Seven years ago, Archer did something weird: Starting in September 2011, the show kicked off its third season by ditching all of its spy series trappings and general James Bond spoofery—ostensibly the stuff that sold it to fans in the first place—in favor of sending its heroes off on a strange, sprawling, off-model island adventure. The lessons learned from “Heart Of Archness”—which turned out to be three of the best episodes the show would ever unleash—have been easy to track as the show has developed and mutated over the years, and creator Adam Reed has grown ever-more comfortable (too comfortable, to some minds) with the idea that “Archer” is simply whatever this batch of characters, actors, and animators feel like doing at the moment. Last year, it gave us noir, gumshoes, and dog murder, and this year, it’s culminated in an entire season that’s functionally an expansion and homage to the tropical three-parter that started the show down this path.
The self-referential nature of Danger Island has never been clearer than in “Some Remarks On Cannibalism,” which brings back David Cross’ “Archness” character, hapless anthropologist Noah, to comment and observe on Archer and Pam’s latest predicament. Picking up from last week, the pair have been kidnapped by the island’s Mua-Mua cannibals, who intend to shave, braise, and devour them as part of their next big feast, even as Fuchs’ Nazi soldiers close in on their location, and Malory, Charlotte, and the rest of the show’s cast wander the jungle looking for the mysterious idol (and also everybody else). But as welcome as Noah’s return—complete with the good-natured, myopic optimism that made him such a charmer the first time around—might be, all it really does is highlight the spots where Archer has started to miss a step or two since the last time he appeared.
The jokes are all still here—and the people delivering them as top-notch as ever—but there’s something unquestionably toothless about “Cannibalism.” The real culprit is the show’s increasing turn toward serialization, which forces the episode to spend most of its run-time funneling everybody into the jungle so they’ll all be on-hand for the next two weeks, when we’ll presumably finally get to the climax factory. (Phrasing.) And while I’m happy to see Lana back in the mix—after a weird cold-open digression that introduces us to her dismissive parents and failed art gallery dreams—her scenes with Malory, Charlotte, and the rest of the gang tonight amounted to little more than a lot of Scooby-Dooing around (complete with an inexplicable talking animal in tow).
As ever, though, thank god for Pam Poovey and Charlotte Vandertunt. Pam gets the best runner of the episode, as her proximity to the cannibals gets her thinking on the various merits of that old tropical delight, long pig. The show’s numerous “Pam would eat a person” gags have always fallen unpleasantly close to the territory of semi-lazy (by Archer standards) fat jokes, but Amber Nash’s cheerful delivery manages to recontextualize Pam’s interest in the most dangerous game as just another aspect of her wider lust for life. (The little “Oooh” she gives when Archer introduces the topic of side dishes is an especial delight.) In the end, she might even get her wish, too, as a brief moment of spear-hurling heroism on Archer’s part earns the tribe’s respect, meaning that everybody—even poor “tastes like chicken” Noah—gets invited to the feast to tuck into some freshly killed German food. (The Charlotte gag, which sees Ms. Vandertunt reveal herself to be an ace jungle tracker, is more slight, but I’m always delighted when a character exhibits some here-to-fore unseen special skill that blows everybody else away.)
And if it feels like I’m focusing on minutiae here, instead of the wider episode, well…It’s not for lack of trying, yeah? At 19 minutes, this is the season’s shortest episode to date, and it spends that time doing shockingly little with what it’s got. Pam and Archer get caught. Pam and Archer escape. Pam and Archer return to the cannibals as friends. Because this is Archer, there are plenty of fun moments happening within that basic skeleton—the nude banter between Sterling and his “Lenny” is good as ever, and I’m never going to say no to a “Master Cylinder” reference—but it still feels weird that a show that’s been granted a meager eight episodes for a season would spend so much of one playing Plot Checkers with its characters like this. That’s something Reed and company haven’t carried over from “Heart Of Archness,” unfortunately; that three-parter moved from crisis to crisis with a quickness and urgency that’s totally lacking here, and Danger Island suffers as a result.
- I’m honestly not sure whether the MacGuffin idol will turn out to be magical or not; Archer’s love of a good anticlimax says no, while its love of silliness and explosions says yes. Either way, I’m finding it hard to care much about the race for it. Fool me once with these season-long plots—Longwater, Woodhouse’s murder—etc.
- That’s Deadwood’s Keone Young and Arrow’s Kelly Hu (both prolific voice actors) as Lana’s mom and dad, by the way.
- Lana’s little “Whaaaaaat”s during her conversation with her parents are exactly the sort of classic Aisha Tyler VA I’ve been missing this year.
- Charlotte would still love some oysters, if anybody’s got any.
- Lana, criticizing Malory’s packing: “That crate is just gin!” “And vermouth!”
- So, what the fuck was up with that dead monkey bit, huh? If it’s just “Boy these guys are assholes,” we already covered that with “Nazis.” If it’s something more, then I guess we can expect some sort of monkey ex machina later on.
- Sorry, Donner Party: “Your fat white ass is pioneer jerky.”
- Pam’s lusty little monologue about the hypothetical teenage girl falling into the vat of braising liquid was an episode highlight.
- “I’m an anthropologist.” “ A spider scientist?!”
- There’s a nice little callback to Dreamlands while Pam and Archer are tied up. Thinking about it, I would actually enjoy seeing these versions of the character play detective, maybe more than the ones we got last year.
- “Et tu, Dudu?”
- Despite Archer’s typical calls of “Eat a dick!”, the Mua-Mua don’t eat the penis. “The testicles, though…”
- Calling back all the way to “Mole Hunt,” Archer gets a hard-on while cutting Pam loose. H. Jon Benjamin’s long, drawn-out “Noooooo…” when she asks him about it is another great moment resting entirely on the actor’s delivery.
- Cross gives a great voice performance, but I’m still holding out hope for a Patrick Warburton cameo.
- Noah, being his personal version of “helpful”: “That’s why you gotta know your petroglyphs!”
- I’m never going to get this show’s fascination with sudden moments of over-the-top gore. Stuff like the dead German slumping down on the spear always feels out of place to me.
- Obscure reference alert: Dutch Masters is, indeed, a brand of cigar, so maybe lighten up a little, Lana’s mom. If there’s a joke to Malory calling Charlotte “Lady Baltimore” outside her being another fancy rich lady named Charlotte, I don’t get it. And “Master Coconut” calls back to Adam Reed and Matt Thompson’s old Adult Swim show Frisky Dingo, where it was a largely non-sequitur gag in which a man shoves his dick into a tallboy, dances around, and shouts “Master Cylinder” into a megaphone. What the hell, damn guys?
- Line of the episode: Although I have a lot of affection for “The power of obsidian,” Pam walks away with the award with the closing joke of the night: “Oh man, and this is probably going to sound weird, but I could eat. Not a whole person…But probably like a drumstick?” (It’s the “drumstick” that kills me.)
- Here’s hoping the show’s Indiana Jones riffs in a trap-filled temple help it pick up the pace a little as we move into Danger Island’s final two adventures.