What is it about this show and making me fall in love with birds?
Now, let’s not make this something it’s not: I would never go so far as to call this episode’s obvious stand-out character, robo-avian torture technician/walking wisecracking Swiss army knife Funbeak, the new Crackers. Crackers was special, a big-swing effort to shake up Archer’s occasionally exhausted character dynamics by fundamentally altering the makeup of its cast. Funbeak is just a gloriously animated robotic psychopath who likes to make jokes about cutting off our hero’s dick while electro-zapping him in the crotch, and while that is, obviously, delightful, I know my affection for him is only a fling—especially since he doesn’t survive the episode, having been tragically cut down in the prime of his artificial life.
Still, it’s not like there’s not a lot to love in “Happy Borthday,” which sees the Seamus crew “celebrating” the titular occasion by being rented out as gladiator fighters for the amusement of everyone’s favorite Garj. (Unless they die; then he’s bought ’em.) Sam Richardson continues to be very fun as Bort, blithely unaware of how much pain and havoc his third (or possibly fourth) best birthday party is causing, and offering up a cheerful, “Whoever doesn’t die, let’s hang out after!” right before issuing a lethal thumbs down to one of his fighters.
Then there’s the meat of the episode: Getting to watch our old pals Cyril, Krieger, Carol, Pam, and Lana kick the ever-loving shit/robot milk out of each other on the blood-soaked sands of the arena. The animation and fight choreography is uniformly great—even if it’s a little hard to buy Cyril knocking Pam off her feet, even for a second—but the real joy is how quickly everything turns from “Let’s make it look real” to “Let’s fucking kill each other,” kicked off by one of the most beautiful sounds in American animation: Judy Greer letting out a low, maniacal giggle from deep within Carol/Cheryl’s utterly batshit mind. It’s all beautiful enough to make you a little sad when Archer and Malory actually manage to execute a workable escape plan, having slipped out of the dungeons of cheerfully nefarious nemesis Barry-6.
Which, hey, let’s talk about Barry for a second. I’m well aware that there are plenty of Archer fans who hate this character (human, robot, or somewhere in between), mostly for the pretty understandable reason that he tends to hijack the story whenever he shows up. And yet, Dave Willis is just so damn likable as this particular version of Barry that I can’t be anything less than overjoyed whenever he’s on screen. He’s just so happy to be evil, whether it’s meticulously planning the reveal of the gladiator arena, or fretting about his comic delivery on his sinister one-liners. There are bad Barrys in the Archer canon—“Dutch” Dylan from the Dreamland season comes to mind—but Barry-6 might be my favorite of the bunch.
“Happy Borthday” isn’t necessarily transcendent TV—hence why it’s getting an A-, and not an A—but it’s such a buffet of good, juicy stuff (oozing like freshly made nut butter from betwixt a rock monster’s stomp-happy toes), that it’s pretty hard to mind. Arguments about the First Law Of Robotics, Oedipal crotch zappings, Pam’s unpleasantly olfactory boners, and the chance to watch the crew let loose on each other with polearms and maces: It’s not necessarily original material—as Krieger and Cheryl hang a space-lampshade on at one point—but really, what more could you want from Archer’s latest adventures in space?
- “I’m gonna do this thing with—well, to—your friends.”
“Tell ‘em hey.”
- Malory finally finds someone who is, in fact, hourly—and makes a decent martini, to boot.
- The discussion of who’ll fight who is one of those great scenes of Archer bickering, especially Pam’s enthusiastic offer to swap in to fight Cyril in Krieger’s place.
- “Gladiator fights, are you serious?”
“Maybe it is my delivery…”
- Bort, reassured when the team starts kicking the crap out of a disguised Archer: “Oh, okay, I guess they’re not acting suspicious!”
- Malory’s exasperated “Duh” when she realizes her martini didn’t come through the wires with her was great; so was her combat stance when threatening to take that kook Funbeak down. (That’s Lucky “Krieger” Yates doing the voice, by the way.)
- Obscure reference alert: We get another Isaac Asmiov dig, and Ray’s “Mama’s All Alone” dance is an almost shot-for-shot recreation of one of Jessica Walter’s most memorable Arrested Development moments. Oh, and Cyril ends up with a tampon in his nose, just as Archer suggested way back in season 4 (and implemented for himself in season 6).
- Bort, delighted by the chaos: “Did you do this?”
“A five-man bunkhouse stampede? How would I?”
- Bort’s Nana was quite a looker back in the day!
- “Damn it, did Pam have a boner in here?”
- Line of the episode: I don’t usually give this to non-dialogue exchanges, but go back and listen to Cheryl/Carol laugh right before she starts tearing into Lana. Judy Greer is a goddess.