So, hey: We should probably talk about the parrot, right?
Because nothing signifies the weird swerve Adam Reed and company are doing with this season of Archer better than Crackers The Macaw, the latest addition to the show’s cast of consistently dysfunctional assholes (in any setting, real or imagined). We should be clear, too: Despite the fact that he’s voiced by the always-great Lucky Yates—and in sharp contrast to last year’s equally hallucinatory Dreamlands, which more-or-less managed to slot every character into a recognizable role analogous to their “real world” counterparts—Crackers really is a brand new character, almost totally distinct from that old Teutonic psychopath Algernop Krieger. Although they both fill a certain wisecracking outsider role in the show’s base dynamics, Crackers is a far warmer and lighter character, as it turns out, with none of the dangerous unpredictability lurking at the edges of any given Krieger-centric scene.
Also, he’s a fucking talking parrot.
I suspect that’s going to be the final straw for a fair chunk of Archer’s remaining viewers, the last absurd change to a once-winning formula that Reed has been tweaking relentlessly for far longer than he ever stuck to the old “spy parody” logline the show was originally sold with. (It’s worth keeping in mind that Archer Vice, the most obvious breaking point between “new” and “old” Archer, now stands at the exact midpoint of the show’s run.) Crackers talks because Adam Reed thinks that’s fun and funny, and Archer has made it abundantly clear over the last few years that that’s the only metric or guiding philosophy that this fantasy sandbox that he and his team have built for themselves actually operates under.
And you know what? Naysaysers be damned, because he’s right. Crackers—despite the “doth protest too much” defensiveness the show deploys tonight in an effort to get people willing to adopt some suspension of disbelief about his whole talking parrot schtick —is a fun, maybe even a fresh, character, something this show hasn’t actually had in years. (R.I.P. Milton.) And in that sense, he’s the perfect symbol for Archer: Danger Island itself, which is less a re-invention of Archer as we’ve known it, and more just its own separate thing (albeit a “separate thing” with a common cast, animation style, and dedication to delightfully dumb wordplay in volatile human situations). There’s a real freedom in just saying, “To hell with it, let’s do something fun,” one that ironically has Archer feeling more energetic, and less self-indulgent, than it has in years.
We open with the episode’s only, meager acknowledgement of the “coma dream” conceit that’s ostensibly letting the show get away with this little tropical vacation, as Pam’s voice waxes softly over a shot of an unconscious, stubble-y Sterling Archer. Any thoughts that we might be starting back in the “real” Archer’s hospital room, like we did last year, are undercut with a quickness, though, and we’re rapidly introduced to our new hero in a very Archer burst of screaming, gunfire, and crying, easily seduced honeymooners. (The latter also serving as our introduction to Danger Island-vintage Cheryl.)
That predilection for bored newlyweds is just one of several links between Danger Island and the “Heart Of Archness” three-parter that kicked off season three back in 2011, and which, in hindsight, marked the show’s first big diversion from spy shit into a more loosely connected series of adventure stories and interesting digressions. Archer himself seems to be taking plenty of style notes from “Rip Riley, man-hunter”, right down to giving his seaplane, Loosey Goosey, the same semi-affectionate nickname. (There’s been absolutely no indication that Patrick Warburton might wander back into the show’s soundbooths to reprise the part this year, but a reviewer can dream, right?) Despite the eye-patch and the stubble, though, he’s still pretty much Archer: a selfish, hedonistic asshole living largely on the largesse and indulgence of his mother, Malory, who’s now been restored to blood-relative status after Dreamlands’ portrayal of her as a newly acquainted, shadowy crime boss. (It’s a welcome return to form; Jessica Walter was great last year as a subtle figure of menace, but there’s something about Malory’s knowing ability to jam her son’s buttons—phrasing—that I’d really come to miss.)
As ever, the only thing that can get Archer to even pretend to give a shit is Lana, here portrayed as Princess Lanaluakalani, island royalty who’s hired him to give an aerial tour of Mitimotu Island to her and obvious German spy Siegbert Fuchs (a.k.a. Cyril, who’s now reached “actual, literal Nazi” in his steady vilification in Archer’s head). In typical fashion, things go almost immediately wrong, thanks to a combination of Archer’s careless planning skills and Fuchs’ panicky incompetence, forcing mechanic Pam, flight-capable Crackers, and the two passengers to bail out into the wilds of Danger Island, while Sterling stays behind to try to bring the plane down safely. It’s a classic adventure serial cliffhanger, in the style the show is clearly patterning itself on… which is, of course, then immediately undercut by an “On the next time” clip showing the plane’s engines miraculously restart, because if there’s one joke Archer never gets tired of, it’s laughing at viewers for actually caring about its character’s fates.
