When I talk about the fact that many of my favorite Archer episodes take place almost entirely within the offices of ISIS, “Movie Star” is the kind of episode I’m talking about. There are five or six different things going on in this episode, but it never feels overstuffed or too busy. Instead, it feels like the show has found something good for every single character to do, and all of those plots hook together into one big plot that’s a whole lot of fun. There are some slight flaws—the ending doesn’t quite work as well as it would need to for this to be an all-time classic—but the rest of the episode is terrific, suggesting again that Archer is having a great second season, one that has taken everything that worked about the show in season one and both sharpened it and made it stronger overall.
The plot centers on movie star Rona (Rachael Harris, who fits perfectly into the ensemble as the self-absorbed actress with a dark secret), who’s come to the ISIS offices to do research for her part in upcoming spy thriller Disavowed. While she tags along after Lana, who only reluctantly agrees to show her the spycraft ropes after Archer comes on to Rona, Malory and Cyril take a look at the script for Disavowed and decide they can make some improvements to it. Meanwhile, Pam, Cheryl/Carol, and Gillette get a hole of Rona’s journal and try to decide whether or not they should flip through it and find out the star’s biggest secrets. All three plots tell complete stories, but they also dovetail and split off from each other, with the grand finale involving Archer and Lana in separate places but coming to the same conclusions.
My favorite plot in the episode was Malory and Cyril’s attempts to spice up the script. Malory’s efforts resulted in a jumbled mess, which required Cyril to step in and take control—you can’t have a flash-forward inside of a flashback, after all. This allows the show to get in a few sly digs at itself as existing in a supposedly worn-out genre (spy comedy) and playing around with the tropes of that genre without making much effort to be wildly original. Granted, this is probably advancing the season’s master-plot on some level as well, since it ends with Cyril and Malory tumbling into the sack together (as you knew they had to), but I love the way the script the two are writing slowly spirals out of control, until Malory’s racist overtones and Cyril’s love of good structure combine to somehow create a script they sell to the studio as Mandingo 2. (And the final capper gag of who the “studio” really is is very funny, too.)
The storyline with Rona’s journal ends up having very little to do with the journal at all and everything to do with the people wrestling with whether they should read it or not. Pam and Cheryl/Carol have frequently been sidelined this season—to the show’s detriment, I think—but this is a great storyline for them, featuring as it does Pam’s zest for gossip and Cheryl/Carol’s undiagnosed mental disorders. (I loved Gillette’s realization about why she does so much macramé instead of knitting.) What’s amusing here is that we never find out what’s in Rona’s journal—information that could have possibly tipped Lana and Archer off to Rona’s status as a Soviet sleeper long before she got the drop on them—because the three get so involved in their arguments and Cheryl/Carol’s terrifying stories of her unrequited college crush. This is just a funny plot, and it plays nicely off of the chemistry between Judy Greer, Amber Nash, and Adam Reed, even if those actors have never shared a room together.
Finally, we come to Lana, Archer, and Rona, which was a highlight right up until the end. Obviously, Rona has to be a Soviet agent for the conclusion to make any sense, but it still felt weirdly abrupt and barely built to. (Maybe this is the point, however, since the characters have every opportunity in the world to figure out who Rona really is but never even bother.) Granted, Rona is kind of a collection of easy jokes about how self-absorbed actresses are, but I liked her attempts to get Lana to admit how “AMAAAAAZING!” she is, and I thought Harris found a nice spin on jokes that could have been very tired without her able voice work. The final plot point gets a little jumbled—it might have been nice to have a better sense of where Archer was in relation to everything—but I like that for once, Archer and Lana fail, and the final positioning of the two, with Archer slumped over so his head is in Lana’s lap, is funny as well. (I couldn’t understand everything the two said in that slurred, drugged speech, but what I did catch was great.)
Those minor errors aside, this was another great episode in a great season, suggesting that last week’s mildly disappointing half-hour was an aberration. Archer has now reached the halfway point of its second season, and it’s had only two episodes that didn’t hit the absolute highs of what this show is able to do at its very best, plus it’s found a way to weave a series of complicated master plots AND a series of flashbacks into the characters’ pasts into the midst of everything else. Archer season one was a lot of fun, but if the show can manage to pull all of this stuff together into one cohesive unit at the end of the season, season two will be another thing altogether. They’ve nailed all of the set-up, now let’s see how they do with bringing everything to a close.
- Even though it would make no sense for Rona to come back, I’d like to see her again, just because Harris fits so well with the rest of the cast. I suppose on a spy show, there’s always a way to come up with an excuse to bring a former villain back.
- It’s always good to see the boys in the intelligence room and see Archer berate them.
- This week in H. Jon Benjamin: His delivery of Archer’s deafness after Lana fired off the gun right in his ear was priceless (“Mah! Mah!”), and the little voice he did when he was deploying the Krieger bots was very funny, too, particularly as it almost sounded like Krieger for a second.
- The only character who doesn’t get a lot to do, come to think of it, IS Krieger, who nevertheless gets a quick scene with Archer in the lab. Oh, and Woodhouse is confined to that opening scene at the Archer penthouse.
- I just found out this week I’ve been spelling it Mallory all along when it was supposed to be “Malory.” I could make a joke about this being yet another English major reference, but I’m pretty sure that would make no sense.
- "That wet, clingy shirt she wears the whole time? Nippletown!"
- "Do you know who you are?" "I do!"
- "You're just doing this to spite me!" "And?"
- "The mind fairly boggles."
- "Well-played, sir." "Thank you. … … Thank you."
- "Three weeks later, I was in Tunisia, killing a man."
- "And she's also having a torrid affair with one of her sexy young agents… who's black."
- "Aw. I meant to make a frowny face."
- "Excuse me. Mah. Mah."
- "Gimme that, Little Miss Invasion of the Privacy Snatchers."
- "I made a phone call to the draft board, and now who's laughing, Mr. Hooks for Hands?"
- "Deaf people are gross." "Not as gross as the hook-hand ones." "Eh. I dunno."
- "Spy comedy? … Because that has been done."
- "You can't have a flashback with a flash-forward in it. That's just … bad writing."
- "For starters, I don't think you wanna say this guy is as coal black and thick-muscled as a fieldhand."
- "Racist overtones aside, it really kinda limits your casting options. I mean, only two, three guys could play that."
- "… to see what kind of music he was into or turtles or roll around in his clothes or whatever."
- "Why did you have a knife?" "I didn't! It was a stupid pair of scissors."
- "Holy shit snacks!"
- "Because it's just not believable that this guy — and you canNOT call him Cassius…"
- "Is that so hard, Count Snackula?"
- "I don't have cock porn just layin' around. But sometimes, you just forget it's in the VCR."
- "Why would you think it's OK to share that?"
- "Why don't you just make it a shot-for-shot remake of Mandingo?"
- "If your aunt had balls, she'd be your uncle."
- "We're calling it Mandingo 2: The Enslavening."
- "Oh yeah? While you're covered up in a half-mile of shit-covered tape? Frickin' actresses."
- "What voice is that? Is that from Bullwinkle?"
- "You're not my supervisor!"
- "Say the right stuff, and they just send you to mental hospital for a few months."
- "With the schnozz and the combover, you're a dead ringer for Karl Malden."