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Archer: 1999 takes a "Road Trip" straight into the garbage

Photo: FXX
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Science fiction is all about possibilities, about pushing the boundaries of the real and bringing the improbable to life. One of the most exciting things about the transition from Archer to Archer: 1999 this year was the way it opened up the sorts of questions and scenarios that this show could explore, fascinating hypotheticals that go well beyond what might be do-able if the series still took place on dreary old Earth in a dreary old spy office. “What if you had to talk a sentient bomb out of blowing itself up?” for instance, or “What if you ended up in the stomach of a giant space squid with a megalomaniacal life coach trying to get you to eat each other?” Tonight’s installment, “Road Trip” asks an even more baffling and ineffable question, though: “Why the hell would you write a script for an episode of Archer that has the crew of the Seamus get cloned with semi-identical duplicates, and then not have them interact and/or bang?”

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And it’s not like 20 minutes of everybody facing off against/making out with their various doubles would have replaced an existing plot, either, since “Road Trip” is largely story-free, despite the big mean-looking dinosaur wreaking havoc on the crew whenever its CGI smoke break happens to be up. The episode was penned by Mike Arnold, whose previous Archer writing track record (with series creator Adam Reed previously, on his own now) is decidedly hit or miss—with this one going down firmly in the “miss” category. Arnold’s got highlights like last year’s excellent “Strange Doings In The Taboo Grove” and season 4's “Un Chien Tangerine” (the one with Kazak the big slobbery dog) to his credit, but also snoozers like “Achub Y Morfilod,” a.k.a. “Archer And Lana Fight, Installment No. 25.”

Which makes “Road Trip,” what, “Installment No. 50"? Not that there’s anything automatically wrong with a good Archer-Kane throwdown, provided the jokes and suitably venomous putdowns are there. But that’s just one of the underlying problems with Arnold’s script, which somehow chucked up one of the most resolutely unfunny episodes Archer has fielded in its entire near-decade on the air while also somehow managing to make a fight with a Predator/T-Rex hybrid look shockingly dull. The best it can muster is a fitfully amusing running gag that sees everybody numbering their happiness from 1 to 10, but beyond that, this feels like an outline someone forget to fill in with actual comedy: Lana calls Archer selfish, Archer blows it off, someone says something mean to Cyril, repeat until episode is complete. Which makes it all the more baffling that we don’t get to our actual sci-fi hook—the clones/dopplebangers—until the episode has already burned a full third of its run-time on tepid retreads of better jokes about whiskey sours and the benefits of believing in blind luck.

Image: FXX

And look: It’s possible, with a bit of effort, to see where the episode is going by setting up a contrast between our Sterling and the dead, bald Archer clone, a sensitive, caring, aerodynamic man whose only real flaw is that his total lack of unthinking good fortune got himself and his entire crew killed. (Minus dopple-Krieger, who looks very fetching in his new bandanna in the 30 seconds between his introduction and getting et by the aforementioned beastie.) But to what end do we really need to examine that dynamic, beyond proving that our Archer is a total dick in comparison? We already know that—107 times over at this point—which means the only actual benefit Archer derives from exploring this particular topic is how well it can incorporate a bunch of top-notch dick jokes into the discussion.

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“Road Trip” not only doesn’t do that (again, it’s shocking how few of this episode’s lines constitute actual gags) but also commits the even more irritating sin of creating a much better version of itself in its viewers’ minds—because, again, this could have been an episode in which Carol, Cheryl, and Crystal got to take turns creepily hitting on each other, while multiple Cyrils tried to out-whine each other in the background. Archer’s characters are one of the series’ biggest assets, but the one thing they aren’t is deep—certainly not deep enough to support the sort of introspection “finding your own dead clone” might demand, which is why “Road Trip” mostly brushes those ideas off. So why make that sort of comedic half-measure the episode’s centerpiece, instead of unleashing the chaos of meeting the clones while they were still alive? This sort of armchair quarterbacking of TV plot decisions is usually a waste of everybody’s time, but since “Road Trip” already kind of did that part, we might as well indulge in a bit of what-might-have-been and missed opportunities while we’re here.

I’ve noted before in these reviews that the radical thing about Archer: 1999 isn’t actually all the space stuff; it’s the idea that we’re getting a glimpse of what an Adam Reed-less Archer might look like after he departs the show at the end of this season. (Provided FXX decides a renewal is in order, a proposition that feels iffy at best right now.) And while I might not have been crazy about “Dining With The Zarglorp,” this is the first Reed-less episode that has me actually worried; there have been Reed episodes I haven’t liked over the years, but they all carried an energy that made the character dynamics click, even when the actual lines weren’t the best. Archer is a show about jokes and rhythm, and “Road Trip” resolutely lacks both. All it has left in their absence is a bunch of very pretty bickering, and that’s a pretty busted fuel core for a series this old to rely on while trying to limp its way to the next safe port-of-call.

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Image: FXX

Stray observations

  • Here’s how bored I was during this episode: My first actual written note was that the synths on the soundtrack during some of the interstitial bits were very John Carpenter, which I liked.
  • The first joke I actually clocked a chuckle at came in at 5:20, when Krieger corrected Archer’s use of “what-cha-ma-hickey” to “what-cha-ma-jig.”
  • This is a very angry flavor of Pam, which would be fine if she didn’t also resort to literally just calling Archer “a dick” over and over again.
  • When we get the brief cut to Malory and Ray back on the Seamus, they’ve got their feet up on boxes of food stolen from the Tristan, from “Zarglorp.” Continuity!
  • Archer, re-establishing his credo: “Blind luck, you are my spirit animal!”
  • Cyril’s running joke about filling out the insurance paperwork for the crash feels like it should have a bigger payoff.
  • I’ll say this: All the physical comedy stuff with the corpses was good, and I could have used more of it. Also: Archer taking time out of falling to intentionally sock Cyrill in the face was a nice touch.
  • Cheryl/Carol, solving the clone conundrum: “Ever consider the fact that we’re obviously ghosts, staring at our own dead bodies?”
  • “Shit, I’m heavy!”
  • “Oh my god, totally forgot about the Crystal thing!”
  • Obscure reference alert: We’re close to bupkis here, folks. Archer gets in a “Boosh,” which is a throwback to Frisky Dingo. (Also: That dinosaur totally has Killface eyes.) And his “Okay, who brought the dog?” is probably a Ghostbusters nod. Beyond that, I’m tapped.
  • Alt-Kreiger: “Fascinating!” “What?” “Our Lana had a lot of angry energy, too!”
  • It’s hard to over-emphasize how dull I found that final “battle” sequence.
  • Line of the episode: Cheryl’s final “Now I’m at a 9" re: murdering Krieger is a decent button for the numbers gag. But H. Jon Benjamin really sinks his teeth into Archer’s refutation of the idea that his other self could have loved mid-flight cocktails as much as he does: “Yeah, but what are the odds their pilot was that kickass?”
  • Better luck next week, folks! We’ll be hanging out with “Space Pirates,” penned by Kelly Galuska (Big Mouth, BoJack Horseman), so here’s hoping
    our blind luck pays off.
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