Friday, 20 January 2012

Television - Archer 'The Man From Jupiter' review / Parks & Recreation 'Campaign Ad' review


Given his importance to the series and its main character, Burt Reynolds could not be a more perfect first major guest star for Archer. He already exists within the world of the programme and the idea that he would end up dating Mallory is a simple idea that sparks off all Archer's worst neuroses at once. In other words, easy money, comedy-wise. His calm, smooth voice plays nicely as straight man to H. Jon Benjamin's verbal gymnastics, making Archer's squealing hero worship all the funnier.

Reynolds is a cool and collected centre amidst a cast of characters who have a long habit of communicated through frustrated shouting. Archer, Lana, Mallory and co. all think they're top dog and constantly have to reassert their superiority. Reynolds is too chilled out to care about such things and goes about his business saving the day without his voice raising in the slightest. No surprise Archer has such a big man-crush on him.
There is perhaps a little too much hero worship going on in the surrounding cast, making Reynolds' presence a slightly bigger deal than it needed to be. Archer may worship him, but the idea that Carol/Cheryl and Pam would be sitting on their computers fantasizing about him seems a tad far-fetched. He's Burt Reynolds after all, not Brad Pitt. It did bring the episode's most inspired line from Pam ("You could drown a toddler in my panties right now!") but extending Reynolds' mythos to the entire cast seemed a bit overkill.

My gut reaction was that it would have been funnier had the rest of the cast not been remotely impressed by him - let's not forget, he's pretty washed up in real life - and maybe if Mallory had just been dating him out of spite, both to Archer's enormous frustration. Archer is, after all, a massive dick who rarely takes the right messages from anything, so for every character to suddenly share his unmitigated adoration of Reynolds seemed a missed opportunity to really put the boot in.

But hey, this is Archer, so realism isn't exactly the top card on the table. If Adam Reed decides that Burt Reynolds is the world's biggest movie star in this world, who am I to argue? The car chase at the end was great, seemingly showing off an increased budget for the series with more three-dimensional exterior shots where most chases to date have been shot in close-up. Archer's gag about repeated footage was a sly laugh at Reynolds' expense and everything about Krieger's van, including the new gear to help the handicapped Ray get in and out, is absolutely full of win.

Reynolds' long spiel about Archer needing to see Mallory as a person rather than just his mother was a bit shoehorned in, but their prior scene together - with Reynolds attempting to talk Archer into untying him with promises of an executive producer credit on a mythical Gator sequel - was gold: I laughed quite a bit at Wodehouse thinking Reynolds was Clark Gable. 'The Man From Jupiter' wasn't a flawless start for Archer's third season, but demonstrated the series' ability to adapt to its higher profile (with snazzier graphics and guest stars) with plenty of panache and laughs. Good to have it back.


This season's Parks hasn't hit the same magnificent heights as last year - what a pleasure it was to finally be able to write about 'Fancy Party' in my Top Five 2011 Highlights article and I'm beginning to wonder whether Leslie's political campaign has something to do with that. I can't quite put my finger on exactly why, but it certainly feels as though there has been less variety in the A-stories as there were last season and less time in the office, meaning that certain characters (Donna and Ann most prominently) have struggled to find a purpose.

Since everyone had a role at the Parks Dept., they were all able to contribute in some distinct way to any job passing across Leslie's desk. Ann was the exception and the series has always had a little difficulty in fitting her in, but Leslie had more time for her best friend while doing her regular job. She has been recruited onto the campaign team, but her lack of any strongly defined personality (as well played as she is by Rashida Jones) has given her little opportunity to influence proceedings. When a character as vivid as Tom isn't getting the time he deserves, Ann will always be in trouble.

Those issues were highlighted in this episode because it was one where, once again, the ensemble were mostly reduced to sitting around while Ben and Leslie argued. (Perhaps the most unlikely beneficiary of the political campaign has been Jerry, whose role as a go-getting punchbag has proven an effective, and funny, conduit through which Leslie and her beleaguered underlings can funnel their frustrations). Everyone got their requisite line, but this was another plot driven almost entirely by those two characters.

Amy Poehler and Adam Scott are magical comedy performers with terrific chemistry, but are being leant on too heavily. Scenes like Ben, Tom and Jerry sitting around a table growling 'Bobby Newport' (Leslie's political rival, played by an amusing Paul Rudd, who should prove an entertaining antagonist in episodes to come) in the most ominous manner possible was great, but Leslie's over-specific campaign ad was a joke that has lost much of its impact through recent overuse. Everyone loves Leslie, but too much of her this season has been recycling the same old character beats.

Ron is another character marginalised as a result of the campaign, a major misstep given the fact that he's, you know, Ron Effing Swanson. It was a lovely note to see his automatic door closer being recalled and Chris able to breeze right through it regardless, but disappointing how little material could be mined from a mostly untapped partnership that seems to be brimming with potential. Chris the energetic, health-conscious, pro-government optimist working alongside Ron the meat-loving, grumpy libertarian? While the idea of Ron being used to do Chris' dirty work was fun, it only provided a single memorable joke (the firing). Let's hope the two are teamed up more often and under more pressing circumstances, where their differences are forced into greater collision. The possibilities of their interaction in 'Campaign Ad' was mostly wasted.

April and Andy, on the other hand, are a pair who should be getting repetitive, but are such so naturally versatile - April handles most of the verbal jokes, Andy the physical - that they have consistently elevated each episode where they have played a prominent part. There wasn't any narrative reason for Andy to suddenly be beset with medical concerns, other than the fact that he's just Andy and therefore probably has that Twix wrapper lodged around some vital part of his brain, but it was a perfect excuse to let Chris Pratt and Aubrey Plaza loose in a new setting (a hospital) and allow the havoc to unfold.

Predictably, it was far and away the most successful part of the episode, especially Andy's many Pratt (ho ho) falls: I must have watched the moment he brained himself with the tennis ball in the background of April describing how smart they were at least ten times. Then there's the sneeze-induced concussion that set the plot in motion, the subsequent plummet from the chair, and the outstanding charge into an ambulance (and subsequent call to summon a different ambulance). April mostly sat in the background being rude to everyone - her opening gambit in asking for Ann's help was hilariously cruel - but that's what Aubrey Plaza does best. April and Andy may be the broadest part of Park's repertoire, but they are delivering time and time again. It's not like Parks has been bad or anything, but by its own high standards, has taken a significant drop in the polls.



Shaun said...

I hadn't thought about the episode from that point of view, and I think you are right, if the others had thought opposite of Archer it would have for some hilarious scenes most likely. This episode for me didn't have a gut busting laughter moment, but it kept me laughing to myself through most of the episode. I thought Burt Reynolds played a very food part in the episode, already being made larger then life in Archer eyes was a good base to build off. They took a good route in making him that actual larger the life character in the show. Only bummer about this season if the fact I work nights at DISH. Used to be I would just record stuff and watch it when I got home and take up 2 hours of time, but I bought a sling adapter so I wouldn't have to. So now I can stream Archer to my phone during the live airing or off of the DVR. As long as I don't bust out in uncontrollable laughter on the bus all is good.

Xander Markham said...

What could possibly be wrong with bursting out laughing on the bus?! Pam's line about drowning a toddler in her panties was definitely a gut-busting laugh moment for me.

Thanks for your comment!