Look: They had me at “There’s a lot of Ray in this one.”
It’s not just that “Colt Express,” tonight’s ramp-up into next week’s suddenly-exciting-to-me Archer finale, features both a hefty amount of Adam Reed’s super-reluctant superspy, and a plausible reason for his recent absences this season. (Turns out he’s been moonlighting for rival agency IIA, as foreshadowed back in “Identity Crisis.”) It’s that tonight’s episode gave me pretty much everything I want out of an episode of Archer: A few well-observed character notes, some suitably thrilling animated action, and a whole hell of a lot of laugh-out loud-quality jokes. Given how much raw talent is involved, there are few things more dispiriting than seeing this show get bogged down in its own self-created weeds; watching it hit all its marks instead, after a very slow build this year, is a genuine delight.
We open with Krieger at his Krieger-est, attempting to hook Archer’s brain into the comatose body of The Professor (Eric Andre, actually getting to tell jokes this time) in the hopes of waking him up so that they can something the Macguffin with the Whatever. (There’s a device, there’s a memory stick, it can blow up the world; you get the gist.) This obviously fails, because it’s wacko-Krieger mad science. But it does accidentally knock The Professor, née “Colt,” out of his coma, kicking off a trip to Singapore to recover the whatsit from The Agency’s ostensible “rivals” at IIA. (As Cyril, who’s in fine form tonight, points out, they’re competitors in only the most liberal sense of the word, given how much more successful IIA is.) Along the way, we get more fun commentary about IIA’s bureaucratically structured approach to espionage, another spin of the “Lana and Robert are having troubles” tune, a runner about how Krieger and Colt are basically the same guy, and, after the crew runs into him at an IIA orientation, all the Ray time I’ve been missing all season.
And god, but I have been missing it. Reed has disparaged his gifts as a voice actor in the past, but there’s really no one better than Ray Gillette at prissily pointing out the absurdities of spy life. (Sorry, Sandra/Pamela Adlon, but this is how it’s done.) His return to the fold marks the point where “Colt Express” kicks over from interesting idea to actual high-speed comedy blow-out, as Archer, Cyril, and Lana rush around IIA headquarters, ineffectually dealing with the various forms, obstacles, and Diamond Forces placed in their way. And maybe I’m just being nostalgic, but having a potent reminder of Reed’s direct involvement in the series doesn’t hurt the perception that tonight’s episode hits as “Classic Archer”; at the very least, Ray’s blend of professionalism and sarcasm places him as a welcome foil to the usual Archery-Lana-Cyril bickering. He’s just enough outside to serve as a bit of an audience surrogate, while having such a specific point of view as to not be rendered generic. God, I love him.
Meanwhile, I’m not sure how far I buy into Cyril’s “Lana is the new Archer” theory, especially since the old Archer is still merrily kicking along, crashing his way through life’s various problems. It does make for a better spin on the Lana-Robert conflict that’s been dragging the season down for weeks, at least. (Also, I’m always happy to have Stephen Tobolowsky back, even if only briefly.) One of the central jokes of Lana’s character is that she’s only the sanest person in the room because she chooses to put herself in decidedly un-sane rooms; suggesting that she’s becoming more Archer-like of late doesn’t necessarily hold water for me.
But these are quibbles, which feel petty in the face of an episode that also offers us the jaw dropping spectacle of “Jethro Krull.” Giving Krieger a friend/copy is an inspired choice for The Professor, and André has unsurprisingly little trouble fitting into the show’s vibe; it’s always nice when a guest star intuitively grasps the high-velocity speed at which Archer lines have to fly in order to work.
So, yeah: Genuinely excited to see if the show can hold up this momentum next week, especially since I’m something of a sucker for the dynamic between Archer and IIA head Fabian, with Kayvan Novak dropping smarm-bombs left and right. And as an on-the-books Barry fan, adding one more volatile element into the mix can hopefully only make “Mission: Difficult” as fast-paced and exciting as “Colt Express” happily turned out to be.
- I’m still processing my feelings on Archer getting renewed for a 13th season. Obviously, the show’s numbers are good enough to keep things rolling, and I’m happy to see the best voice cast on television continue to get work. But the wild vacillations in episode quality (and focus) from writer to writer are definitely impacting the quality of the overall product.
- Very little Malory this week; I’d be interested in knowing how much time the show’s producers got with Jessica Walter for this season, and how it impacted production overall. Most of these voice clips sound like they were lifted from other episodes.
- Guest star report: Tobolowsky and Novak are old hands at this point, both dialing perfectly into their characters’ neuroses. (I especially loved the growing madness as Fabian reveals that, yep, he’s a supervillain.) André is the obvious stand-out, though, falling perfectly in sync with Lucky Yates’ Krieger.
- “I still don’t understand why I have to be this naked in front of mother.”
- “More importantly, are we in the splash zone?”
- “Side note: I know how to cure comas now!” “Would have been useful a few years ago.”
- There’s not a ton of Pam tonight, but Amber Nash’s read on “Did that feel good? Making me feel small?” was a nice note.
- There is a lot of Krieger, who’s never better than when he notes that he’s “putting the ghost back in the meat suit” re: Colt’s unconscious body.
- Technically, Ray’s only temp-to-perm at IIA. Same as it ever was.
- Brief Easter Egg from (if I’m remembering right) an alien lady from Archer: 1999 on Jeremy/Colt’s poster.
- “Aw, totally bungling a mission for avoidable reasons? That takes me back.”
- Obscure reference alert: Harold Cole was a traitor in World War II who ended up handing a bunch of French Resistance soldiers to the Gestapo. Jethro Tull is the “Aqualung” band, while Krull is a 1983 Conan The Barbarian rip-off most notable for its signature weapon—the Glaive, a five-pointed throwing star that has gotten an airbrushed reimagining on the side of Colt’s van.
- Line of the episode: I’m halfway tempted to give it to Archer’s “Shouting at me doesn’t make me regret things, Cyril,” just because it’s so perfectly in character. But André milks the hell out of “Also, I talked to God. She is real, and she is pissed.”
- Lana on her emotional affair from Robert: “Well, as long as no limp-dicked four-eyed nerds run their mouth, he won’t find out!”
- Carol/Cheryl’s runner about being poor in Singapore is extremely slight, but Judy Greer makes the most out of it, per usual.
- “Do you ever shut up?” “At movies, I guess. If they’re good.”
- Is that you end the first part of an unofficial two-parter? It sure is, Other Barry.