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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Archer: "Placebo Effect"

Illustration for article titled iArcher/i: Placebo Effect
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“Placebo Effect” isn’t as tight as last week’s ridiculously funny “Stage Two,” but it has at least two or three of the funniest comedic setpieces Archer has ever come up with. For starters, there’s the scene where Archer, trying to figure out just how a bunch of cancer drugs have been replaced with sugar pills and Zima, corners a bunch of Irish mob hoodlums in a warehouse and then begins asking them for the name of their boss, shooting them in the kneecaps when they don’t comply. Yeah, yeah, it’s a scene you’ve seen before, on a lot of other TV shows and in lots of movies, but have you seen it where the man doing the questioning has conceived of said questioning as some sort of Family Feud homage? No? Because tonight’s Archer had that for you.

In fact, this whole confrontation might be my favorite single comedic scene of the TV season. Granted, there’s a lot of competition (and I’d hesitate to list even, say, a top five), but at the very least, this is in the conversation. When Archer asks the first goon what the name of the boss is and punctuates it with a “SURVEY SAYS!” it’s funny, but by the time he’s gotten all the way down the line and has observed such Feud traditions as having Lana be in the isolation booth, the scene has gone past funny and right to hysterical. I’ve said before that I’m not someone that laughs out loud a lot—Midwestern stoicism, etc.—but man, if this scene didn’t have me laughing so hard that I’m sure I missed at least five or six equally good jokes. For that very reason, this one might be worth a revisit later in the week.


But there was plenty of other great stuff here, as well. The show fell back into its season one patterns of sending Lana and Archer out into the field, then leaving everybody else back at the office to talk about the discovery that Archer’s chemo drugs were placebos—outside of the medical marijuana, of course. Plus, a tiny little gag buried in the first scene, where Krieger and Archer talked in Portuguese for some reason, had its payoff a few scenes later, when Cyril proved that Krieger is the offspring—or maybe the clone—of a Nazi scientist, who was killed in his home in Brazil by ISIS goons at the behest of Malory, who somehow got the family’s Dobermans to eat Krieger’s dad. (I love the little smile of contempt crossed with happiness on Malory’s face throughout this quick flashback.) I don’t know how long the writers have been planning to make Krieger the offspring of Nazis—in retrospect, it’s completely obvious—but it’s a great joke, and it gets funnier every time the show returns to it, concluding with one of the great Malory moments, where she delivers a ridiculous monologue about how much former Nazi scientists have given to us to Cyril.

If the episode has a flaw, it’s in the ending, which seems to be where the most Archer episodes are slightly falling down this season. The ending here isn’t BAD or anything, but it does feel like another case of the show swinging for the fences and not being content with the double it hit instead. (Sorry. I try not to use cliché baseball metaphors in these things, but the soon-to-arrive Opening Day has me antsy. Go, Brewers?) The bulk of the episode deals with Archer—increasingly rundown and haggard from the chemo meds he immediately starts pumping into his body once he finds them at the warehouse—being dragged around by Lana, in an attempt to figure out who was behind the whole scheme. At the same time, he makes friends with a fellow cancer patient named Ruth, an older woman who dies toward the episode’s end.


All of this is very funny. The Ruth storyline doesn’t work quite as well as the more goofy physical business with Archer wandering around like some sort of ghoulish nightmare, ready to get revenge for everything that’s happened to him, but it’s a nice parody of the way that every cancer storyline ever has to involve some sort of wise, older person who dies to teach the hero everything they have to value in their own lives (not that Archer would ever notice what he has to value anyway). And the action-oriented bits are funny because they rely on one of the show’s strongest relationships—an increasingly needy Archer and an increasingly pissed-off Lana who’s sick of having to put up with her partner’s bullshit. But there’s definitely a sense of diminishing returns in this storyline as the episode goes along, and most of the big laughs shift to the Krieger storyline back at the office.

