Friday, 10 February 2012

Television - Archer 'Drift Problem' review

'Drift Problem' was a pretty funny half-hour of television, but a disappointing episode of Archer. The previous episode, 'The Limited', showed signs of the season taking off after the previous two seemed more of a warm-up for things to come. That there were so many potentially magnificent ingredients in this week's story perhaps ended up working against it when the goods were only delivered in an adequately satisfying, rather than overwhelmingly awesome, way. When Archer is given a snazzy new spy car, Pam reveals a(nother) dangerous behind-the-scenes hobby as a drift-racer in a Yakuza-run competition, and Malory further displays the depths of her horrifying parenting techniques, it's only natural to expect a classic.

Even if the delivery turned out a little flat, there were still some glorious moments: H. Jon Benjamin continues to provide one of the best voice-acting performances I have ever heard, and his excitement over the promotional video inside his car ("Thanks, Dodge!") was a thing of wonder, particularly the elongated shriek of unmitigated ecstasy. The rest of the cast are superb, but Benjamin's dexterity and ability to enhance a joke through an unexpected delivery or emphasis borders on the exquisite.
It was also a relief this episode didn't lean excessively on catchphrases for its humour. Even four episodes in, it has felt at times as though new material has proven harder to come by than it should: even last week, a very enjoyable episode all round, was more or less just a series of lines recycled from great moments in older episodes, salvaged by being spun in slightly different or elevated contexts. Here, the formula was familiar, but contained only a handful of recurring gags: Brett taking a bullet (which hasn't happened enough to stop being funny), Pam having a dangerous hobby (ditto) and a flashback showing how Malory kept finding new ways to screw Archer up as a child (a bit tired by now). There wasn't anything particularly memorable here - apart from Archer's delighted scream in his new car - but it was nice to see an episode where the plot informed the reactions, rather than the other way around.

Wodehouse also made his first appearance in the new season and seemed to be standing up for himself a little more. He's previously gone along with whatever abuse Archer seems willing to throw at him, but this time, even when at fault - ruining the birthday breakfast in the very funny cold open - he stood up to his master's incessant demands. He even sprayed Archer in the eyes when threatened, then subsequently refused to hand over the can to receive the inevitable punishment. Good for you, Wodehouse. It's only a small change to the formula, since it isn't as though Wodehouse suddenly became any less aggrieved or overworked, but his giving a little back was enough of a refresher to prevent his relationship with Archer from going stale. He'll probably lose a whole wardrobe full of clothes over the balcony for it, though.

In the ISIS offices, Pam and Carol (apparently now definitely Carol rather than Cheryl) have consistently been the best thing in any episode where they've featured prominently, something which didn't change last night. Carol's masochism was given an amusing callback where she reacted to Malory's violent interrogation in an... unexpected... way, leading to her coming onto her boss near the end in one of the episode's biggest laughs. We haven't seen that side of Carol too much since her affair with Cyril back in the first season, so while it was an old joke, it felt fresh enough to work, doubly so with Malory placed as the object of her desire.

Pam's skills as a drift racer represented the most transparent kind of plot device, but good mileage (pun) was taken from her ability to speak almost fluent Japanese - just shy of correctly interpreting her nickname, anyway - and generally prove top dog in an environment where most normal people would wind up dead within minutes. As we have so often seen, though, 'normal' is not a word that has ever been applicable to Pam.

The plot itself unfortunately turned out to be a bit of a drag (pun, sort of), with a twist predictable from the moment the main cause of conflict - the theft of the spy car - presented itself. Archer taking his birthday present for a spin was wonderful, first forgetting to close the bar and then deploying the vehicle's gadgets to destroy tailing police cars, but even though it was heavily foreshadowed, the car getting stolen felt too inevitable to really be funny and the reveal of the perpetrator won't have come as much of a surprise to anyone.

Plot isn't all that important to Archer, but this one felt especially perfunctory given the exciting parts it had under its bonnet, never pushing to break out of second gear. (OK, I'll ditch the car analogy now). Even though hanging out with this cast is enough to ensure a good time, many of the series' best episodes have come from watching the characters' reactions and interactions change based on the manipulations of an entertaining plot ('Movie Star', 'Pipeline Fever' and 'El Secuestro', to name a few examples from last year). While it was a welcome shift for 'Drift Problem' to swap out catchphrases for legitimate reactions, it's a pity the episode couldn't provide a more exciting scenario for the characters to react to.

1 comment:

Shaun said...

This wasn’t a great episode of Archer, usually I am laughing through most of the episode, but this episode left the laughs few and far between. It had its moments, the gift of the car was a good laugh, and Carol’s reactions to Mallory’s slap were really were the only two worthy moments for me. Since I work nights at DISH I have to be the DVR king for the most part, but with an hour wait for my bus every night I have a lot of time to catch up on the nights viewing using my sling adapter to stream to my phone, and usually I have a couple people watching with me and we all get a good laugh. Even though I was by myself last Thursday I expected more laughs to ring out, but it wasn’t there, almost as if they were trying to hard. Every season will have episodes that aren’t our favorites, but I hope this is the only one this year.