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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Simon Pegg cooks up a damn fine episode of Archer

Illustration for article titled Simon Pegg cooks up a damn fine episode of iArcher/i
Image: FXX
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Despite having used it something like a hundred times at this point, Archer has never really been a natural fit for its own “mission of the week” structure. For a comedy so intimately based in character, having the show jet off once every few weeks to a new location, filled with new guest stars who may or may not match the show’s delicate comedic chemistry, has often been an unpredictable approach for a series that needs its cast working together—even as its characters frequently work against—in order to be at its best. Far safer just to order in, instead.

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“Best Friends” gets that. Sure, there’s a “mission”—i.e., Ray (yay, Ray!) faking a kidnapping in order to get some free vacation time in Fiji—and there’s one very major guest star, in the form of Archer’s dapper new valet, Aleister (Simon Pegg). But the episode nevertheless keeps its comedy close to home, whether that’s literal, as when Aleister and Archer inevitably open fire on each other in his (very nicely polished) apartment, or figurative, as when the valet-assassin reveals that he’s actually been gunning for Cyril this whole time, who’s usurped Archer’s title of “World’s greatest spy” since the whole coma thing went down.

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If I’m playing fast and loose with that “Aleister is a killer” reveal, it’s only because the episode does, too. Matt Roller’s script—a remarkable uptick in quality from “Robot Factory,” by the by—works as many “Sexy, talented valet” jokes out of its system as it can in the first couple of minutes, then gets to business. (Because we all knew Pegg probably wasn’t going to be joining the show’s cast permanently.) Said business centers on a series of attempted assassinations that also give Archer and Cyril more time to irritate the hell out of each other, in “a classic Odd Couple fight”—Aleister’s words, not ours.

Now, there’s a bit of a cheat here, in that Cyril has suddenly, and pretty much completely, regressed out of his season 11 alpha spy persona by this point, having intentionally started ducking out on missions in order to get back to a life of pushing papers. Roller has basically brought in the Cyril of season two to hang out for an episode, giving Archer someone to bounce off of without (immediately) being lethally threatened by. (The same could be said of the rest of the backsliding agency, actually, who quickly glom onto Ray’s scheme to get themselves some relaxation time. Even the episode’s ending, with Malory inexplicably out-foxing everybody, feels very much of an earlier time.)

But hey, you know what? Season two of Archer was pretty damn good, and it’s just as damn good to re-explore the Cyril-Archer character dynamic in a relatively low-stakes, murder-semi-light environment. Especially if it gets us moments like the elevator action between Archer and Cyril (who, of course, knows every term for every part of an elevator), bickering about who’s going to end up dying in a box. Or the final confrontation, in which a rage-maddened Archer, having already suffered the indignity of being “Cyril-bait,” is forced to contemplate the further mortification that Cyril might be his best friend. (He’s not, because Pam, but Archer’s righteous indignation at the idea is still fun.)

Along the way we get a few classic Krieger moments, our first “Malory wants to fuck the new guy” scene in a while, and the horrifying sight of a bunch of Woodhouse clones getting flushed. All of which is grounded by the return of Delighted Archer, a flavor of our titular second-place superspy that’s always nice to see, and a great performance from Pegg, who fits the show’s cadences like a perfectly tailored glove.

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So: Is it a bad thing that this season’s best episode of Archer (so far) is such a deliberate throwback to the show’s “glory days”? (Seriously: This is basically just the first Conway Stern episode, except that this time, Archer likes the new guy, too.) Hard to say. On the one hand, Archer has demonstrated pretty regularly that there’s not a ton of juice left in these old setups, which tend to curdle quickly into cynicism and repetition the more times the show plays them out. On the other hand, “Best Friends” very specifically doesn’t fall into that joyless trap; instead, it feels like a fresh, even, yes, joyful episode of that older, long-vanished show, somehow dropped back into the episode order a very long 11 seasons in.

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Image: FXX
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Stray observations

  • Archer former valet update: “Two are still in the hospital!” “One, they moved Cornelius to a hospice.”
  • Archer on daquiris: “The drink of sad writers and stupid teenagers.”
  • Aleister’s tests include devising his own eye-sand punishment, and then literally consuming a bag of potting soil. Why does Archer associate pica with love?
  • “He knows my foibles!” Any time H. Jon Benjamin takes Archer’s voice up into those registers, I get happy.
  • I know I already briefly remarked on this in the review, but having Adam Reed back as Ray is an automatic half-letter grade bump from me, too.
  • “Non-lethal violence is my second-favorite kind!”
  • There’s no real point to that Malory-Aleister scene—for a second, I thought it was foreshadowing that he was really targeting her—but I did like Krieger’s “I’m honestly not sure” when asked if Archer was interrupting something.
  • Speaking of throwbacks: How long has it been since we’ve seen the situation room?
  • “I’ll keep the mais tai’d for you.”
  • “Cyril, no one tries three assassinations in one day, it’s unprofessional.”
  • First I repressed my violent urges, and now they’re out again. Pick a lane Cheryl or Carol!”
  • Given that Lana’s having marital troubles, I half-expected the reveal to be that Robert was paying Aleister to finish off Archer for good. (Phrasing.)
  • “Cyril Figgis? The guy I sometimes stab on accident?”
  • Cyril, weary: “Is this an honor thing? I’ll just say you have more honor.”
  • The whole Cyril-Archer showdown is full of great lines, actually. “Go get a weapon. I’ve got a gun, so…probably a gun.” “Wouldn’t you rather get shot by someone you know, like me?” And Cyril’s little “You win!” right at the end.
  • Sure, Archer told Cyril about his new office first—but only out of spite!
  • Obscure reference alert: Balestra, coulé, and coupé are all fencing words. I’ll leave it to our aggressive audience of fencing fans to determine if they’re being used correctly. The black sand beaches of Vík í Mýrdal do, indeed look lovely. Bernard Montgomery led British troops in both World Wars, Mr. Boston is a popular line of bartending guides, and Alexander Miles invented automatically opening elevator doors. Who says TV rots your brain?
  • Bonus obscurity: Archer’s elevator death statistic appears to have been pulled from this 2013 paper from The Center For Construction Reasearch And Training. Christ, maybe TV really does rot your brain.
  • Line of the episode: It’s a squeaker, but Krieger’s response to Lana’s “Can you keep a secret, i.e., “Did an entire breed of Chilean llamas go extinct two months ago?” is a great bit of delivery from Lucky Yates. Good Krieger episode all-around, really.
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