Malory Archer rarely gets to kick as much ass as she should. Call it a symptom of Archer’s sitcom nature, one that also frequently catches her quasi-daughter-in-law Lana Kane in its net: After all, someone’s got to call out or keep Sterling Archer’s rampaging id in check, and it’s frequently the two most important women in his life who get dragooned into that often-thankless job.
“London Time”—the funniest episode of Archer’s 12th season to date, and that by a pretty comfortable margin—approaches that problem from two different angles. For Lana, it’s all about (inevitably) an argument with Archer himself, one of the most familiar, and driest, wells this show knows to pull from. The clever thing about Brittany Miller’s script for tonight’s episode, though, is that it quickly moves past the “I want to do this,” “Hey, don’t do this” dynamic that often runs an Archer-Lana bicker session straight into the ground, pivoting it to far more fertile soil: Lana’s assertion that she’s totally “fun”, despite the fact that her most recent supporting anecdotes are either about roundhouse kicking bad guys or date back 15 years in the past. Rather than getting bogged down in simple back-and-forths, Miller’s spin on the Archer-Lana dynamic allows for copious backstory, a fun climax, and a clear escape hatch from the “Lana is a killjoy” trap that Archer often falls into when it’s feeling especially lazy about its character dynamics.
Malory, meanwhile, gets out of her usual proscribed role by completely abdicating her responsibilities as her son’s minder this week, instead indulging in a walk (and boat trip) down memory lane. It’s her past exploits that set our plot in motion, after all, after Cyril (now fully reduced back to a candy-obsessed and spineless weakling after his brief brush with competence last year) discovers that an old bug she planted in 10 Downing Street needs to have its battery replaced. Spurred as much by the chance to reunite with an old paramour as with a promised payout for securing the data, Malory throws herself into the mission eagerly, dragging her old spy catsuit out of retirement, and securing one of her best outings in years. Even if “London Time” can’t match some of the show’s very best Malory episodes—the mixture of maternal feeling and sarcastic cruelty that closes out the first season with “Dial M For Mother,” the sheer badassery of “Motherless Child,” or the heartbreaking poignancy of that final scene of “Robert De Niro”—it’s still a great outing for the character, and for the late Jessica Walter.
Which is probably as good as time as any to take a minute, and contemplate exactly what Archer has lost with Walter’s death in February of 2021. Given that the character was originally (and almost literally) written as “What if Lucille Bluth was a spymaster?” Walter could have easily coasted into, and through, this part, an easy animated paycheck after a long career of paying her dues. Instead, she transformed Malory into one of the most vibrant women on television: Terrifying, bombastic, and always the quickest wit in the room—no small thing in a cast as packed with talent as Archer’s. No one could be more cutting, or comically cruel than Walter, powered by Adam Reeds’ scripts, and a stage-honed voice like a diamond. And yet, when she allowed the softness to bleed into her registers (over-tinged with the show’s beloved toying with “A societal taboo that exists for a reason!” or not), she could sketch whole decades of loss or hardship into a few quick line readings. She had the kind of voice that could cut through the bullshit as quickly as she could trawl it out, and on Archer, that was no small thing. In the hypothetical version of this series that ended with Sterling waking from the coma—and with her “It’s a love story” speech, just creepy enough to not be saccharine—it would have been fitting for her to have the final word.
It’s still not clear how season 12 of Archer will handle Walter’s death—whether the show had time to incorporate the sad reality into the season’s plot, or whether it’ll be dealt with between seasons. In the meantime, at least we get to hear her still working in her prime here, tossing out one-liners, flirting as inappropriately as ever, and giving one hell of a speech about her life’s goal of inflicting fear on the powerful. All that and we get to see Pam and Cheryl tourist the hell out of London, scouting a journey across the city as wonderfully wobbly as Judy Greer’s enthusiastically awful English accent. Miller’s script—her first for the show—does a fantastic job of keeping The Cheryl And Pam Show hooked into the wider plot, while also allowing them to get wonderfully weird in their little B-storu; it’s also just far more jam-packed with jokes then either of the two preceding episodes. This is, as always, an unofficial tally, but I wrote down more laugh lines from tonight’s outing than I did from those first two episodes combined.
“London Time” won’t go down in history as one of the greatest episodes of Archer ever; it’s a little too safe and rote. But it is an extremely solid, funny, and energetic version of the show’s mission-of-the-week format, and one with a great grasp on the show’s sometimes tricky group dynamics. After a disappointing start, Archer season 12 has improved with each subsequent episode; fingers crossed for the trend to continue.
- Guest star report: Harvey Guillén and Natasha Rothwell reprise their roles as the endearingly irritating Cloud Beam Marketing, while Kayvan Novak phones in a few quick lines as IAA boss Fabien. The big draw tonight is Evil’s Aasif Mandvi, though, who’s clearly having a very fun time as Malory’s old flame Cornelius Vermer, and who ably dodges “Oh, they just cast a famous guy” syndrome.
- We get off to a very strong start with Archer’s assertion that “champagne is the breakfast of alcohols.”
- Walter’s read on “Lucky boy!” when Sterling complained about having the image of her catsuit burnt into his memory just about killed me.
- This is low-key a great Krieger episode, too: “Just like the Rockettes! Jazz legs!”
- “Now he’s waving at me. And I’m... waving back? Hello! I think that went really well.” Chris Parnell sometimes get over-shadowed on this show, but the sad little optimism he puts in Cyril’s voice there was great.
- “Mission update: We failed, and Lana got punched by some sort of magician.”
- “Damn it! London’s actually really diverse!”
- Obscure reference alert: Like Pam, it’s hard for me to parse how much of Cheryl’s faux-British nonsense has any basis in reality, although the legend about the Tower Of London’s ravens is, of course, famous. (That they’re actually androids, less so.) “Heavens to Murgatroyd!” is the catchphrase of noted cougar playwright Snagglepuss. And Lana’s apparently an old-school X-Men nerd, since she namechecks “Max Eisenhardt,” Magneto’s birth name, instead of the more movie-common Erik Lensherr. Meanwhile, I do not know what “Long live the zombie king!” is a reference to, and the proliferation of zombie content on the internet makes it damn near impossible to figure out.
- Best line of the episode: I’m going to break my own extremely lax rules and just put “Everything Cheryl and Pam say this week” in this space. Judy Greer and Amber Nash are having a very good time in this episode, encompassing Eleanor Roosevelt’s vagina, “Mummy wants us to go on an outing,” and especially Pam’s “Damn, you’re heavy for a skinny girl.” There were some Grade-A Malory-isms in this episode, but watching these two push their accents to their limits (“I knows about the magic books, I does!”) brought me an enormous amount of joy.
- Speaking of: “They can pry my agency from my dead, grenade-holding fingers,” and “Close down? Like some pathetic independent bookstore?”
- All of the Lana/Archer past anecdotes were fun, but the bit about him having “projectile vomited chunks that stuck to the break room fridge so they had to throw the whole thing away” was especially good.
- I’ve noticed more serialized elements sneaking into this season, and I have to wonder: Are we building toward an Archer-Lana hook-up, given all the focus on her problems with Robert? That’s always good for a fun shame spiral.