On paper, “Archer crashes Area 51” sounds like a classic episode. Between Archer’s love of the bizarre, Cheryl’s wild conspiracy theorizing, Pam’s distaste for authority, and Krieger’s…well, everything, letting the cast run haphazardly around Area 51 should be a firecracking good time. By the time the credits roll, though, “Nellis” feels more underwhelming than anything else. There have been Archer episodes that ran short before, but “Nellis” is the first in a while where I’ve really felt the absence of time and, frankly, jokes.

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We kick off with Archer begging for help after his latest bender in Vegas. It’s hard to blame him for this one, since it was prompted by Lana hiring Slater and Kumail Nanjiani to carry out an elaborate kidnapping scenario to test his worth as a parent. The lengths she went to to make Archer feel the weight of responsibility were extreme, to say the least, and it makes perfect sense that Archer would spiral afterwards.

So actually, before we get into the actual Area 51 part of the action, let’s talk about Lana and Malory. Both characters have been largely sidelined this season. Lana’s entire character this season is “mother,” while Malory has spent more of her storylines offscreen than ever. It’s then almost a relief to see them together; I was almost at the point where I figured they’d only show up at the end of an episode to hold a baby and cluck disapproval at Archer. Putting Malory and Lana together for separate story is also smart since both of their arcs this season have revolved around the baby Abijean (Malory Kane), but at the same time, it highlights that these arcs have been pretty stagnant. Neither character should feel quite this dispensable seven episodes into the season. The further problem with Lana right now is that motherhood has made her double down on her moralistic lecturing tendencies, which was already kind of a drag in terms of defining characteristics. Also, her continuing to scorn Archer for failing to be a standup parent immediately is unflattering in light of her making him a parent against his will in the first place. Without missions to focus her energy on, Lana is just kind of a mess right now.

Meanwhile, Archer’s adventure at Area 51 feels like a waste of precious real estate. As I said up top, there is no reason why Archer’s take on this infamous plot of mysterious United States real estate should feel so thin and scattered. Much of my discontent with the way this storyline plays out probably stems from the fact that I don’t for a second buy that Archer wouldn’t be all over Area 51. Sure, Archer will prioritize drinking above most things in this world, but there’s just no way that he wouldn’t seize the opportunity to see things from literally out of this world. Instead, he spends much of this episode doing not much of anything, though he at least gets in a pretty sweet fistfight with the Air Force (again, the hand-to-hand combat animation this season has been on another level). Archer’s lax attitude towards flying near, landing on, and ultimately getting to hang out in Area 51 is the most jarring aspect of this episode—which also includes actual aliens.

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Part of me wonders if Archer staying so far out of the actual Area 51 parts of Area 51 was a conscious choice to better highlight the Pam/Krieger pairing. As two of the more overtly bizarre characters to grace the office, Pam and Krieger are usually at least adjacent to each other, but they rarely have one-on-one interactions. “Nellis” draws them together with a shared passion for the alien and unexplained, and while watching Pam and Krieger sob as aliens wrap up the entire point of the universe is a treat, it’s also hard not to think it happened purely because Adam Reed thought a Pam/Krieger runner might be fun to write. There’s no question why Krieger is interested in the twisted inner-workings of Area 51, but Pam’s sudden interest feels a little too convenient. It further feels strange to see Archer dismissing Pam’s shaking insistence that she saw aliens so harshly—“you stupid idiot”—when they have become so close. I rarely say this about Archer, which has made caustic sidebars an intrinsic part of its brand, but the interaction felt unnecessarily mean-spirited.

Ultimately, I find myself at a loss for much more to say about “Nellis.” Archer is still a sharper comedy than most, so there are still great moments sprinkled throughout: Archer catching and kissing Cheryl, Krieger lighting up at the possibility of the aliens’ advanced anal probes, Malory offering another $5000 if Lana baptizes A.J. in “a white church.” I just never thought I would lack enthusiasm when talking about an episode that includes aliens, let alone an episode of Archer that includes aliens. Hopefully this won’t be the last we see of them, so we can get more out of them than we got here.

Stray observations:

  • EDIT: Early bird commenters will notice that the grade shifted downwards, and that is because I review multiple shows on Thursdays and mixed up my letters. Sorry, Archer.
  • Hey, that incomprehensible woman at the Vegas payphone isn’t just a nuisance, she’s a Frisky Dingo character! Neat.
  • Also: nice touch to have the staircase to Cheryl’s SkyTunt be a Bluth-style stair car.
  • So I’m not thrilled with Lana this season, but since next week is called “The Kanes,” I’m going to remain cautiously optimistic.
  • Krieger vs. Clone!Krieger: His childlike glee when approaching Area 51 is the most sincere we’ve seen him in a long while. Point: Krieger.
  • Milton vs. Malory: Another week when Milton refuses to show his toaster face. Point: Malory.

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