Friday, 3 February 2012

Television - Archer 'The Limited' review / Parks And Recreation 'Operation Ann' review


'The Limited' was a sequel of sorts to two of Archer's best episodes to date: 'Skytanic', which had the ISIS gang trying to uncover a threat in a similarly enclosed space, and 'El Secuestro', my all-time favourite, in which we learnt that Cheryl/Carol is the heir to the famous Tunt railway fortune. This episode doesn't quite live up to either of those two, but is easily the most entertaining of the season so far - including the 'Heart Of Archness' trilogy - and consistently hilarious from start to finish.

It's helped by a basic plotline that is pretty silly to begin with - ISIS have arrested a Nova Scotian separatist and are transporting him back to Canada, on a public train for whatever reason (probably just for the sake of enjoying themselves, as per 'Skytanic'), in order to claim the reward. I have no idea whether Nova Scotian terrorism is a real thing, but the idea of those lovely, chilled-out Canadians having anything approaching such a movement is already pretty funny to me. Doubly so because 'Nova Scotia' means 'New Scotland', and there's a big ongoing debate in the UK about whether to grant Scotland the freedom its leader - and not many other people - are asking for. Unintentional though it was, the idea of a sudden and endemic independence movement for everyone even tangentially related to Scotland raised a smile. That's probably just me though.
Apart from my Sassenach amusements, a couple of things elevated 'The Limited' above the standard mission episode. The first was that the whole cast was participating. Archer, Lana and Cyril are a very strong comedy trio, but their arguments can cover old ground when the mission storylines don't vary all that much. Mallory/Pam/Cheryl and co. are glorious when confined to the office space, but spectacular when given the full complement of characters and a new setting to muck around in.

We didn't learn anything new about Cheryl this week - apart from railway owners being a competitive bunch - but her background was put to good use in both enhancing the setting (since she owns the railway, she can make ridiculous demands) and the comedy (the exasperated reactions of the likes of Mallory, so obsessed with being in control, to those demands being made and fulfilled). It also meant a return for Babou the ocelot, which is just one more thing for Archer to get really, childishly overjoyed about, but that's never going to be a bad thing, especially when it leads to the one-sided 'dialogue' that the episode ended on.

Another plus was how relatively well-defined the main villain was. I mean, he was just a Canadian with added agenda, but a lot of laughs were mined out of the way level-headed Canadians see their more conservative border brothers, particularly with regards to race. (Mallory's interactions with the black porter, George, were deliciously cutting). Villains rarely get much to do in Archer, but separatist Bilko got a large number of jokes of his own and significant mileage from being significantly more pleasant than the people supposedly representing the law.

Finally, the recurring jokes were put to much more elegant use this time around than they have been in the past few outings. It can occasionally feel as though the callbacks ('Lana. Lana. LANAAAAA!' and so forth) do not fit as well as they should into the situations where they are used, but virtually every time something came up here - from Lana's super-elongated 'Nnnnnnnnnnnnnnope' to Archer's adoration of Babou - it felt like it had been taken up a notch from last time we heard it and was better justified by the context. The new stuff, like Archer hilariously struggling to remember the name of an actress (then also remembering that he hated her) and later suffering the unpleasant reality of his dream to fight on top of a moving train, was also very funny. The ongoing punishment of Gilette for having been paralysed also continues to bring out the worst in the other characters. In Archer, that's always a recipe for success.


Oh, Ann Perkins. Even in an episode with your name in the title, you still get stuck in the background. I have been saying it for weeks, but the writers are really struggling to work out what to do with the character, a huge shame when you have an actress as talented as Rashida Jones at your disposal. The only real joke she got to deliver all episode was in the pre-titles, when desperately trying not to sound sarcastic in wishing her colleagues well and failing miserably. Jones, as ever, nailed the delivery. For the rest of the episode, all she did was react. In fact, she had so little to do that I can only remember two instances of her actually standing up, neither of which required her to move very far, if at all. You don't need to be mobile to get laughs, but it's indicative of how noticeably lacking in dynamism the character is at the moment.

It could be argued that part of the episode's point was that Ann needed to start making decisions and finally go looking for a life of her own, rather than just being a sponge for Leslie's compliments, but even taken on that basis, the episode set up her potential arc very poorly. In last season's magical 'Fancy Party', Ann faced a similar dilemma - her non-existent love-life - but ventured out to a singles club to try and do something about it, even if the results were not particularly promising. (Only in TV land could a woman like Rashida Jones struggle to get a date, especially when her hopelessness only makes her more adorable). Here, she just sits down and lets other people bring suitors to her, whom she summarily rejects - for good reason, mind you, as these are the ever-deranged residents of Pawnee we're talking about - and at the end settles for someone she is clearly unsuited to and has never shown the slightest romantic interest towards in the past. For one thing, didn't she learn her lesson from Andy? Tom may be the opposite in terms of ambition, but doesn't offer much more on the intellectual side.

I should say that, regardless of the writers' struggle to find something for Ann and Tom to do (if they do get together, the writers will have to work very hard not to make it feel like a ridiculous contrivance born of necessity rather than character growth), 'Operation Ann' was my favourite episode of a mixed bag season so far. Leaving the political campaign behind has unsurprisingly paid dividends, as everyone is a lot more relaxed and able to let the characters take centre-stage rather than the latest source of Leslie angst. Leslie, too, was back on good form, setting herself a mission and being typically dedicated without going overboard. I liked the way she managed to get April to show her growing nice side even towards arch-enemy Ann (arch-Annemy? Sorry) and for what feels in the first time for far too long, put herself out for someone else rather than fixating on her own goals.

For the second week in a row, though, it was Ron effing Swanson who turned out to be the best part of the episode. This season, Ron has either tended to be spectacular or completely forgotten about, and it is a relief to see him getting plots that put his Swansonian magnificence to good use. He has been another character sidelined by the political campaign - really, some weeks became the Leslie and Ben show - but his secret passion for treasure hunts was an absolute joy to watch, even more fun for the fact that it seemingly came out of nowhere. It makes sense that Ron would like the challenge, but is not the sort of thing you would immediately associate with a man's man like him: a surprising but completely natural fit. His giggles of enthusiasm got funnier (and longer) every time Nick Offerman used them, culminating in him walking into a gay bar, owning the joint with his sheer manliness, then immediately turning into a giddy schoolgirl when realising he had got his clue right and a new one was waiting for him to decypher.

Chris got the C-plot and while it was pretty one-note - it turns out his depressions are every bit as intense as his highs - Rob Lowe played the hell out of it. Seeing a character suddenly turned to their opposite is a dependable way to get laughs, especially when the character in question is one so knowingly extreme as Chris. Seeing him moping around on-stage, or descending to the ultimate shame by staring longingly at Jerry (Jerry!), was an effective counterpart to the Ann story and set up a pretty nifty bluff at the end, where he wasn't the man Ann ended up having a drink with. A strong episode overall, despite the continuing troubles with Ann - and it wouldn't have hurt to have Jean-Ralphio turn up either, as it seemed a perfect scenario for him to bring his 'distinctive' brand of swagger - and one which hopefully marks a turning point for a season where too many of Parks' wonderful characters have gone neglected.

ADDENDUM: Also Yachter Otter! How could I forget to mention the glory of Yachter Otter?! Now I can't stop saying Yachter Otter.


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