Wednesday, 18 May 2011

This Is About To Get Weird: Archer review


TELEVISION REVIEW

ARCHER: 'Blood Test'

This week's Archer may not quite be as hysterical as last's week's gloriously deranged story of mind control, Ponzi schemes and rabbits, but does suggest the series may be preparing to tread new ground with a season-long story arc. The return of prostitute Trinette, holding a baby in her arms and a legal demand for Archer to submit to DNA testing, is both a marvellous twist on 007's carefree attitude to sex and has great potential to throw a spanner into the show's established formula. Naturally, it's an even better excuse for a lot of Mallory hypocrisy and a whole lot more filthy sex jokes. But it wouldn't be Archer if that weren't the case.

Even in its less raucous moments, the episode raises some big character points which at times threaten to make this broadest of comedies almost affecting. That's not to suggest that Archer is lowering itself into self-indulgent sentimentality that most programmes do when tackling their characters' exposed pasts: as with the first episode's reveal that Gillette was an Olympic slalom skier in his youth, the information we glean on how Wodehouse came to be in the Archer family's service or (another reason) why Lana left Archer is thrown out with effortless insouciance. They're affecting because they are rare moments of honesty for these most exaggerated of characters, not because a big deal is made out of them.

Even while Archer is terrified at the prospect of paying out child support, it's Mallory who is at the centre of most of those moments. Being who she is, her default position is one of total hypocrisy: even as someone who sired an illegitimate child (or bastard, as she makes a point of calling it), the prospect of being mother to someone in the same situation fills her with dread at what it will do to her social standing. Yet when roped into taking part in an office baby shower, the sight of her son's old baby clothes rekindles what little maternal instinct survives in her withered soul and the plea she makes to Archer, as he breaks into the vault where his blood sample (all eight gills of it) is being stored with the intention of swapping it to get out of paternity duty, is dangerously close to revealing a well-hidden conscience. It's such an unexpected turn of events that it even makes Archer think twice, though he goes ahead with the swap anyway. (Not that it does him any good).

All these baby shenanigans (and a number of drinks) make Lana go all maternal as well, evidently pinched by the idea that Archer might have a baby with a prostitute after resolutely refusing to consider the idea with her. Though her scenes are mostly played for laughs, giving us more Truckasaurus hand jokes and the sight of her pleading with Gillette to have a baby with her (leading the ever-sensitive Pam to offer the inspired insight that the child of a mixed-race woman and gay man would be "the best dancer ever"), but added a smidgen of human depth to a character otherwise defined by her work.

A more pithy revelation was Wodehouse's ongoing heroin addiction and the suggestion that Mallory once had to pay his way out of a very sticky situation. Its main purpose in this episode was moving the plot forward, but I'd be surprised if it isn't returned to in greater detail later this season. As much fun as the 'invisible ants' pay-off was, it's definitely something I'd like to know more about.

The baby shower that occupied most of the middle act was the episode's highlight, riddled with the escalating silliness which Archer is so proficient at. As I mentioned last week, the programme is often at its best when the office characters are forced to interact with each other to pull off some harebrained scheme in a confined space, which was very much the case here. The opening and closing acts weren't bad, with the reappearance of ODIN always a pleasure, but had a bit too much story to tackle to establish a strong comic rhythm, despite a number of moments of isolated hilarity, notably Lana's accidental triggering of Cheryl's strangulation fetish in a fight. ("I think I just did...").

Once everyone was crammed into Archer's flat though, conspiring to knock Cyril unconscious so they could swap a 'sample' of his blood for Archer's ahead of the DNA test, the gags and absurdities started piling up until all that was left was poor Cyril, unconscious in the bathroom with Gillette sneaking in to do what Pam couldn't. ("Get off Cyril!" "I was trying to get him off!"). There were also a large number of callbacks to previous episodes, with Archer once again punishing Wodehouse by throwing his clothes off the balcony, his dismay at ODIN's appropriation of his trademark black turtleneck, and a throwaway "paging Dr. Loggins" that brought back one of Archer's silliest, most esoteric one-liners from the first season. Krieger, as usual, more than filled the episode's quota for weirdness (drinking his own breast mik) and got the best running gag with his offscreen cries of "Me too!"

This was an episode which felt like it was building for the future, yet still found time to be a marvellously silly half-hour in its own right. The moments when the jokes didn't hit as hard as usual were compensated for with some unexpectedly tender character moments, a further reminder of the writing depth that elevates Archer above the average bawdy sit-com. 'The Blood Test' set in motion some fascinating subplots and character arcs that should be great fun to watch the series pull to ever-greater heights of lunacy.

BEST MOMENT: "Me too!"

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