Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Sexy Young Agents: Archer review


TELEVISION REVIEW

ARCHER: 'Movie Star'

'Movie Star' is a great example of everything I love about Archer. It's a standalone episode - this season otherwise seems to be pushing towards more serialised storytelling, at least where the Wee Baby Seamus is involved - and has no themes, subtext or greater meaning. It's just a group of very funny people thrown into a ridiculous situation, with magnificent results: a relentless stream of bawdy humour, arcane in-jokes and fantastically exact character writing.

It's mostly an office episode, which is almost a guarantee of success, with a famous actress arriving at ISIS to tail an agent as research for her upcoming role as a spy in a movie called 'Disavowed'. Lana takes her up, mainly to spite Archer, while Malory decides that she has untapped writing talent and will write herself a role in the script, dragging Cyril in as her editor. Meanwhile, Pam, Gilette and Cheryl (I'm going to call her that from now on, as it's easier to read and write than Cheryl/Carol) have got their hands on Rona's journal and don't know what to do with it. All three stories are straightforward, but as you'd expect from Archer, it doesn't take long for everything to go askew.
 
Lana showing Rona the ropes of her work produced some hilarious character moments between her and the irate Archer, who'd like nothing more than to have his ego massaged by bedding the blonde bimbo starlet who had fallen into his lap, only to be snatched away by his spiteful ex. In a brilliant cast of voices, H. Jon Benjamin rocks it every week, with the writers providing him with some new point of silliness for him to take advantage of in each new episode. This time, it was Archer's reaction to his deafness after Lana fires a gun right next to his ear, resulting in him walking around the office saying 'muhp, muhp' to test his hearing. It barely qualified as a gag outside Archer making a silly noise, but Benjamin pitched it wonderfully and got laughs every time. The 'Kriegerbots' voice was pretty terrific too.

Rona's attempts to get Lana to admit how AMAZING she is - Rona's catchphrase was something else which could have been annoying, but was again so well-timed and pitched that it never failed to be funny - was also a lot of fun. Lana has always felt dragged down by the rest of the ISIS crew, operating at a level of competence way above the rest of them (Archer is a great agent, but hardly shy with the cock-ups), so having her being coaxed out of her shell and admit that she's actually rather rad was a fun change of pace. 

It also made the ending even more fun, knocking her right back down again after she'd been stupid enough to fall for Rona's act. Plenty of people will probably have found it anti-climactic, but I liked the twist - Archer and Lana fail their mission, for a change - and the closing line was hysterical, again throwing Lana right back into the buffoonery she had almost gained the confidence to fight back against.

Malory's rewriting of the script was probably the funniest of the three stories though, taking a silly but familiar premise and escalating it until going completely over the top in the most hysterical way. Virtually every line of dialogue between her and Cyril was gold, from his correcting of her writing ("You can't have a flashback with a flashforward in it..."), to the realisation that their script was turning into Mandingo as Malory piled in her numerous fetishes, then them inevitably getting off together after selling the script - sort of - as a real Mandingo sequel. 

The story allowed the programme to return to the comedy well of semi-unintentional racism for the first time since Archer brilliantly called Lana a 'quadroon' (possibly my favourite line from the first season, challenged only by 'bawk bawk!' in the pilot), again providing some of the biggest laughs of the season so far with a succession of close-to-the-bone lines: "For starters, I don't think you wanna say this guy is as coal black and thick-muscled as a fieldhand." It all building up to Cyril and Malory having wild sex, and the reveal of who the 'studio' negotiating with them really was, hit a peak of majestic absurdity which even for this programme was something special.

Finally, there was the subplot with Cheryl, Gilette and Pam deciding whether or not to read Rona's journal. This was the slightest of the three stories, but Cheryl and Pam are always great value together, while Gilette provided a dry streak to offset their natural dumb energy, which was on great form - Cheryl's story about 'Dick Sledge' (sploosh) has to be heard to be believed. Again, I could end up reprinting the script verbatim for every time it made me laugh - although Pam's early "Do you know who you are?!", following "Nippletown!", was so very perfect - but even then, I doubt if half those lines' impact could be conveyed without the voices behind them.

As a reviewer, these episodes are kind of a nightmare, because I usually start my writing by unpacking any underlying themes or meaning as an avenue into what made everything tick. Archer at its best has none of that, just an amazing ability to get consistently huge laughs from its eclectic mix of characters and the voice cast behind them, meaning I'm left either reprinting the best lines or restating why each combination of personalities in the ISIS offices work so brilliantly together - all things you have to watch to really understand. The writer in me is frustratedly trying to come up with something new to say as my viewer self is busting a gut with laughter, but if that's the challenge which comes with a programme as awesome as Archer, it's a bloody brilliant one to have.

Best Moment: This episode was greatness from start to finish, but Malory's racist alterations to the 'Disavowed' script probably edged it for the top spot. Or maybe 'Dick Sledge'!

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