So far, season three of Archer seems to be built on gags from the previous two seasons of the show, even when the episode isn’t a pseudo-sequel to one of those episodes, as it was last week. There’s nothing wrong with this. Callbacks to previous gags are a good way to reward longtime fans. But there’s also the possibility that if an episode relies too much on those sorts of things, it can start to feel a little like a retread, like it’s not breaking enough new ground. A number of you felt that way about “The Limited,” which I can sort of see, and now I’m feeling that way about “Drift Problem,” which consists of a pretty standard sitcom setup, then goes through the motions of a bunch of gags we’ve already seen in the show’s run. There are some funny bits here—since it would be impossible for an episode where Pam is really into Japanese-style drift racing to not have funny bits—but the whole thing doesn’t hang together as well as it might.
The first three minutes of the episode condense what might have been a full episode of another show into one teaser. It’s Archer’s birthday, and after Woodhouse greets him with a special breakfast and confetti that then fouls up that breakfast, Archer’s off to the office, where it sure seems like no one’s remembered his big day, not even his mother. It’s time for the company fire drill, at which point he seems to despair that anyone will remember he’s turning… whatever age he’s turning, but when he heads downstairs with the others, it’s revealed that Malory’s gotten him the world’s greatest spy car, a souped-up (by Krieger) Dodge Challenger that allows the show to both make fun of product placement and, presumably, collect some of that sweet, sweet Dodge cash. (This is the same car Walter White totaled when Breaking Bad wanted some product placement cash. Presumably, Dodge is just fine with anyone doing anything to one of their cars in a fictional universe.)
From there, the episode turns into a demonstration of what the car can do—complete with built-in promotional video—and then a lot of H. Jon Benjamin talking to a car, which he dubs Jeannie. It won’t talk back, since the video really was just a promotional thing, so we’re left with Archer trying to get a voiceless car to respond, which starts out funny, gets desperately unfunny, then crosses back to funny again. (I have no idea how these sorts of shows time out how that kind of gag will work.) From there, it’s into the parking garage at his apartment, where his mother’s words about what will happen if he lets the car get stolen echo in his head. Thinking quickly, he grappling hooks a car out of a parking spot, then proceeds inside, where he tells Woodhouse to head down and take care of the car, which has, of course, disappeared.
Now, that’s roughly the first half of the episode. Problematically, it’s just not as funny as it probably should be. Now, granted, I’ve never been one to be as amused by the show’s spy antics as a lot of other fans of the show are, so it’s possible this would have worked if I was more into that part of the show’s DNA. But it also feels like there’s lots and lots of repetition here, both of old gags and of gags already lined up in the episode. We get a weird ultimatum from Malory to Sterling. We get Benjamin monologuing for a while. We get jokes about drunk driving and vehicular mayhem. We get Archer mistreating Woodhouse. And we get the long string of Dodge jokes, many of which are funny but also seem weirdly insecure. Just take the product-placement money, guys!
Now, granted, a lot of this stuff—particularly the Malory and Archer stuff and the Woodhouse stuff—is just the show playing off of long-established relationships, which is good. But I wish that the former scenes, in particular, wouldn’t feel so much like they were walking over ground the show had already trod. We’ve seen any number of horrifying flashbacks to Sterling’s childhood, now, and this one wasn’t new enough to make it as funny as it might have been. While there’s room for some repetition here and there—and, indeed, such repetition is vital to a long-running series—it just felt too much like this episode was going over ground the show had already covered. Plus, the story was completely predictable; as soon as Malory said that the car had better not get stolen, was there any doubt that it would be? Or that she would ultimately be behind the theft?
Once the episode shifted back to ISIS, where Lana found out that the car had been stolen and both Pam and Carol (shifting back to this name for her now, since Malory has been calling her that) learned the same, the whole thing picked up just a bit. There was still the sense that all of this was a bit of a retread. Just how many times do we have to find out that Pam is part of a dangerous underground culture before it stops being funny? But, fortunately, Pam is still one of the show’s best characters, and turning over so much time to her helping the others infiltrate the Yakuza kept everything from not working as well as it might have. (I also liked that her jumpsuit had the little name tag that read “Pam.”)
Things ended about as you would have expected them to end, and where sometimes the show makes that work, this one just sort of deflated by the end. Even the closing line—based around Popeye Mr. Ford from Frisky Dingo cruising around in Sterling’s car, now his—was kind of a dud, when this show usually does so well at closing out each episode with a great, caustic one liner. It’s not like the episode is making me question my faith in the show or anything—there’s usually at least one dud per season—but it was ultimately kind of a disappointment, something I wasn’t sure was possible in an episode in which Sterling Archer got the world’s ultimate spy car and Pam saved everybody through her drift-racing skills. This one felt cobbled together from the Archer formula, and not enough new ground was broken.
- Cyril comes along on the mission to get Archer’s car back, even though he doesn’t really know what he’s doing. That seems somehow appropriate.
- More fun with Lana’s hands: She’s strong enough to simply flip off a bottle cap, even one that wasn’t a twist off. (Archer seems both horrified and fascinated by this.)
- The return of another gag (though this one was welcome): Malory slaps Carol, who finds it sort of alluring. Cut to later, when she seems to be coming on to her boss just a bit. Funny stuff.
- “Cookiepuss. Those guys at Carvel know what they’re doing.”
- “Ow!… I think.”
- “Thanks, Dodge!”
- “That would be the Yakuza! And man, against those pinkie-less bastards, you had better come correct.”
- “Right in the head and ass.” (Okay, some of these repeat gags were pretty funny!)
- “Duh! Why do you think they call me Shiro-Kabocha?”
- “That was for Pearl Harbor.”