said Forte, with a laugh, “There was a lot of discussion about that.” He said ultimately, they decided, “The sketch world of MacGruber just exists in a different plane than the movie world. This series comes directly from the movie part of it, with a different set of rules.”
The evolution of MacGruber has included the visuals as well, with Taccone noting that they wanted their big action parody to feel appropriately like a big action story, “We’ve always wanted to shoot anamorphic and we’re shooting anamorphic on the series, and there’s more camera movement. We just wanted it all to feel bigger.”
As for the future, Taconne said, “I would love to do Season 2 that’s more like a National Treasure-style.” While nothing has actually been ordered beyond Season 1, Taccone couldn’t resist joking about the possibilities of expanding the MacGruber universe more and more, quipping, “Peacock has already ordered five seasons of this show! …And they’re also talking about doing a Vicki spinoff show too!”
In the tradition of Val Kilmer in the MacGruber movie, the series has some very fun casting, using the kind of actors you might also expect in the straightforward version of this type of action story, including Billy Zane as the villain (Brigadier Commander Enos Queeth!), the aforementioned Sam Elliot, and Laurence Fishburne.
Said Solomon, “It’s so crazy to have Sam Elliot say the stupidest dialogue and with total commitment with that voice and that gravitas and Laurence Fishburne too, just kind of grounding everything. He is so believable as this five star general and they were so into it and we were constantly like, ‘Why are you in this?’
Taccone added that Solomon was being literal, explaining, “We would ask them on set, over the god mic, ‘Why are you doing this?!’”
Taconne then recounted a story about Fishburne, recalling, “One night, we were just f***ing around while there was lightning strike delays. It was just a pretty horrendous night. At one point, we’re just messing around waiting. And I asked, ‘Laurence, do you ever get nervous? He was like, ‘About what?!’ I just said, ‘Nevermind, nevermind.”
All eight episodes of MacGruber Season 1 debut December 16 on Peacock.