Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Too many Barrys spoil the broth on a joke-light Archer

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Image: FXX
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I miss Other Barry.

Don’t get me wrong: When it comes to the great Barry Dylan Divide—which, before the coma seasons usurped the role, was one of the most divisive topics running through the entire Archer fandom, splitting it between those who enjoy the show’s periodic visits with Dave Willis’ unhinged cyborg nemesis, and those who find him a needless and pointless distraction—I was and am a firm supporter of any and all Barrys available. As a character (wisecracking, hostile, functionally invincible), Barry disrupts Archer and Archer’s world in consistently interesting ways, forcing Sterling to play straight man and underdog, two roles he typically avoids like hell. Barry’s the one person in the universe (besides Malory, natch), that Sterling Archer can’t relentlessly bully into submission, and his presence in an episode tends to bring all sorts of neat distortions to the show’s formula. But what happens when you take that inherent hostility away? What’s left when you strip a character like this of a trait that’s proven far more fundamental to him than his skin, bones, or even his basic humanity? Just another Archer, really—except bulletproof, and with slightly better taste in track suits.

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It’s with that mindset, then, that we approach “Robot Factory,” an episode of Archer that presupposes: What if Barry was nice? Despite my misgivings, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the episode’s premise: Barry—who, like everyone, spent his Coma O’Clock becoming a better, less psychopathically murderous version of himself—teams up with Lana, Cyril, and Archer to take down a Russian factory pumping out a whole assortment of new Barry Bots. (Including Santa Barry, Mime Barry, and—my personal favorite—“creepy twins from The Shining” Barry.) The various flavors of Barry constitute the best jokes of the entire episode, which unfortunately says as much about the comic content of tonight’s pile of quips as it does the joy of seeing Chef Barry take a laser to the torso. Willis commits to keeping Barry on the relative straight-and-narrow, which, in turn, robs the episode of the manic energy that’s marked so many of the character’s best appearances. (At the risk of Thursday morning quarterbacking, I have to ask why the psychotic Barry clones go voiceless; having them as cacklingly crazy as ever seems like an easy way to let Willis fly off the rails while still working the character beats the episode is committing to.)

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Archer suspects a doublecross, of course, which—when it finally arrives—actually comes in the form of Lana trying to kill Barry, for reasons the episode doesn’t really bother to explain. (The implication is maybe that the agency has just been waiting for a convenient moment to take out this immortal murder machine before he goes full rampage on everybody, but the episode doesn’t bother to lay that out.) On the one hand, it’s always nice to see Archer wrench itself out of a well-worn storytelling groove, especially when it comes to its love of yanking satisfying character growth away from its audience like Lucy Van Pelt holding a football. On the other hand, the episode doesn’t have much of anything to fill in the absent space of the Archer-Barry conflict, or at least nothing more potent than “No, really, Barry is nice now.” It tries to find something to latch onto at the last minute by equating Lana’s decision to blow Barry up with her treatment of Archer’s coma, but it’s not an especially well-developed thread.

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Image: FXX

The rest of the mission marks two plot developments that were probably inevitable: The simultaneous breakdowns of Cyril’s hard-earned competence and of the agency’s “no killing” policy. Looking back, it was naïve to assume that the relatively healthy place this season’s premiere took its characters to was anything but a lofty perch for Archer’s return to knock them back down from, and Cyril goes tumbling into the darkness with aplomb tonight, snapping necks, bingeing candy bars, and promising to adopt a quartet of Russian half-orphans. As much as I’ve liked New, Better Cyril, Chris Parnell was usually stuck playing Cyril in registers that ranged from insufferably whiny to insufferably smug, so it was nice to hear a full descent into madness from him again. Cyril’s collapse also leaves Lana as the last person in Archer’s life not to backslide into bad habits now that he’s back. Instead she asserts, once again, that she was under absolutely zero obligations to freeze her life in place just because he got shot, and that her decision to not pine over him was a healthy one. It continues to be a refreshing throughline for this string of episodes, but the sight of everyone else falling like domonos back into their old patterns makes me worried. Can Lana hold off the inevitable as we barrel our way into the back half of the season? (Yes, already! The time, it sure does fly.)

Meanwhile, there’s also a C plot. Simon Pegg is in it. Cheryl gets a couple of good lines.

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And really, that’s the problem with “Robot Factory”: It just doesn’t have the jokes to support all the scenery moving it’s doing, whether that’s Malory’s Pam-assisted search for a new valet for Sterling, or establishing Archer and Barry as new best buds. (Which doesn’t make me terribly enthusiastic for next week’s installment, “Best Friends,” also written, like this one, by former Rick And Morty story editor Matt Roller.) The necessary plot beats are all there, sure. But—much like a certain formerly murderous cyborg of our acquaintance—the episode seems to be lacking the all-important little voice in its head that makes spending time with it really feel worthwhile.

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Image: FXX
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Stray observations

  • I gave the plotline short shrift in the body of the review, but it is nice to have the Pam-Cheryl team back in action for Malory’s valet hunt. “You know you got shot, right?” “For your information, this is a prior wound.”
  • “He has briefing power?”
  • Archer continuing to zap the impervious Barry is a nice physical gag—but not as exciting as the surprise survival of Reggie the lemur!
  • “Shhh, the movie’s starting.”
  • Archer, on valet standards: “Alcot, do you not know my entire backstory?”
  • “Sterling’s going through valets like a bullet through tropical mahogany” is not only a great Malory-ism, it also taught me about wood hardness! (Although, isn’t all mahogany technically tropical?)
  • Archer, dismissing Cyril’s (entirely well-founded) fears about his new insult-then-candy-bar routine: “No, I just happen to have a lot of candy bars, and separately, I don’t respect you.”
  • “Hey man, can you not shoot your gun so close to my penis?”
  • Archer being shyly proud about his progress in physical therapy was actually, genuinely kind of nice.
  • We get a callback to the long running gag about the dangers of knocking people out.
  • Judy Greer chanting “You can’t do it! No one believes in you!” as the valets navigate Krieger’s “NIGHT CLUB MODE” laser course is the sort of encouraging note we could all use right now.
  • As is “I don’t need to watch the world burn. I’m all about the smell.”
  • Archer, right around the time British Lord Barry and Spider-leg Barry show up: “This all feels pretty coma-y.” (It’s also the third time in as many episodes that Archer’s suggested he might still be in the coma, which feels like an attempt to stop people from speculating that he’s still in the coma.)
  • All the characters would like us to know that Archer’s new valet Alistair (Simon Pegg, doing the poshest voice imaginable) is very sploosh-worthy. Can’t wait to see how he inevitably fails to work out.
  • Obscure reference alert: Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t nail down a brand for Cyril’s sipping tequila; similarly, if there’s a distinct ranking of intra-grade cashmere types, I can’t find it from looking around. Barry’s lullaby to Archer is “Las Mañanitas,” a traditional Mexican birthday song, though, while Irving Klaw was a noted purveyor of soft-core porn with a taste for photos featuring ropes and bondage. I swear, the things this show does to my Google history.
  • Line of the episode: Archer fishing the photo out of the dead guard’s pocket and taunting Cyril with “I hope these four little girls are just his friends, but the resemblance is uncanny” really tickled me. (I also loved Barry’s follow-up, “You want Cyril to tie it up and snap its neck?” Really, that whole bit is the most enjoyably chaotic that “Robot Factory” gets.)
  • I miss Ray.
  • “Hey, heard what you said about my penis. Thanks, bud.”
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