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Judy Greer just barely manages to keep a dull Archer jungle adventure afloat

"Operation: Fang" eventually builds up a little steam, but it's a long, painful trip to get there

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The always reliable Carol/Cheryl
The always reliable Carol/Cheryl
Image: FXX

This might be a weird thing to say, given the general emotional temperature of the average Archer episode, but I think it’s true: This show isn’t half as funny when the characters are mad at each other. Bickering, sure. Deeply obnoxious, yeah. But actually, genuinely angry? Not so much.

I think, on reflection, it’s because Archer is one of those relatively rare comedies where the characters make actual jokes, rather than saying unintentionally funny things; in any given scene, at least half the characters are usually motivated by little more than their own amusement. (This is what makes Judy Greer’s Carol/Cheryl, who’s going to come in for a lot of praise tonight, one of the show’s most reliable comedic powerhouses.) When that turns over into anger—as it does for a decent chunk of “Operation: Fang,” as the crew vents their spleen at an increasingly venom-maddened Ray over his admittedly piss-poor leadership—it feels like it gets in the way of them deploying their best lines. Luckily (and unlike the duelin’ venoms in Ray’s system), at least some of that tension backs off as the episode progresses, leaving something fairly fun behind. But it’s a bit of a journey to get there.

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Speaking of: We start mid-mission (and with a weirdly superfluous in media res moment), with the crew on an assignment of nebulous—which is to say, actively evil—morals in the midst of the Amazon. A quick plane crash later, and they’re all stranded on an island, with Fabian (who spends the entire episode lavishing attention on his new assistant for no real reason, as far as I can tell, except to let Kayvan Novak say some pleasantly goofy things) refusing to extract them until they’ve stolen some medical supplies back from a local warlord with an elaborate taste in slightly down-scaled architecture.

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Emotionally, meanwhile, we’ve got two running threads, neither of them as satisfying as Matt Roller’s script seems to think. First up: Endless arguments about who should be leader, with Pam and Lana both making some strong points, and Cyril almost getting eaten by a hippopotamus. Meanwhile, Archer—fully embracing a life where the only woman who could ever tell him what to do has now vanished permanently to a beach with Ron Cadillac—decides to be very lazy, until he arbitrarily decides to not be lazy, allowing the team to come together to…well, steal medicine from some good guys who they then sort of murder. Whoops!

None of these emotional beats really worked for me, in case my own path of least resistance through these last two paragraphs didn’t tip you off; both of these topics have been explored to death over the years, and Archer’s turn from “don’t care” to “much care”—prompted by Lana accusing him of only ever being a spy because his mother told him to—is more-or-less a snooze.

Which means that “Operation: Fang” has to fall back on the jokes to keep the interest going, so it’s lucky that this is a pretty good night for the supporting cast—Carol/Cheryl hung back a bit for last week’s premiere, but she’s front and center here. This isn’t the first episode of Archer to be kept on its feet by a running dose of Judy Greer’s delightful vocal energy and paeans to “The Lord Of Cinders,” and it won’t be the last; meanwhile, Krieger and Ray get to set up a nice duo act as the latter gives some running commentary on what competing snake and spider bites are doing to Agent Gillette’s brain. Overall, the more chaotic the episode gets, the more smoothly it goes down; by the time we’re at a 2/3rds-sized Taj Mahal built by the long-deposed warlord, there’s enough momentum running to leave me with some legitimate chuckles.

Even so, it’s hard not to get a sense of Archer-by-numbers here, something that was in way less evidence last week. It’s a very filled-out bingo card, is all I’m saying: Archer dotes on a cute exotic animal. Someone says an obscure historical name like that 100 percent constitutes a joke. Ray loses a limb. Archer and Lana have a brief moment of genuine emotion that inspires him to do his best. Pam kicks some ass. (Okay, I will always accept “Pam kicks some ass.”) Hell, they’ve even done “near-lethal snakebite” before! There’s a predictability here that feels much more creatively exhausted than last week’s installment, and I’m hoping it proves to be an outlier, rather than a downward trend.

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Stray observations

  • First laugh of the evening, three-plus minutes in: “Goddamnit woman, quit licking the toads!” Carol/Cheryl: “Can we go to a different island? The frogs here are non-druggy.”
  • “Ooh, stakes!”
  • Carol/Cheryl’s on the mission because Lana caught her doing arson in the name of the “Lord Of Cinders,” who, we’re informed in Greer’s most seductive tones, is always looking for “new candles.”
  • “Fabian, I know it’s a poor carpenter who blames his tools, but I’ve got a team of some real, real shit-hammers here.” Adam Reed’s having some fun tonight, too.
  • “You made a death trap out of pieces of a previous death trap?”
  • “God damn, Escobar breeds a good hippo.”
  • R.I.P. Margot the bomb; we hardly knew ye.
  • “If Ray doesn’t get antivenom soon, there could be permanent consequences!” “What, like my face will stay like this? “Yes…Because you’ll be dead.”
  • “Well, they have guns, and we have Cyril, who is like the opposite of a gun.”
  • Nice callback to Ray’s robot legs.
  • “And by the way, nothing pleased my mother!”
  • “If his kidneys had mouths, they’d be screaming!”
  • Archer, after finding out they’re moving on to “Phase 2": “Of how many phases? Because at this point, Phase 3 will just be me, and the panther that eats Cyril.”
  • One last great JG line read for the road: “We know that tapir.”
  • Obscure reference alert: Geoffrey Pyke was a very weird British “inventor” who came up with some pretty improbable ideas, including, as Carol/Cheryl alludes to, building aircraft characters out of ice. (Or, more specifically, a blend of sawdust and ice known as, well, pykrete.) Hippos were, in fact, introduced to Colombia after the four kept by notorious druglord Pablo Escobar were let loose in the 1990s. Percy Fawcett is the archeologist who was obsessed with finding The Lost City Of Z.
  • Line of the episode: Looks, this is Carol/Cheryl’s episode from start to finish. The winner: Her seemingly pointing to the supply plane, then clarifying that she was actually looking at “That cloud! It looks like a centaur, choking me.”