With just one episode to go in its first season (right?), Archer came up with another funny spin on a fairly traditional TV plot in "Job Offer." I've seen some talk about how Archer isn't as good as it could be because the plots are all pretty much straight from the classic sitcom wheelhouse, taking few unexpected turns. And I can sort of see that. Archer is very much what you'd expect to get if you applied the adult swim sensibility to a workplace sitcom and tossed in a few extra doses of some of the spy comedies of the '60s, like Get Smart or The Man from UNCLE (which wasn't technically a comedy, I guess, but was very funny when it wanted to be). So, yeah, there hasn't been an episode here that's made me roar with laughter at an unexpected plot twist. But I've always maintained that craftsmanship is more important than originality a lot of the time. It's almost harder to make an impeccably crafted comedy than a wildly original one, and Archer is nothing if not impeccably crafted.
I'm still really enjoying the way the show uses its editing rhythms to create parallels between storylines and have characters in one storyline finish the jokes of characters in another. I praised this a few weeks ago, but it seems like the show has gotten much more subtle in this over the past few episodes. Sure, you still have things like cutting from a character at the rival spy agency trying to snatch Lana up (and ending up with Archer instead) saying, "Yes, yes, yes!" to Malory saying, "No, no, no!" but in this episode, much of the cross-cutting was of the sort where there was that delayed reaction, where you had to think about the joke and process it just a bit before getting it.
Tonight's episode twisted off of the old chestnut about the main character getting a job offer at a rival company and seriously considering taking that job offer. I've seen this storyline many places before, but at present, the only one I can think of that utilizes it (and even that episode's a parody of the storyline) is The Simpsons' "You Only Move Twice," which introduced us to Hank Scorpio (and feels like an early influence on the type of humor that evolved into the adult swim aesthetic). Regardless, in episodes of this type, the new workplace is usually presented as a sort of mirror image of the original workplace, the characters are seriously tempted, and then something happens to make them realize how much they'd miss their old pals back at the office. It's standard stuff, but Archer does a few things that make it work, I think.
For one thing, ODIN - I didn't catch if it was this spelling or ODEN, so I'll go with the Norse god - really is the mirror image of ISIS. It's not just the fact that the spies there get paid more or that the HR representative is a hot chick and voiced by Judy Greer. It's also the fact that this is a place where Lana might actually be appreciated and a place where the main spy has a rather irritating relationship with a parental figure, in this case the head of ODIN, voiced by Jeffrey Tambor. The relationship between Barry and his boss is a terrific flipside of the relationship between Archer and Malory, and while the episode never says Barry is the boss' son, it clearly wants you to see the parallels. These two are always at loggerheads, but largely because Barry is super, super competent.
But the similarities were nice too. Cyril, for one, is always going to end up attracted to characters voiced by Judy Greer, apparently, and Lana's always going to have to get Archer out of trouble. The spies at ODIN are just as worried about petty, personal and workplace issues as they are over at ISIS, and even if Barry's super competent, he's still got plenty of rage issues to work out, issues that he can't really properly direct anywhere. It's also nice to just listen to Jessica Walter and Tambor toss dialogue back and forth again, and, indeed, seeing them do so made me feel oddly sentimental, particularly for that other show they used to toss dialogue back and forth on.
I also liked the way "Job Offer" played up the relationship between Malory and Archer. If the season has had a weakness, it's that the series has wanted us to just accept as fact that Malory is a conniving boss (perhaps solely because she's voiced by Walter) and that Archer is a giant asshole and that their relationship is both troubled and co-dependent. This relationship felt a little too similar to other mother-son relationships we've seen on TV (though thank God Archer doesn't have daddy issues, I guess), and I kept waiting for the show to either expand it or simply make it funnier. Now, there's nothing that Walter and H. Jon Benjamin can't sell, so their scenes together are usually great. But I was still looking for just an extra bit of oomph.
I think "Job Offer" provided that. Once Archer was going to go to ODIN, Malory's despondency became one of the funniest things in the episode. She's a woman who doesn't quite know what to do with an emotional response, so she overreacts all over the place. She gets absolutely smashed on absinthe. She throws up in a toilet. She weeps in Pam's arms. She puts out a burn notice on her son while drunk, then weeps even more when she thinks that Archer has been killed. There's a story told on both ends of the show's dual storyline involving Malory not telling Archer she'd moved when he came home from boarding school for Christmas, and it's very funny, but it also reveals a darkness at the show's heart that keeps the wackiness in check.
At an event on the show Community I attended recently, Dan Harmon made the argument that comedy can deal with serious subjects, that if you learn a character has a dark past that's legitimately a serious problem but the character is still funny, it somehow makes both them and their past that much funnier. In a real way, we learn to laugh because it's a way to see past some of the harder things in life. Now, I'm not arguing that Archer is some sort of treatise on the inhumanity of the human condition, but I like when the show brings just a twinge of darkness to the storyline, adds a touch of stakes, and it did that this evening.
- "Oh yeah, where's that? Dicktown?!"
- "Sorry it took so long, and that I'm accidentally inside you." "Not a problem."
- "They are the stuff-throwingest family."
- "Oh, shut up. You're probably barren."
- "Perhaps if you tried it from behind?" "Yeah, let's try that."
- "Don't you have better things to do than mince around and gawk?"
- "ISIS disavows agent Sterling Archer, aka Duchess." "Damn, she loved that dog."
- "Ass. If you love it, put a ring on it."
- "Is there a shower down there, because I bet I just, like, reek of her."
- "All right, you yellow sons of bitches. Let's dance."
- "Oh now … you can always …" "Always what?" "Well, I was gonna say you can have another baby, but you're all dried up in there."
- "These servants, if I did see them, would they curtsey meekly?" "Otherwise, what's the point?"
- "You're both classic her."