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You Know Cocaine Bear — Now Meet Agent Elvis' Cocaine Chimp

The hell-raising primate steals Netflix’s animated series.
  • Scatter the Chimp succumbs to his vices. (Photo: Netflix)
    Scatter the Chimp succumbs to his vices. (Photo: Netflix)

    We’ve been taught to fear Cocaine Bear and Cocaine Shark, but Agent Elvis wants us to love its cocaine chimp. Sex-addled, hyper-violent, and frequently high out of his mind, he’s the breakout character in Netflix’s animated series, about an alternate history wherein Elvis Presley is both a rock star and a top-secret government agent. The show, which premieres March 17, comes close to being a nihilistic bloodbath with funny and filthy jokes, but thanks to the primate, it gets at something almost spiritual.

    Not that the chimpanzee is a saint. For one thing, his name is Scatter, which is absolutely the potty-humor reference it seems to be. In the first episode alone, Scatter makes Elvis (Matthew McConaughey) mad when he brings sex workers into a limo, and he infuriates Bertie (Niecy Nash), Elvis’ mentor and mother figure, when he shoots a bad guy in the house without offering to clean up the mess. Throughout the season, his insatiable lust for gambling, fighting, and coke threaten to derail the various missions that Elvis and his fellow spies are trying to complete.

    In one sense, he’s part of a great lineage. Monkeys and apes are all over the culture, representing everything from our deepest nurturing instincts to our most violent urges. It’s also appropriate for a reference-heavy show like Agent Elvis to have a chimp, since cartoons of the ’60s and ’70s were filled with simian heroes. But by letting him wallow in his bad habits, the series adds a raucous new dimension to the archetype. Scatter is arguably a hedonistic guru, trying to liberate us naked apes from our own hypocrisy.

    In Agent Elvis’ world, though, debauchery itself is not a problem. All the show’s characters have wild streaks. Elvis shoots TVs for target practice (one of many nods to actual Elvis lore), and he has fantasies where he kills bad guys in brutal ways. His fellow agent CeCe (Kaitlin Olson) has a wicked drug habit, and she once burned down a bar where her own mother beat her in a wet t-shirt contest. Their boss The Commander (Don Cheadle) killed a waiter for making him wait too long, and he has intense sexual fantasies about almost everyone he sees. And every time Elvis encounters a celebrity — loads of them are also secret agents — he invariably learns they’ve got a closet full of raunchy skeletons.

    The sin here isn’t misbehaving, but pretending misbehavior is somehow noble. Elvis declares he’s trying to rid the world of dirty hippies and their dirty hippy music, and as far he’s concerned, kicking butt is the only way to do it. He’s so staunchly pro-America that he almost comes across as a conservative superhero. Even when he gets tangled up in Richard Nixon’s White House wiretapping, he manages to defend the nation’s greatness while rejecting the darker side of Tricky Dick. CeCe and The Commander are ideologically more liberal, but they’re just as willing to use their politics to rationalize nefarious schemes.

    Agent Elvis isn’t having it. Characters constantly comment on each other’s dismal lives and hollow souls. There’s even a running joke about a boy who was permanently injured after Elvis’ pal Bobby Ray (Johnny Knoxville) hit him with a car. It’s not hard to see that when the agents claim they're heroic, they’re deluding themselves. (Priscilla Presley co-created the series, along with John Eddie, and she’s apparently got a clear-eyed sense of humor about what it means to be a legend.)

    By comparison, Scatter’s debauchery is pure. He never tries to explain himself or pretend there’s something upright in fantasizing about having sex with a space alien. Instead, he just accepts himself for what he is: a creature of voracious appetites. And even though it causes trouble, his willingness to embrace his nature also helps him save the day. Whether he’s giving Bertie a chance to flex her skills at the casino or using his trigger finger to stop shenanigans at the White House, his impulses arguably become his finest assets.

    Perhaps most importantly, Scatter doesn’t suffer. All the other characters wrestle with some kind of trauma or pain, but Scatter just rolls from one adventure to the next, snorting a little something along the way. He sits in the show like a reminder we should all get over ourselves and admit that we’re wild animals. We might not behave any better, but we might still do some good and feel some peace.

    In his own louche way, this chimp is a beacon of hope. The very fact that Scatter is on screen means the show believes it’s possible to live in a genuine way. And it matters that even though he only communicates with grunts and shrieks (voiced by Tom Kenny), the other characters can understand him. This suggests that somewhere deep inside, they have access to their simian selves. With enough effort, they might be able to become perfectly amoral, acknowledging that they drink and fire pistols because that’s simply what animals do. They might learn to face any dilemma by asking, “What would Scatter do?”, and the answer would be simple. He would do more cocaine.

    Agent Elvis is now streaming on Netflix. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Mark Blankenship has been writing about arts and culture for twenty years, with bylines in The New York Times, Variety, Vulture, Fortune, and many others. You can hear him on the pop music podcast Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs.

    TOPICS: Agent Elvis, Netflix, Don Cheadle, Elvis Presley, Kaitlin Olson, Matthew McConaughey, Niecy Nash-Betts, Priscilla Presley, Tom Kenny