In last week’s review of “The Leftovers,” I spilled quite a bit of space-ink on the idea that Archer: 1999—which will likely be Adam Reed’s last season on Archer, whether the show gets miraculously renewed when its latest order runs out this year or not—represents something of a potential changing of the guard. That episode, like this one (and like three others this season, taking us all the way up to the Reed-penned finale) was written by a newcomer to the show, a rarity for a series that has so consistently arrived in the comedic voice of a single creator/writer/executive producer/star. “The Leftovers,” I argued, was a clear sign that Archer could possibly survive Reed’s departure; that it might even benefit from having new writers come in to reinvigorate a series that has sometimes felt like it was thrashing around to find something, anything, to maintain its creator’s flagging interest in spy comedy bullshit.
This one, not so much.
The premise of “Dining With The Zarglorp” is perfectly fine, very standard sci-fi fare: After Archer throws a boredom-powered tantrum, the crew of the M/V Seamus finds itself devoured by the titular cosmic crustacean, where they’re forced to team up with/survive the attentions of a deranged and stranded survivor. Sure, we just did a “the crew goes space-mad after being cut off from resources” plot last week, but hey: It’s space. Space madness is going to come when it comes.
But even the vast, empty expanse of the cosmos doesn’t have to feel this lifeless, does it? Much of the problem stems with the guest star character, self-aggrandizing madwoman Captain Glenda Price (played by Idiotsitter co-creator Jillian Bell). Bell does fine playing the notes she’s given—with a nice note of mild indignation when she notes that one of the holidays launched in her name wasn’t “a bank holiday”—but there’s just not much here; outside of a brief moment of real menace when she makes the pivot from “cheerful life coach” to “suicide cult instigator,” the character’s arc is entirely predictable, and largely laugh-free. (Note: Having a character recite a bunch of fake sci-fi names as her accomplishments barely qualifies as a joke; it definitely doesn’t qualify as five of them, even if you repeat it that many times.)
It’s not like there aren’t occasional grace notes here. This is, after all, an episode that lets Judy Greer and Jessica Walter bounce delightfully off of each other, as Malory tries to convince Carol/Cheryl to save her shipmates, and Cheryl/Carol goes on long rants about the joys of pirate fashion. And Chris Parnell—who so often has to make the most of the least as whiny voice of reason Cyril—gets to have fun with the character’s quick slide into brainwashing and self-destruction. The animation is utterly gorgeous, too, from the shots of the Zarglorp’s massive squid eye, to the legitimately nasty-looking parasites and tumors that infest its digestive tract. (Aw, poor guy.)
But Archer is, ultimately, a show about jokes, and “Dining With The Zarglorp” is shockingly goof-light. There’s nothing especially funny about Archer’s very in-character decision to screw Price out of her dying burst of glory here, and even Cheryl’s various flights of madness feel like they were pulled directly from a season bible of Archer: 1999 character traits. The best you can say about “Dining With The Zarglorp” is that it has an excellent description of what someone who’s been living in a monster’s cloaca might smell like—Pam’s “It smells like a diaper’s coffin in here”—and that’s a pretty dispiriting thing to say about a show that’s proved it can transcend those basic lowbrow pleasures, even without Reed’s hand at the helm.
- “Dining With The Zarglorp” was written by Shane Kosakowski, whose other credits include some really great episodes of You’re The Worst.
- I know I gush about Judy Greer down in this section every single week, but it’s only because she’s amazing. Her quick descent into madness on “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” is a lullaby for the ages.
- “Ha ha, space-burn!”
- Hey, you know who never endangered the entire crew in a weird, tonally-off sideplot about building a clone of himself? Crackers.
- Between her lines about the quinceañera and “Can’t you go anywhere these days without being accosted by the homeless?” this episode is pretty heavy on old-school Malory-isms.
- It does get us this line from Archer, though, in response to “This is why you don’t invite them in”: “She’s a vampire?!”
- Like I said, Price didn’t do much for me, but her description of her crew’s pre-cannibalism activities did get a chuckle: “We played softball, taught ourselves piano.”
- “There’s always something that can be a mixer, Lana.”
- Today in Pam facts: She doesn’t so much have a penis; “It’s more like a garbage claw.”
- Reed gets a couple of good lines as Ray: “Screw it, if we’re dying in here, I’m going to finish that cake. I mean, I don’t even care.”
- “Unlike you, Lana, I have empathy. Sympathy?” Pam: “I think it’s symphony.”
- “Let’s find you a load-bearing pipe.”
- Obscure reference alert: Light week this time: Artemesia, first of Caria, was a Greek queen who sided with the Persians back in 300 times, and who’s known for leading her own troops into battle. Matlock is a popular legal “thriller” in which Andy Griffith plays a down-home folksy lawyer. Archer’s Moscow Mousse—I’m guessing that’s the punny way you spell it—is presumably a reference to a Moscow mule.
- “That’s not true, Lana, I just listened to that entire sentence, and it was excruciating.”
- Line of the episode: Split-decision. For writing, it’s Ray’s “Why, other than the obvious?” when Cyril says he’s killing himself; for performance, it’s the way Greer goes totally gleeful on the back half of “There’s someone brainwashing people into KILLING THEMSELVES!”
- Special mention for Pam, who not only gets the episode’s most successful runner—“Smart,” which she applies to cannibalism and the cool efficiency of the cloaca—and revels in her video-gamey life with a cheerful “Aw, c’mon, I was about to do my finishing move!”