Is it possible to get too typecast? Because that’s how I’m starting to feel about Jack McBrayer, who seems to be constantly stuck in playing variations on his character Kenneth from 30 Rock. Now, back in the first season of the show, Kenneth really seemed like he’d be the breakout from the supporting cast, but somewhere around the show’s midpoint, that series stopped being able to write consistently for the guy, and now, it’s usually better when the series keeps him in the background or in smaller supporting plots. Yet Kenneth fever swept Hollywood, and now, whenever he turns up somewhere, he’s playing a dumbass bumpkin, who finds himself stuck in wacky situations and then has to bumble his way out, usually using his good-natured wiles. He’s like a modern George Gobel or something.
All of this is to say that I liked “Bloody Ferlin” a lot, but I couldn’t quite get over my McBrayer biases. Possibly when I see this episode in 10 years, long after McBrayer has moved on from Kenneth and hopefully gone to other roles (since he is a pretty talented comic actor), I’ll like it a bit more. And “Bloody Ferlin” still gave McBrayer some really funny lines as Randy Gillette (pronounced “Gill-ett” to the folk in the holler), so it wasn’t like having him there was a total wash. But it was definitely the case that sometimes happens in an animated show, where a voice is just so recognizable that it’s hard to separate that voice from the person who bears it and just go with the flow. Obviously, this doesn’t apply universally, and I suspect if you weren’t as bothered by having McBrayer around, you will like the episode a lot more than I did. It certainly doesn’t bear some of the structural problems that hurt the spy car episode, for instance.
On the other hand, I said last week that the best Archer episodes are rolling balls of chaos that start out somewhere weird and horrifying and then just get… more so as the episode goes on. This one didn’t quite manage that trick, though it came awfully close. (Who else is hoping that Pam getting involved in Krieger’s Ultimate Bum Shock Fights becomes a new serialized subplot? It feels like this would be the answer to life that I’ve been seeking.) We started out with a break-in into the ISIS armory, a break-in that Archer and Lana have been called in to stop. When they enter the room, they find that the person stealing weapons is Gillette… who’s on a ladder. Apparently, he’s been faking being paralyzed this whole time, since his fellow ISIS staffers thought when he left the hospital in a wheelchair (as a matter of course), he was no longer able to walk. I’ve talked with a couple of people who found this development kind of stupid, but I liked it. The show just throws it out there, then gets on with the plot of the week, no matter how ridiculous it is. I like when this show embraces the insanity.
Anyway, Gillette is stealing weapons so he can head down to Ferlin, West Virginia, to help out his brother, Randy, who’s about to be killed by the local sheriff—and former high school bully—EZ. Turns out that EZ wants Randy’s marijuana operation, and though Gillette has mostly left his life in West Virginia behind, he’s going to help out family, because, well, that’s what you do. (I like how this is turning into a weird theme uniting a lot of this season, particularly the Malory and Archer plots.) Naturally, Ray’s brother believes him to not only be straight but also married, which means Archer (who decides to go along because Ray’s situation sounds like the plot of White Lightning) and Ray need to bring along Carol, who will play the unwitting role of Ray’s wife.
Now, there are a lot of places for this to turn into a very stock sitcom plot—albeit one that centers around a law with a crooked sheriff to help someone keep a marijuana farm—but I like that the episode subverts almost everything you expect to happen. It doesn’t turn into some grand story where Ray comes out to his family and there are many tears (not that this show would ever do something like that). Carol seems weirdly thrilled to be Ray’s fake wife, though it’s not immediately clear if she gets the “fake” part. (She knows the marriage hasn’t been consummated.) When Randy’s wife, Jenette (voiced by the great Paula Malcomson) comes on to Archer, Randy’s totally okay with it because the two have an open marriage and he wants to sleep with Carol anyway. There are so many places where this story could be just a stock story about our heroes heading into hillbilly country and having to deal with the wacky hicks there, but the episode keeps undercutting what we expect to happen, and that makes it easier to go along with the stock situations. (Also making it easier to go along with the stock situations are Archer’s obsession with moonshine and Carol shaving a dead rooster.)
The office plot might be the highlight of the episode, though. It’s yet another one where everybody has to figure out a way to keep Malory from figuring something sensitive out. In this case, they don’t want her knowing that Archer and Ray are off in West Virginia, fighting local cops on behalf of a drug dealer or that Ray is not actually paralyzed. Naturally, of course, Pam spills the beans at the very end because that’s what she does, but the road there is very funny, with Krieger ripping the guts out of his beloved mainframe because Pam’s agreed to be in his bum shock fights (which are not called that because the idea of bums fighting is shocking), Pam spray-painting the inside of the bathroom stall she’s always in (complete with what appeared to be some messages to her fellow drift racers), and Lana playing the role she’s best at: the constantly sighing straight woman who’s forced to keep a crazy scheme she wants no part of from flying off the tracks.
“Bloody Ferlin” isn’t an all-time classic, even if you liked McBrayer more than I did, but it is an episode that has so many good jokes in it that it’s not one you can just write off. Some of it didn’t work—particularly the way the ending just turned into another shootout before the final twist—but I liked the way the show gave us plenty to see and laugh at throughout. Plus, I always like when the series fleshes out its supporting cast, and I’ve been waiting for some Ray backstory for a while now. And if nothing else, there are only so many episodes of TV that show us a woman wrapped in a bedsheet cauterizing a slight scratch with red-hot fireplace pokers, a look of devilish excitement in her eyes, and for that, at least, “Bloody Ferlin” will live on in my memory.
- In case you were wondering, the full text of Genesis 38:8, from the New International Version: “Then Judah said to Onan, ‘Make love to your brother’s wife. After all, you are her brother-in-law. So carry out your duty to her. Produce children for your brother.’” Sadly, this is not the call to have sex with your sister-in-law Randy Gillette thinks it is, since the sister-in-law in question has a dead husband. But wouldn’t it be nice if it was?
- The sheriff is voiced by Michael Rooker, whose flirtation with Gillette at the end was very funny.
- Another great closing line from Archer, delivered to an animal. I wish this was how every episode ended.
- I don’t know if you heard, but Archer was renewed for a 13-episode fourth season earlier today. Kind of a foregone conclusion, given the show’s increased ratings, but it’s still nice to see.
- I have a screener for the next two episodes but haven’t watched it yet. Judging from press stills, they look pretty nuts.
- “For one thing, it’s eerily similar to the plot of White Lightning… ” Archer will do anything if Burt Reynolds tells him to do it.
- “Hey, y’all! Here’s my great, big ol’ black wife!” Ray has good reason not to have Lana be his fake wife. I also like how Archer tells Lana she really is a giant.
- “Where? Six Flags over the Shittier Parts of Chernobyl?” Carol needs to get her own spin-off, perhaps the one proposed by the folks of Extra Hot Great called The Tunts?
- “Damned if I’m gonna contribute to the obesity epidemic.” Randy has standards, at least.
- “Bawck bawck!” Judy Greer’s delivery of this line cracked me up more than anything else in the episode.
- “Well, hello there, game changer.” Or maybe Amber Nash’s delivery of this line cracked me up more than anything else in the episode…
- “It did sound too cool for the Bible… ” Archer was always skeptical of the whole “sleep with your brother’s wife” thing.