The Netflix comedy series “The Pentaverate” by Mike Myers
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix
There’s no denying the staying power of the humble poo joke. Next to death and sex, it is constant. Jokes about race and gender can go up and down. Jokes about marriage, politics, and pop culture come and go like waves. But the human body remains, so does the poo joke. (Or maybe that makes… two?)
This certainty is not the only basis of the new Netflix series from Mike Myers, The Pentaverate, but it is a central pillar. Twenty years ago, Myers’ career was at its peak, thanks to his SNL characters, his Austin Powers films and his vocal performance as Shrek. Myers and his characters were engaging comedic puzzles, with his incredibly crude humor and sweet Canadian self-presentation, a kaleidoscopic array of characters and physical transformations, a loud offense and an obsession with the gap between surface appearances and what who was below. He was everywhere. Was it his thing? Was it his art? Could both things be true? Then, around 2010, it all but disappeared. Although he can still be seen doing the occasional project – like creating a character to accommodate the revival of The gong show – he seemed to be taking a deliberate break. So the question of what Mike Myers’ new work might look like is fascinating, the kind of fascinating that tips over into worry. Resurrecting a megapopular comedic sensibility years later is a scenario set for disaster. And yet, for the most part, The Pentaverate manages to dodge the calamity.
The PentaverateThe premise of is not entirely new. Its roots are in a few throwaway lines from Myers’ 1993 film So I married an ax murderer, and the concept has remained much the same: five of the richest people in the world are actually members of a supersecret society. No one who has seen a Myers film will be surprised to learn that he plays most of them, including a Rupert Murdoch-style media mogul, a Russian oligarch, an old British dude and legendary music manager Shep. Gordon. (Gordon is a real person — Myers even co-directed a documentary about him.) Myers also plays the protagonist, Ken Scarborough, a protected Canadian journalist who must land a really big story in order to keep his job at a local television station. . . You might also not be surprised to learn that the station is called CACA News.
Ken has a young colleague named Reilly (a very gamer Lydia West) who wants to help him keep his job. When they both hear a Infowars-esque conspiracy theorist (also played by Myers) claiming the existence of a group called the Pentaverate, they set off to find out the truth. Meanwhile, there is an uproar within the Pentaverate after the unexpected death of one of the five members, forcing them to initiate a new member and bring in an expert investigator (British comedy goddess Jennifer Saunders). to investigate the mysterious death. Ken manages to infiltrate the Pentaverate headquarters, which sets off an increasingly absurd and rapidly growing chain of unfolding secrets and mindless misunderstandings.
Without this forward momentum, things could get disastrous. The show wants
wallow in humorous pigsties, poo jokes and sex jokes as far as the eye can see. There are long exchanges between characters who circle several times around a hotel with an evocative name, attempts at “Who goes first?” crackling, prolonged shot of sasquatch defecating in hallway. (You get the sense that the show’s creators really want to make the most of those five seconds.) Beyond that, the guiding principles of The PentaverateThe humor is a bit shy. Myers uses the fact that Ken and Reilly are from Canada — portrayed here as a quaint but relatively healthy cultural backwater — to take cracks in both that country and the United States. There are digs at conspiracy theorists and Pizzagate. There are parodies of the rich and powerful, with handbag and celebrity jokes and exclusive luxury events. Although this bathroom humor requires some self-confidence, The Pentaverate feels cautious.
More than anything, The Pentaverate is a more anxious TV version of Austin Powers – not the franchise but the character. Its core is close to Austin’s softer, softer sides, those moments where Myers’ voice seems to really feel bad about making someone uncomfortable. Even in its most thoughtless and misogynistic form, Austin’s core impulse is never ill will. Similarly, the Pentaverate may be a secret cabal, but its members are also nice. As you watch Myers play a whole host of goofus and gallants, each of them padded, rounded, stretched or shrunk into a not-quite-unrecognizable new form, his comedy DNA becomes clearer – a personality and ideology trapped in amber, then reanimated decades in the future. Its sense of humor and methodology are so little altered that the series itself seems thrilled but perplexed to be there.
The other direct line is the self-referential wink. There are Netflix jokes in this Netflix show, about as spicy as a mayonnaise sandwich. Myers
nods to his own previous roles and those of his guest stars (including Keegan-Michael Key, Ken Jeong, and Debi Mazar), which only highlights The Pentaverateis fortunately surprised self-awareness. Sometimes the performances carry a hint of confusion – well, everyone but Saunders, who is incredibly unfazed. When Key hears a phrase spoken in a manner that sounds like the words “Key or Peele”, he turns to the camera and smiles, as if receiving a favor from the party: “Go now.” Yes! The Pentaverate seems to say. It’s a reference we all know – how fun!
And that is fun, kinda, even if it sounds like a comedic sensibility that stepped onto a streaming platform and proclaimed, “How are you, comrades?” This is a Myers show, and it has all the comfort and eye strain you’ve come to expect from it, whatever the year. This is the resilience of youthful humor: it never gets old.