A confession upfront: I’m basically unfamiliar with the complete works of Burt Reynolds. I certainly know less about the guy’s films than Sterling Archer does. (Though to that, I’d say, “Who doesn’t?”) So many of the jokes based around his movies—particularly the frequent references to Gator, which Wikipedia tells me is a White Lightning sequel—were jokes I just didn’t get, outside of the obvious gags that everybody thought a movie called Gator was awesome. And that said, it might be. The construction of a third film in the Gator trilogy—to open on Gator McClusky waking up in a mental hospital on the edges of his beloved swamp—might just be a dream I should get behind. But every time the dialogue lapsed into a lengthy recitation of Reynolds’ roles or turned to how, like, Archer decided to become a spy because of the film Operation CIA, I was a little bit at sea.
But that small quibble aside, I thought this was a strong opening to this third season. (The “Heart Of Archness” episodes from earlier this season are officially part of season three—at least in terms of production order—but they close off the stories of season two, which means they’re basically season 2.5, more than anything else. So I’m comfortable treating this batch as its own thing.) Archer has always been a show I enjoyed more for the fast-paced dialogue and weird office plots, but every so often, the show does something pretty awesome, even on what’s probably a fairly limited budget, and it turns out an action sequence that you just won’t see on most other animated shows. FX has usually chosen to open seasons with these big action episodes, for fairly obvious reasons, and this one has the added benefit of Burt Reynolds hanging out as another potential ratings bump.
Honestly, I thought that climactic car chase, with Reynolds lecturing Archer on how he needed to learn to treat his mother as a person and not just as a mother while he chased down the vans containing the Cuban hit squad sent to kill Archer, who had mistaken Gillette for Sterling, was probably the best action sequence the show has done. It was full of laughs and great moments—like when Krieger’s holographic girlfriend popped up in the back seat of his van, as you knew she must—but it was also legitimately exciting and action-packed. (I liked Reynolds’ tossed-off line acknowledging Hal Needham, consummate stuntman and director of Smokey And The Bandit, as well.) This was all of the stuff you’d expect to see in a Burt Reynolds car chase movie, stripped down and turned into some pretty impressive animation, and whatever rendering process was used to depict Archer’s car (with Reynolds at the wheel) careening around the city streets was rock solid.
The plot itself was a riff on something the show has turned to fairly often throughout its run: Malory has attracted the attentions of an older gentleman, and Archer gets disturbed by the thought of his mother having sex with someone. Because it was Burt Reynolds as Malory’s paramour, however, the show got a lot of mileage out of how Reynolds was, essentially, the perfect man, to the point where both Pam and Cheryl are a little obsessed with him and where he eventually talks Archer out of kidnapping him and tying him up through sheer force of mustache-y charm. Even if the episode was littered with Reynolds in-jokes, there were still plenty of great gags about the idea of a giant movie star Archer idolizes hanging out with our hero and about how Archer might view Hollywood stardom. (For starters, he’s pretty sure they still call it Tinseltown.)
Like most Archer episodes, this one gained in strength as it went along and more characters got roped into the plot. The Cuban hit squad was less of a threat than an obstacle to bring Reynolds and Archer closer together, but that’s not really a big deal. (I did like that they were on Archer’s tail because of something he did way back in one of season one’s best episodes.) The episode also subtly set up how Gillette’s injury has impacted ISIS, since now operations have to wait for one of the agency’s best operatives to get loaded into the van, and it offers some great callbacks to many of season two’s best gags, from that holographic girlfriend to Cheryl screeching, “YOU’RE NOT MY SUPERVISOR!” only to wonder who her supervisor is, followed by Malory popping her head in the door. Hell, we even got some nice Woodhouse moments, with the old guy confusing Reynolds for someone who starred in Gone With The Wind for some reason. (No, not “for some reason.” Because he’s old.)
Season premieres are always nice because it’s just fun to spend time with characters you haven’t seen in a while all over again. And this episode was no exception. From Cheryl suggesting that Pam just tape up her fingers when they start to bleed while masturbating to Pam herself saying that she could drown a toddler in her panties when Reynolds showed up (yeah, it was that kind of episode), there were great moments for every single regular and recurring character here. Episodes with big special guest stars can often ruin the rhythm of the main gang, but I was surprised at how readily the show incorporated Reynolds into the storyline, to the point where he almost felt like an organic part of the ensemble. The fact that he’s still dating Malory at the end of the episode implies that he might pop back in as the season proceeds, and I wouldn’t be adverse to that happening, where many special guest stars might make me roll my eyes in irritation.
But the best thing about this episode was the way it sneakily managed to find a way to insert something essential and true about the Archer/Malory relationship. Archer’s so often at odds with her because he’s unable to see her as a person and not just his mother, as Reynolds expresses while roaring down the highway at dangerously high speeds. Until Archer accepts that Malory has needs—some of them sexual—he’s always going to be trapped in a weird, co-dependent relationship with her. Archer isn’t a show that tries to shove tons and tons of deep character moments into its episodes, which makes it all the better when it does do so. The show usually nails those little moments, and this was no exception. If this season’s going to be more about the twisted weirdness of the Archer and Malory relationship, all the better, I say.
- Welcome to season three of Archer. Well, the second part of season three of Archer. You know what I mean. Due to new policy, I’m not going to reprint nearly as many quotes as I used to, so I’ll count on all of you to help me catch the best lines I’ve missed in the few I reprint below.
- Hell, even Cyril gets some nice moments in this episode, as he fires a gun randomly out of the window and attempts to get involved in the office joking about Archer’s mom sleeping with Burt Reynolds.
- This episode was clearly lacking in references to Evening Shade. Though it did have a reference to the ultra-obscure cop drama Hawk, so… points for that.
- In general, props to Reynolds for being so willing to make fun of the many shitty movies in his career. He was a lot of fun, and he had good “chemistry” with H. Jon Benjamin, at least as assembled in editing. That conversation about how Archer should install a pole in his garbage chute was awesome.
- I’ve seen this season’s first four episodes, and I can promise things only get wilder from here.
- "I mean, obviously, sex was implied."
- "Stockard Channing!"
- "Right in the head and ass!"
- "Yeah. Where are we with the chalice?"
- "But the co-op board was, like, 'What do we do with the garbage?'"