Can things ever really change in Archer?
I mean, obviously, they can. Gillette’s in a wheelchair now, and the reverberations from previous romantic encounters and events still reverberate throughout the show. But for the most part, Archer is a comedy, and that means an eventual return to the status quo. This is not really a criticism. I’m not sure I’d want to watch a version of the show where the characters could die. (And I do really enjoy the goofy conceit that when the bad guys fire at any of the ISIS agents, they’re never anywhere near to hitting them, while Archer can take out dozens of them with a few well-placed shots.) But in tonight’s climactic setpiece—where Archer tries to make his way out of that pirate jail cell and in the process, Gillette and Lana are shot, while Rip gets a spoon in the eye—I really did think the show was going in that direction with at least Gillette. I was relieved to have Gillette pop up again (albeit in a wheelchair), but for a moment there, I thought the show was dipping into even more serious territory than it had when Katya died.
Naturally enough, we were right back to where we started at the end, with Archer being a dick. I recently read an interview Matt Zoller Seitz conducted with Dan Harmon where Seitz asked if there are things that can never be funny, and Harmon mused as to whether extreme physical pain in a character the audience loves could ever be funny. “Heart Of Archness” comes pretty damn close to proving that we can, indeed, be worried for a character we like—Gillette—while also laughing, though in this case, I guess, the joke is more on how much of an asshole Archer is. He wants to pause the group’s escape so he can take his intramural lacrosse squad—the Archers of Loaf-crosse—to victory. Lana, of course, keeps him from doing so, but the funniest part of the episode takes place while Gillette is in mortal danger. Again, we’re not really laughing at Gillette’s injury, so it probably doesn’t count, but it’s a neat reminder of how Archer is often at its funniest when the characters are in the most peril.
As a standalone episode of Archer, I have no idea how this would work. As the concluding chapter of something bigger, though, it was easily the best part of the little trilogy, particularly since it closed Archer and Lana in the same space and let them rip into each other. Each episode of this thing has allowed H. Jon Benjamin to bounce off of a different actor, and in this one, he returned to what he does best, which is irritating Aisha Tyler’s Lana. Tyler and Benjamin have been doing the “they hate each other, but they obviously want to have sex” thing for two seasons at this point, and they have it down pat. (I loved the moment at the end that simultaneously parodied moments where one character almost says, “I love you” to the other while still being a completely straight version of one of those moments. Bonus points for having the other characters ask the two why they don’t just sleep together… and then die.) But “Heart Of Archness” kept them apart so long that it was easy to forget just how much fun these two characters—and these two actors—are when they really get going.
That’s not to say that our two special guest stars missed a beat. Patrick Warburton’s best episode probably remains the first one, particularly since Rip Riley is out of commission for so long in this episode, but he still gets in some choice lines during the escape and when he brags about how he knows how to fly the helicopter the pirates just happen to have. Once again, David Cross is a lot of fun as Noah, particularly when he’s taking the abuse of Archer or asking for clarification on what kind of spooning Archer could mean while the imprisoned group is fighting the pirates. These two characters are good fun on this show, and I hope we get to see more of them in season three proper.
The stuff back at the ISIS offices is, again, less exciting than the stuff with the pirates, but I did like Cyril and Pam’s descent into blackout drunkenness once again (and the fact that they apparently hooked up yet again). If there was a character who wasn’t very well-served by these episodes (outside of Krieger, who didn’t appear at all, if I’m remembering correctly), it was Cheryl, who was in every episode but mostly got stuck behind her desk, which isn’t a great position for comedy. Judy Greer’s mock impression of Malory was funny, and I liked the way that Cheryl got more and more disheveled throughout the hour, but I’d hoped for something more from Cheryl (who just might be my favorite character). Ah, well. Can’t get everything you want. (These episodes were also a little lighter on Malory than the show often is, but Jessica Walter made every single line she was given count, so I couldn’t complain too much.)
“Heart Of Archness” was designed to bring the show to a somewhat wider audience, airing as it did after It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. And while I don’t know if these episodes accomplished that—playing, as they did, off of so many of the show’s long-running gags (we even got a “Lana… Lana… LAAAAAANAAAAA!” in tonight’s) and taking as the impetus for the story a plot element that came up in last season’s finale—they were certainly a great treat for us fans, who would otherwise be stuck waiting for January to see what was up with the gang from ISIS. As three separate episodes of television, “Heart Of Archness” didn’t always work, but as the movie-ish story of how Sterling Archer became a pirate king and his fall from that position (and back into his old job), this was an awful lot of fun. And even if things never really change, that’s fine by me, so long as the show remains this amusingly dark.
Overall grade: A-
- I’d still love to see these three episodes edited together into one 60-minute-plus thing. I’m told by the folks at FX that these episodes will likely be on the season three DVD (hence our continuing to label them as belonging to “season three”), but it’d be even better if they flowed smoothly right into each other. Let’s make this happen, Internet!
- Noah’s plan—to dig through the floor of the prison with a spoon—was one of the things in the episode that consistently made me laugh the hardest.
- I greatly appreciated the shoutout to Get Smart when Archer mocked Gillette and Lana’s attempts to escape from the cell.
- Archer getting caught up in fantasies of how the world should work is still one of my favorite things on this show, and his vision of a South Pacific Lacrosse League was one of my favorites.
- While we’re waiting for the show to come back, which Archer-isms have crept into your everyday speech? I find myself saying “for shit’s sake” far too often.
- "Don't talk like black people, OK? And how should I know? I'm still ripped."
- "I don't even remember who peed on your sofa, although if I was a gamblin' man…"
- "I'm kidding. Crab rangoon."
- "Rock beats spoon. You should know that. You're an archaeologist."
- "Missed it by that much."
- "It's Algonquin for bloodsport?" "It's not Algonquin for anything!"
- "We're leaving… before this cruddy school burns to the ground."
- "Sterling, get your things… he's gay."
- "…and I just assume that includes his spleen."
- "It just so happens Rip Riley there can fly it." "No shit."
- "Houdini's dead?"
- "I am… incredibly sorry."
- "For shit's sake, mother! How short is the list of guys you haven't screwed?"
- "I mean her, yes, kinda maybe, but there's a lot of weird sexual tension."
- "Can I just run up to my hovel and grab the only extant copy of my dissertation?"
- "Who am I? Carl Lannsteiner? Discoverer of blood groups?"
- "What about this Sunday?"
- "…versus the Archers of Loaf-crosse."
- "Red-shirt freshman, Lana. Who I was grooming!"
- "Gross! Keep it movin' cripple!"