The ending, also, is not terrible, but could have been better (as mentioned). Once Archer tracks down the man responsible for switching the drugs—who slept with his mom, as it turns out (in a gag that seems to play in every episode this season)—he asks him if he watched Regis that morning (oh, how Ruth loved her Regis), then puts a bullet in his head. It’s a nice little sequence, a perfect emulation of this sort of “getting revenge” moment in an action movie, but then it freeze frames on Archer firing the gun, before rewinding to play it all over again. Of course this turns out to be a part of the movie Archer’s been unknowingly assembling throughout the movie, thanks to having a video camera present at all times. The movie’s being shown at some sort of “you’re better!” party for Archer, thrown in honor of his beating cancer, and the whole scene feels like it very slowly deflates from the episode’s previous highs (though Cheryl/Carol still not knowing what cancer is continues to be amusing). It’s not awful, but it does end the episode on a bum note, where the best Archers build to gigantic laughs.


On the other hand, this was an episode where a cancer patient Archer staggered around the city, dealing out justice while getting increasingly worn down from his medication and increasingly high from all of the pot he was smoking (to say nothing of what that pot was doing to Lana, who was trapped in a small car with it). For roughly 19 minutes of a 20 minute run time, this was one of the show’s funniest episodes, and that’s a pretty high bar to clear. And I like that Archer reaches for the big ending, too, even if it doesn’t always work. Farewell, Ruth. You have been avenged.

Stray observations:

  • OK, fine, I’ll bite. Other great comedic scenes this season, one per show: the montage of Chris being unable to deal with getting sick on Parks & Recreation’s “Flu Season,” Troy’s freakout at meeting Levar Burton in Community’s “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking,” the bully threatens Louie in Louie. Those are three off the top of my head. I’m sure I’ll think of more later, and I’m sure you can help me.
  • Pam and Cheryl/Carol are turning into what might be my favorite duo on the show. They just bounce off of each other so well.
  • I loved the callback to Lana blowing out Archer’s hearing in “Movie Star,” then him blowing out BOTH of their hearing by setting off the real grenade, rather than the smoke grenade.
  • Judy Greer is the one doing the voice of that nurse, right? And that was JOAN VAN ARK as Ruth? Whoa.
  • Is Archer’s hair slightly shorter in that final scene, or am I crazy?
  • Excellent E Street band burn, random character.
  • Today, FX canceled Lights Out. While there’s still no news on Archer getting a third season, I remain hopeful that the show will. The ratings are up from season one, the show can’t be that expensive to produce, and it gets a nice amount of critical praise. All in all, it’s probably a good match for the FX brand, and I’m expecting it to get a pick-up. Then again, in these crazy times, who knows?
  • "Maybe it's just because I'm a badass, but chemo's a breeze."
  • "You didn't think it was weird your chemo drugs were chewable?"
  • "Basically candy corn and Zima … which is probably why I've been in such a great mood."
  • "Does someone you love have breast cancer?" "Yeah, me."
  • "Whatever farm animal of war, Lana, shut up!"
  • "You have a lotta guns!" "And a knife!"
  • "Well, you threatened to shove a knife up his dickhole, which, again, ick."
  • "Hm. Survey says." *bang*
  • "Cock-flavored spit?"
  • "Lana, you're in the isolation booth."
  • "You guys are in on this? And I was worried about sounding racist." "Really?"
  • "It wasn't all that long ago that everybody hated the Irish for swarming over here in their potato boats and taking all the jobs."
  • "Uber-German. It means warrior."
  • "It's Austin, duh."
  • "Duh. I actually have no idea." "No shit."
  • "RAMPAGE!"
  • "That's why we… they lost the war. Lack of science."
  • "Thanks, Woodsy. The drug owl?"
  • "Shame, too. Cuz he just loves the E Street Band." … "Did he just rag on my scarf?"
  • "She's not gay. She just has big hands."
  • "I thought it was a smoke grenade." "They look exactly. NOTHING. ALIKE."
  • "The Nazis invented Neil Armstrong?"
  • "After the war ended, we were snatching up Kraut scientists like hotcakes."
  • "The day my pet Dobermans accidentally ate my father!"
  • "I bet it smells like weed and rampage.
  • "You obviously haven't seen my movie Terms Of Enrampagement."
  • "OK, Clone Wars." "Zing."
  • "First of all, what the shit, mother?"

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