To Danger Island’s credit, though, there’s a lot less of that metatextual pointing and laughing here than the series has trafficked in in the past. Outside a middle stretch that wastes a little too much time worrying over the fate of Cheryl’s shitty marriage to entitled asshole Whitney Stratton IV (Jon Daly, briefly back from season 7’s “Deadly Prep”), “Strange Pilot” is mostly a pretty lively affair, setting up the new versions of the characters, and then dipping them immediately into its “Let’s have an adventure!” tone.
The best decision here is one the show stumbled onto a few years back, and which it’s been consistently, delightfully mining ever since: The choice to focus on the Archer-Pam pairing. Pam’s relentless positivity and lust for life has always made her one of the show’s most winning characters, and making her Archer’s long-time platonic partner and mechanic gives their interactions a lived-in history, one that makes for a surprisingly warm core for a show that’s always struggled with its base cynicism and relentless desire to fuck with any moments of actual human connection. Weirdly, Crackers is an unexpected boon here, too; as a third member of this little trio, he helps shore up a solid, if sarcasm-filled, friendship that Archer’s never really had going for it before. (Also, it will never not be funny to hear Archer’s exasperated “Pam!”s and “Bird!”s as they call him on his various bullshits.)
I’ll be honest here: I have no idea where Danger Island is heading. Certainly, I get more convinced every year that I write about this show that Reed and company give absolutely zero shits about things like endgames or big, season-ending payoffs. (And probably find people’s occasional searches for that kind of bigger meaning in their silly comedy series to be extremely funny.) But there’s something exhilarating about the fact that the team here is no longer even paying lip service to the idea that the show they’re making today has to have anything to do with the one they made last year, and that there’s enough power in this cast, and these scripts, to let them tell any damn story and still make it—yep—perfectly funny and fun.
- The Morse code Fuchs taps out in the opening credits translates to “934TXS,” which is a recurring gag number that pops up all over Reed’s various shows.
- I re-watched this episode with my girlfriend last night, and she pointed out that there’s something a little hinky—to use Pam’s term— about Lana’s character now being a Pacific Islander, as though that’s automatically equivalent to being a black woman in this new context.
- Things that can kill you on Danger Island: Quicksand, ferocious baboons, poisonous snakes, poisonous frogs, cannibals, and, of course, dragons. (Also, unmentioned: Brain aneurysms. Those can happen anywhere.)
- Cheryl, drunk: “I think that patch is sexy, and I kind of want to put my tongue in there.” Cheryl, sober: “Oh god, what have I done?” “Hopefully not that.”
- Pam and Archer, on Malory’s personal eye candy, Manu: “I would just murder that.” “Me, too.” “I meant sexually.” “I meant… murderly.”
- Which sounds scarier? Snake-rat or rat-snake? (Rat-snake, obviously.)
- Ray, here playing a very Casablanca chief of police: “Monsieur, this is French territory, of course adultery is not illegal.” (The laws on “consensual buggery” are a little less clear.)
- “HOW CAN A BIRD BE TALKING?!” “…is parrot!” “He talks, that’s just how it is, don’t make a big thing out of it.”
- Kudos to the animators on Crackers’ look and movements, by the way; it’s a really loving portrayal of how dumb and goofy big birds can be.
- “As the crow flies?” “Ugh, crows.”
- Anyone here speak French? I think Lana and Ray are basically saying, “Why are we speaking French?” when they talk to each other after her entrance, but that’s an incredibly rough guess. (Meanwhile, I have no idea whatsoever what “dozenshincken” might be, beyond something you apparently don’t want to get punched in the face with.)
- “I think he’s just reacting to the music.” “Thanks, you just defined dancing.” Oh, Crackers.
- Obscure reference alert: False alarm, folks. Outside a few callbacks to the show itself (mmm, turnips), tonight’s episode is as devoid of references to obscure pop culture or historical figures as any I can remember. Weird!
- Line of the episode: I feel like I tend to spend a lot of these reviews just trying to find new ways to talk about how damn talented Judy Greer is, but really, there’s no contest here: Her screaming rant about how she hopes Archer dies of “some heretofore unknown form of eye-hole cancer” just can’t be topped.