Saturday, 17 September 2011

No Limit Unicorn: Archer review


TELEVISION REVIEW

ARCHER: 'Heart Of Archness Part I'

Archer's return is really the starting point for the new television season for me, even though 'Heart Of Archness' (love that title) will only be a three-part miniseries. 'Part One' served as a more solid introduction to the series than might have been expected, given how it is a resolution to the cliffhanger involving Archer's dead fiancée which concluded last season.

As someone who has followed the programme since its first season, the lengthy recaps of what had happened became a little irritating - after the flashback in the cold open, did Archer really have to keep on reiterating why he was acting the way he was? Nevertheless, the laughs were soon coming thick and fast and even if this wasn't Archer at its absolute best - go back to El Secuestro for that - I expect that it will have been more than enough to grip any newcomers.

So it turns out that after Katya's death, Archer decided to get away from it all and went on the run. Naturally, Mallory can't handle the idea of her son being out in the world, away from her influence, so hires a mercenary (or at least, that's what I guessed he was) going by the name of Rip Riley, with whom she predictably has enjoyed previous 'encounters', to go to the tropical island he has made his new home and bring him back.

I said in my Word of the week yesterday that Archer episodes in the ISIS offices tend to be weaker than those out in the field and while 'Part One' was one of the stronger examples of the latter, it was a shame not to get more than a 'sploosh' (a callback joke) and a funny but slightly forced 'cooch chilli' line out of Pam and Carol/Cheryl, my favourite of the programme's double acts.

The bulk of the episode was made up of another double act, that of Archer and Rip, with the usual outstanding voice work from H. Jon Benjamin complemented superbly by newcomer Patrick Warburton's gruff frustration at the idiot he's having to ferry back to the US. Incidentally, did anyone else get the impression that Rip may also be the answer the hanging plotline about Archer's dad? They were awfully alike in a lot of ways, not sharing certain physical similarities.

Where a lot of comedies rely primarily on visual gags and staging, Archer has more in common with radio in that it is the interplay between the actors where a lot of the fun comes from. 'Hi, it's the 1930s. Can we have our words and clothes and shitty airplanes back?' is a pretty old joke, but turns to gold when smelted in Benjamin's ridiculously versatile larynx.

Of course, Archer isn't only about immaculately delivered one-liners ('Don't just sit there sweating like a gigantic cheese!') but the depth of the character work as well. The writers know Archer so well by now that they can even nail exactly how he would react to something as new for the series as a major tragedy, with him in this case getting revenge for losing his own honeymoon by finding newlywed brides and sleeping with them.

Apart from being very funny (although Archer is right that no marriage will last if the husband is off playing thirty-six holes of golf on the first day of his honeymoon, leaving his wife alone to be seduced by a bearded former secret agent) it made sense that Archer's childishly vindictive side would be the one to take control after suffering a loss. In his mind, if he can't have a honeymoon, no-one can. It was the only direct pay-off that Katya's death was given (yet) and only took up a single scene, but was a complete enough idea that no more was needed.

The episode soon took any number of rapid plot twists, from Archer being taken away by Rip, to him accidentally causing a plane crash, to the two men waiting in their dinghy for the ISIS rescue plane - funded by a mythical black credit card and staffed by the same stewardess whom Archer spanked back in the pilot, no pun intended, episode - and finally being kidnapped by pirates.

Even though there was more than enough hilarious material to come out of each of those twists, especially Archer celebrating setting a new record for shooting sharks in the face (having had to decide between saving his life or holding onto the booze he had gone to the effort to salvaging) and later declaring his intention to become a pirate king, the weakest part of the episode was that there was never any focus in the storytelling.

Even as the first of three parts, it bounced between ideas without presenting any concrete goals - I suppose 'get Archer home', but that's loose in the extreme - it all felt a little too aimless for its own good. Of course, the jokes are all that really counts and if the material continues to be this fantastic, then you'll get no complaints from me. It would be nice if the two episodes to come developed a story of some sort, though, rather than just a series of successive events. Still, Archer's back.

Sploosh.

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