“Fugue And Riffs” sets up a couple of mysteries I didn’t even know were mysteries until the last five minutes. Sure, I guess some part of my brain was wondering just what had happened to set off Archer’s fugue state, and when Malory’s new husband, Ron Cadillac, Cadillac King Of New York, showed up to everybody’s general delight, it was maybe the biggest laugh of the episode. (I love when shows introduce new characters then act as if everybody there has known them for a long, long time.) The other mystery was one I hadn’t even considered, even though I interviewed Adam Reed after last season, and he told me Barry would be a bigger part of this season. I hadn’t once wondered just how the KGB had managed to track down Archer at both locations, perhaps because I ascribe the agency with mystical powers. Anyway, it turns out that Barry, still stuck up at the space station, is peering down on everybody else and able to find Archer at a moment’s notice.
Archer has never been a particularly serialized show. The series has done arcs, and there have been storylines that have continued along, but in terms of big, overarching plots, it just hasn’t done all that much. What the show has always been good at and what keeps it from being a Family Guy-esque riff on familiar spy tropes is character serialization. The relationships between the characters shift and change, yet they’re always based in things we know to be true about the characters’ pasts. This is always the show I point to when I say that character consistency is necessary for a satisfying TV comedy series, which is too often interpreted as me saying I really want the show to give everybody cancer (though Archer has also given its main character cancer). Keeping the characters understandable within the crazy scenarios Reed dreams up for them is what’s made the show so good, and I haven’t minded the lack of larger plots to this point.
Barry, of course, is the exception to this. He’ll disappear for episodes at a time, but he’s always there, lurking somewhere, ready to take out his arch-nemesis. He’s rather like one of the Big Bads from Buffy The Vampire Slayer in that regard, though he seems to be this series only Big Bad. This is a point where you in the comments section and I differ, as I’ve never found Barry all that entertaining. I enjoy him in small doses, and I think the performance by Dave Willis is a lot of fun. But Barry too often drags the show away from its ‘60s and ‘70s spy spoof base toward something more like one of those awful late-period Roger Moore Bond films. Since it looks like Barry’s been integrated into the show more thoroughly this season, I’m willing to be re-convinced (since this show always does great character work when it has some room to do so), but the last couple of minutes of this episode—complete with Cheryl hallucinating the ostrich—went a little too far over-the-top for my tastes.
Other than that, though, there was a lot of solid fun in this episode, even if it took a bit to get going. Any season premiére is going to carry with it the question of what, exactly, everybody’s been up to since we last saw them, and “Fugue And Riffs” frontloaded that question by having Archer fall into a fugue state, the cause of which we didn’t learn until episode’s end. Said fugue state led him to marry a woman named Linda, adopt the name Bob, and take over a burger joint down by the shore, in a fun little nod—okay, a wholesale appropriation, but a fun one—toward Bob’s Burgers, H. Jon Benjamin’s other great animated series on the air right now. (I was mostly disappointed we never got to hear from the kids, but having Kristen Schaal, Eugene Mirman, and Dan Mintz around might have dragged things too far off-course.) Once four KGB agents come to the restaurant, call Bob “Archer,” and are summarily killed by “Bob,” who also yells at them in Russian, it seems we might be in for a History Of Violence riff.
We’re not, of course, as we immediately head into the ISIS staff figuring out where Archer’s been all this time and hatching a scheme (plotted out by Krieger) to ease him back into his true identity. The second somebody says that all of this won’t be solved by Archer getting “whanged on the head by a frying pan,” it becomes evident that, yes, he’s going to get whanged on the head by a frying pan, probably thanks to Lana, and everything is just leading up to that. But the journey there is a lot of fun. This show is never better than when it assembles its whole cast somewhere and just lets them bounce off of each other, and it returns to some of its most classic pairings here, including Lana and Archer, as well as Cheryl and Pam (perhaps the show’s best purely comic pairing). But there’s also plenty of fun to be had with Ray, Krieger, and Cyril bouncing off of each other, or with Malory dancing between the groups, stirring up shit, as she’s wont to do.
Everything builds up to a satisfying action sequence, where the assorted issues of the episode—the KGB agents, Archer’s amnesia, what’s going to cover Lana’s boobs—come to a head, with Archer flinging Molotov cocktails at the agents, Cyril and Krieger laying down fake suppressive fire, and Lana’s boobs getting covered with liquor labels (a sight gag that never stopped being funny). During all of this, Archer gets hit in the head with a frying pan wielded by Lana, but not before Benjamin gets to deliver a lengthy monologue that consists entirely of the words “Bob” and “burger” and is funnier than any description will do justice. It’s all build-up to the arrival of Ron Cadillac—which is the best—and Barry’s freakout in space—on which I’ll wait and see.
All in all, it’s a satisfying premiére for the show, which doesn’t go too crazy but manages to keep things humming along nicely all the same. Archer seemed to really break through last season, in what might have been its best year yet. It’d be great to see the show maintain that momentum this year, but even if it falls short, it’s still certain to be one of TV’s funniest shows. Now that the ISIS gang is back and working together, I’m sure there will be some great stuff on the way.
- The burger on sale at Bob’s Burgers, the Thomas Elphinstone Hambledurger with Manning Coleslaw, is a reference to the popular British spy series starring Thomas Elphinstone Hambledon. The books were written by two authors, working together under the pseudonym Manning Coles. And now I’ve explained to you why it’s funny, which Archer didn’t get a chance to do.
- Until the ostrich actually showed up, I did very much enjoy Cheryl inserting the word “ostriches” into every conversation she could find, mostly because Judy Greer says the word hilariously.
- Has anyone ever met a woman less damsel-y in distress than Lana, she asks. “Pam,” Malory quickly adds, and I’m hard pressed to prove her wrong.
- Nice little detail: When the Bob’s kids come out to see their “dad” has slaughtered a bunch of spies, both Tina and Gene seem shocked, but Louise seems kind of psyched.
- There were lots of great wordless noises from Pam—whenever she heard about Archer being with someone else in an early scene—and Cyril—which the show often used to link together scenes—in this episode.