Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Not Without My Turtleneck: Archer review


TELEVISION REVIEW

ARCHER: 'Jeu Monegasque'

I think almost any episode coming off the back of last week's 'El Secuestro' would come up short by comparison, and predictably 'Jeu Monegasque' feels like a comedown. Given how much there is to enjoy about the episode, I'm wondering how much my reaction is purely down to the comedic masterpiece it had to follow, but having watched it a second time, I'm not altogether convinced that it's quite up to the ridiculously high standards set by most of this season's other episodes. It's hanging around a 'Swiss Miss', 'Double Deuce' and 'Tragical History' level of quality: good, maybe even great by the standards of a lesser programme, but nothing special for Archer.

It's a 'mission' episode where the ISIS office staff are mostly left behind, which goes some way to explaining why there's not as much zip to it as the times when those characters are more prominent. Don't get me wrong, Archer, Lana, Malory and Ray are an inspired set, all more than capable of holding up entire episodes on their own, but Pam and Cheryl in particular have turned into the programme's best double act, bringing the kind of insane unpredictability that no other character can, possibly apart from Krieger (also office-bound). Episodes where they are pushed to the sidelines tend to feel more pedestrian without that unstable element, as is the case here.
 
It doesn't help that the material seemed to be of a less hilarious standard across the board than usual. Archer had one main obnoxious insult this week, which was adding 'Balls' onto the name of a waiter called 'BenoƮt' (if you're wondering), which got old pretty quickly. The payoff line was quite amusing, but didn't feel worth the effort it took to get there, nor that the joke didn't evolve in any way until that point. The gambling plot was more fun, and Archer's "Gummy bears all 'round!" was a rare instance of charming madness in an episode that mostly played as close to the book as Archer ever can, but didn't feel substantial enough to compensate for the weaker material. Normally the programme can cover its underwhelming plotting because the gags are so spectacular, but this misstep - even a relatively minor one - showed the dangers of that strategy.

As a character note rather than story, Archer's descent in gambling addiction produced some worthwhile results, especially in the now standard character flashback, which showed exactly how he developed his distaste for it as a young boy. Since Malory's involved and is dressed as Elvira, you can imagine that it's going to be brutal, and it is. As Archer quickly succumbed to the attraction of the casino in the present day (or Archer's equivalent thereof), the time jump gags were among the episode's strongest, along with several funny callbacks - Archer's tattoos, Pam's new jealousy of Cheryl, etc - and Ray and Lana's furious reactions to the discovery that not only had they lost the money with which they were supposed to buy the (sex) tape to complete their assignment, but also that Malory had drawn the money from their company accounts. The plan they hatched to get it back was a fun send-up of Ocean's Eleven-esque heists, ending up with Ray being oddly comfortable wearing Malory's clothes. Ick!

Back on American soil, the office staff had also discovered their empty accounts and decided to sell off ISIS furniture and equipment to recoup their lost earnings. As usual, both Pam and Cheryl threw out some gleefully weird lines, but didn't have the chance to work in tandem as they do at their best. Krieger made a welcome reappearance after sitting out 'El Secuestro', but the subplot contributed so little to the main story that it ended up coming across as rote, a way of working these characters into an episode for the sake of it, rather than because they were needed in any meaningful way. As you can tell from the first paragraph of this article, I'm always keen to have more Pam and Cheryl on-screen, but perhaps not when everything they're involved with feels this disposable.

If there was one area where 'Jeu Monegasque' outdid other Archer episodes though, it was the action-packed finale. The only other major action sequence this season has been the snowmobile chase in 'Swiss Miss', which was more background dressing (with environments repeating themselves several times over) than true set-piece. The climax last night really went for it though, with a chase through the streets of Monaco in F1 cars ("This might be hard to drive with such a huge, throbbing erection") as a helicopter attacked from above. It was cleverly staged, had a lot of energy, some great character gags thrown in to break up the havoc, and culminated in what was surely a parody of one of Die Hard With A Vengeance's more idiotic moments. If this episode didn't get the same laughs as many of its peers, at least it managed to quicken the pulse and show a willingness to experiment with the established formula, which otherwise came up a little short for once. 

Best Moment(s): This being Archer, even a disappointing episode came up with lines like "I must go find fresh towels and a whore" and "Why was I dressed as Hitler?".

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