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Archer: 1999 finally does a Star War

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Let’s get the most important element of “Space Pirates” out of the way right here at the start, shall we? Those space ocelots were incredibly cute—skull-obliterating psychic powers and all.

“Cute animals” is a well that Archer has gone to periodically over the years—shout-out to my man Babou—at least partly because it allows H. Jon Benjamin to bust out his “delighted Archer” voice, one of the character’s most consistently enjoyable looks. Archer is such a world-weary smartass for so much of the time that the contrast when he finds something he unabashedly loves is a huge burst of amazing energy, one that elevates just about any episode, with “Space Pirates” being no exception. Not that it necessarily needed it: With the minor caveat of some weird character beats that speak to an overall sloppiness with this space-based season as a whole—about which, an irritatingly large amount of more in a moment—this is a fun, fast-paced outing that only mostly steals its plot from the most popular science fiction blockbuster of all time.

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Which isn’t a complaint, to be clear; “Space Pirates” gets plenty of fun out of hanging a variety of space lampshades on its various Star Wars riffs, from placing Pam in the Chewbacca role (yet again) during a standard fake prisoner ploy, to grappling hook shenanigans, to a moment when a well-meaning robot does absolutely nothing to salvage a situation while his compatriots nearly die in a garbage compartment. (Beep bop boop, C-3PO: Ya burnt.) All of which is a backdrop for a fairly standard Archer-and-Lana-fight scenario, but even then, Kelly Galuska’s script gets credit for heightening both party’s immaturity, most notably when Lana slaps a ship-destroying thermite charge onto Archer’s dick, then activates it with a poorly aimed (but well-deserved) kick to his junk.

Archer fundamentalists—i.e., the people who still believe that the events of these dream seasons are reflections of Sterling Archer’s coma-trapped subconscious, and not “Whatever plot we happened to think was funny this week”—will presumably be dining out for months on 1999's vision of Lana as a “baby crazy cliche of maternal desire.” To my mind, though, it speaks to something simpler, but more insidious, that’s been cropping up over and over again this season: A tendency for each episode’s writers—almost all of whom are brand new to the show and who, I have to assume, are more familiar with its earlier seasons—to revert the characters to different, more hook-y versions of their past iterations and dynamics.

Image: FXX
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Take “Space Pirates’” version of Ray, who appears in a single (very funny) scene that clearly takes as its inspiration his defining appearance in Archer’s first truly great episode, “Skytanic.” (Complete with Crisis Vest, although the interest in colorectal health is new.) But weirdly, there’s no trace of Ray’s previous Archer: 1999 incarnation as a mostly hapless space concubine here; instead, the show treats him like the bomb disposal expert he was in its earliest years. Not that continuity really matters in a case like this—Ray’s scene is funny, and that’s all anyone, including show creator Adam Reed, who voices him, probably cares about—but it does give the sense of certain fundamental cracks slipping into the structure. Archer has spent the last three years aggressively blowing itself up, shuffling character dynamics and blasting off in disparate new directions at the start of each new year. Each dream season—especially Danger Island—has been careful, though, to maintain its own internal character consistency, whether it’s casting Cyril as a self-serving villain cop, or Pam as a dutiful sidekick. That feels lacking here, and whether that’s a consequence of the show slightly fumbling the transition into a multi-writer series, or a lack of oversight from on-high, it’s worrisome for a series with so few remaining structural toeholds for long-time fans to cling to. If Archer is going to shift things around so radically every year, it needs to hold more tightly to the actual character notes that are our gateway into its comedy.

Those season-long concerns shouldn’t distract from “Space Pirates’” pleasures, though, which are myriad, from Cheryl/Carol’s extra-flirty death fetishism with Cyril, to Malory’s assertion of the existence of “space static” that sounds suspiciously like the clink of ice in a g&T, to, again, Archer’s adorable little space deputy. (To say nothing of the wider “Space Cowboys” riff as a whole, restoring that phrase to glory after being so gruesomely tarnished by those astronaut corpse litterers Clint Eastwood and Tommy Lee Jones.) At this point—and especially after last week—all I really need Archer to do is move fast and tell good jokes, and this episode does that, whether it’s Pam snarking in D’rin about the stick up Lana’s ass, or Cyril’s defense of “space accounting” as a noble and storied endeavor. This is sustainable Archer, the sort of episode it feels like the show could pump out every week and make fans happy—or, to put it another way: The force (lower-case f) is with it.

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Image: FXX

Stray observations

  • Archer, protecting his most valuable asset from Lana’s attacks:“Shhh, my ass might hear you, and it’s very sensitive. Of course, you already know that.”
  • Jessica Walter is always a delight, but between “Our bar stock is so low I might have to resort to beer” and “Stay here? With the liquor?” she had some phenomenal line reads this week.
  • “This is not a plan, this is the plot of several famous films.” “Why do you think they were famous?”
  • Krieger is the other major victim of the off-model character stuff I was complaining about up above, but this version of him—pun-addicted and eager to please—is actually really fun. He likes to think of himself more as a repli-can!
  • Lana vs. Pam: “Oh, please, you’ve never held in a fart in your life.” “Tough but fair.”
  • Does anybody on TV do murderously horny better than Judy Greer? Turning Cheryl/Carol into a badass space warrior this season is the gift that keeps on giving.
  • Pam physiology update: Yes, she has tits. They’re just retractable.
  • “You’re putting space in front of it to make it extra silly, but it’s actually an important part of running a ship.”
  • This is a good Cyril episode all around, between his complaints about Archer’s bad captaining, to his critique of the D’rin ship’s feng shui.
  • Strong early contender for line of the episode: “How dare you speak precisely the truth at me?”
  • Obscure reference alert: Not much this week, other than the whole “liberal references to Star Wars” thing. Greymalkian presumably derives from grimalkin, though, which is an obscure term for an older cat. Oh, and Cheryl’s tooth necklace might be a callback to one of the best episodes of Reed’s first show, Sealab 2021.
  • “Shit, we’ve only got seven minutes to get off this death star—lower case d, lower case s.”
  • Line of the episode: I was sorely tempted to give this to the space sheriff and his little deputy, but I have to recognize Chris Parnell’s irritated punwork when Cheryl asks Cyril about his spaceship architecture magazines: “You mean Starchitectural Digest? Yes.”
  • And that’s a wrap for this week, folks. See you next Wednesday for “Cubert,” written by a little up-and-comer Archer writer by the name of “Adam Reed”.
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