Not everybody feels this way, but I think I almost like the episodes of Archer where the characters never leave the ISIS offices more than I like the ones where Archer and Lana go out on elaborate spy missions. (Then again, one of my favorite episodes the show has ever done is coming up in a couple of weeks and involves… Lana and Archer going out on a mission.) It’s unfair to call these kinds of episodes “bottle episodes” because they often feature crazy action setpieces and because there’s really no need for a bottle episode on an animated show, where the budget remains about the same no matter where the characters go. (Sure, sure, sure, the show has to create new backgrounds and stuff when the agents go out in the field, but this show is not horribly complicated in its animation to begin with, and the backgrounds follow suit.) But I like the sense that the show is confining itself, nonetheless. I like the many recurring characters around ISIS. I like the chemistry among the many office drones.
Tonight’s plot hook: Mallory lost a bunch of money in a Ponzi scheme, so she’s going to let Len Trexler (Jeffrey Tambor, voicing one of Mallory’s love interests as he almost always does) sleep with her that he might buy ISIS and give her the cash infusion the organization needs. When that happens, Lana will get Mallory’s position (if she sleeps with Barry), and everybody else might be out of a job. Naturally, there’s only one solution to all of this: Install a mind control chip in Trexler’s brain, so that he’ll fall out of love with Mallory and no longer want to buy ISIS. Oh, and so that he’ll come to think some lettuce and a rabbit are brothers. Meanwhile, Pam’s acting Jamaican (her repeated cries of “Racist!” when someone refused a hit off her joint grew funnier throughout the hour), Gillette wants to seduce Barry instead of Lana (and reveals he was once married), and Lana has to figure out what to do with the gleefully-unstable-as-ever Barry.
The humor in the best episodes of Archer works so well because it escalates, building from a fairly standard sitcom scenario—someone has to sell the business because they’re in money trouble!—and then sending it through the sorts of ridiculous plots that would only be possible in the worlds of spy fiction—let’s solve the problem by implanting a mind control device! Along the way, we get all kinds of other side gags and odd happenings, like Archer having to turn off his mother’s dildo or Gillette talking Archer through dismantling a bomb Gillette has no idea how to dismantle (but acts as though he does). Or take Krieger’s evident sexual excitement over the installation of the mind control chip (complete with power drill). It could have been an easy enough joke to make, but Archer twists it just far enough to make it that much weirder. (Krieger rubbing his nipples while Len took in the visage of Mallory was, uh, something, wasn’t it?)
One of the things I like about Archer is that even though the characters are pretty much just there to be joke machines, little details about them keep popping up. I know that “character development” in comedy sometimes means having a show where the characters grow and learn lessons and cry in each other’s arms at the end of an episode. But Archer is doing a good job of showing how you can do character development without having to turn the show into a sloppy ripoff of a TGIF sitcom. The characters here are consistent, and they have well-developed, well-rounded personalities. They’re just also all completely and utterly insane, with little to no relationship with reality (well, maybe Lana). Archer is a show that gets that something like this is better when everybody isn’t just a one-note cliché but also grasps that fleshing out the characters and the world isn’t the worst idea to have when you want to create a seriously funny show. As an example: We didn’t know Gillette had an ex-wife until this episode, but now that you know about that (and about his time at a “Pray Away The Gay” camp), don’t you want even more of his backstory? I know I do.
But what it all comes down to, ultimately, is whether Archer comes up with silly plots and funny jokes. The jokes tonight, as mentioned throughout, were very funny. But the plot was solid, too. From the second the mind control chip popped up, it was obvious that it would tie into the resolution somehow, but that made the writers’ decision to have Trexler’s mind control go a little bit wrong, so he came to love lettuce and its brother Rabbert more than anything else, that much more satisfying. Similarly, Barry could be just a kook, but in the hands of these writers, he’s less a crazy guy and more a guy who’s so normal that he BECOMES crazy. (Example: Lots of guys talk to inanimate objects like they’re living things. But Barry makes it seem deeply unsettling.) Almost everything in “A Going Concern” works (I might have done without the Lana plot, which didn’t seem to go much of anywhere, but that’s a minor quibble), and it’s a good sign of this show’s health, headed into season two.
- Something to keep an eye on: Archer seems to mostly take place in the present day, but the technology is obviously ‘80s retro. At the same time, there are references in several episodes this season (including this one) to the “Soviets.” It’s intriguing to consider if this is some sort of alternate universe or something.
- Another thing I liked: Archer seems less concerned about losing his job and more concerned about losing his mom. Shudder.
- I LOVED the scene where the team laid out the plan to take down Trexler, Barry, and ODIN with the sexual harassment dolls. Just a great example of the chemistry this cast has, even though they all record their dialogue separately.
- "Mind control? Why does he think that?" "Because he removed it from my brain!"
- "He shot me up with some kind of fish paralyzer. Then it was drill baby drill."
- "There! Happy?" "No..."
- "I don't know about the actual chair itself. It's a piece of furniture."
- "My earballs!"
- "Holy shitsnacks!"
- "If you say MILF one more time, I will shoot you in your eyeballs."
- "You can with a little thing I like to call a deep cycle marine battery. Or LSD." "IS THAT WHAT YOU'VE BEEN GIVING ME?"
- "Just try to think about something else, like how there's no sink in there."
- "How's your shattered femur?" "How's your creepily childlike feeling of maternal abandonment?"
- "It wasn't a conversation, Lana. I was just talking to my gun, not with it. Pretty big difference."
- "That takes, like, one doll." "Not if there's ever a gang rape!"
- "Sweet and sour?! Might as well start an ant farm."
- "FAMINE ... WAR ... OLD PEOPLE."
- "Can I have the bunny and the lettuce?"
- "Yes. I'm just screaming his name down the hall to celebrate that fact."
- "For the love of all that's green, take me and Rabbert to the lettuce store!"
- "Not rattling. Krieger stapled it."