I’m irritated with myself.
See, I started last week’s Archer review with a whole discussion of the show’s mission-of-the-week formula, a conceit that often distracts from the things it does best—i.e., cram its various dysfunctional personalities into as close a proximity as possible, and then let the bickering fireworks commence. And then, wouldn’t you know it, “The Double Date” comes along a week later—and ends up being an even more-apt exemplar for that same analysis. (In fact, it’s about as close as the show’s come to doing a bottle episode since “Vision Quest” back in season 6.) I guess I’ll just have to content myself with the pleasure of having watched tonight’s installment of Archer, instead of executing any masterful critical flourishes. Which is just fine, honestly, because this was probably my favorite episode the show has done in years.
Half the premise of “The Double Date” is right there in the title, with most of the rest arriving in the opening few shots: Sterling Archer, deeply amused at having engineered a tremendously awkward dinner date between himself, neuroscientist newcomer Gabrielle (the great Nicole Byer), Lana, and her aging husband Robert (still the also-great Stephen Tobolowsky). Archer’s got a shit-eating grin on his face because Gabrielle is, on first analysis, a pretty clear doppelganger for his ex—except with two Ph.D.’s, instead of just the one. But even without that mostly-in-his-own-head win, that smile would probably be plastered to his face. It’s a recurring and reliable part of Archer’s character that he’s never more comfortable than when everyone around him isn’t.
“The Double Date” isn’t content with just being My Dinner With Archer, though. After some early banter—and a quick reveal that Lana’s new beau, and her former lover, aren’t as different as she might have liked—the mission of the week does, in fact, mission, with Cyril and Malory crashing dinner to drop in a light smattering of plot. Turns out the crew is after a regular at the restaurant, a Russian hacker with what’ll turn out to be poor taste in both bodyguards and girlfriends—which also helps explain why Lana agreed to this frankly farcical situation in the first place. Why she married Robert—who, after coming off pretty Zen in “The Orpheus Gambit,” reveals himself not only as an unabashed horndog, but also the male equivalent of Malory Archer—is a question that’ll take some more analysis. Luckily, they’ve got a trained neuroscientist on hand to ask all the tricky questions.
As Gabrielle, Nicole Byer “gets” (through no fault of her own) the chance to be the person most likely to let the air out of “The Double Date”’s comedy tires. (After all, the Archer crew has never dealt that well with “normal” civilians, at least, those whose names weren’t Cadillac, Ron.) But instead of letting the straightperson role consume her in a cloud of boredom, Gabrielle expertly pours gas on a whole bunch of fires, getting genuinely excited by all the spy antics, holding her own against Lana’s barbs, and managing to come off as an actual character, rather than the prop Archer so badly wants her to be. It’s a potentially thankless task that Byer smashes out of the ballpark. So, uh…Thanks!
Speaking of baseball: Cyril also gets another new low (somehow sinking even lower, despite the fact that his last new low involved breaking a man’s neck and then sobbing in a murder-bot factory) after getting stiffed with the bill at the restaurant and forgotten by all his “friends”. Besides being a clever way to get Cheryl, Pam, and Krieger into the mix of this mostly self-contained episode, this little plot branch also sets up one of the most triumphantly harrowing scenes this show has done in recent memory, as Cyril loses his goddamn mind trying to kill a batting cage pitching machine that won’t stop nailing him in the nuts—about as trenchant a metaphor for his doomed-to-be-Elmer-Fudd relationship with Archer as we could probably hope to get.
And that’s what “The Double Date,” penned by Shane Kosakowski, grasps that many episodes of Archer—both those back in the written-by-Adam-Reed days, and now—sometimes don’t: Great episodes of this show don’t just have great jokes. (Pretty much every single episode of Archer that’s ever run has at least one great joke.) No, great episodes of this show embrace the “situation” part of its sitcom DNA, creating scenarios that generate jokes not just from Archer’s encyclopedic store of bullshit knowledge, and H. Jon Benjamin’s unbeatable deadpan, but from the friction and misery these arrangements provoke. Lana trapped at dinner with Archer and her multiply-married husband is funny. Cyril Figgis beating a man with a bathroom attendant, then weeping by himself in the middle of a high-class restaurant, is funny. Three spies (plus a neuroscientist, and a billionaire who apparently has a problem with dogs) walking down a New York street, pretending to be yokels while also having a high-volume argument about said dog deaths? Funny!
All that, and we get Archer having a brief moment of actual reflection, and we get about five quality Malory-isms, and we get what’s basically a pure, uncut blast of Cheryl/Carol Tunt. Watching this show, this far into its run, I can usually find something that jibes wrong enough with an episode to knock it out of solid “A” grade contention. I’ve got nothing this week, though; this is Archer as it should be, and hypothetically could be, every single week for as long as they want it to run.
- A couple of great bits of facial animation tonight, from Archer’s content smile at the start of the episode, to Lana hate-crunching her ice, to pretty much everything that happens to Cyril as he cycles from superspy to schmuck.
- Archer, letting Robert down easy after declaring his love for him: “I was joking, obviously, Robert. The eyebrows are a dealbreaker.”
- Archer’s told Gabrielle about A.J., but all he mentioned about Lana was that they were co-workers and that her jaw “makes this clicking noise” when she chews.
- Tobolowsky really makes a meal out of some of the grossest lines of the episode, from his multiple “espresso” and “Oreo” jokes, to the chilling comment, “I can’t even hear a muted trumpet without getting erect.”
- “What a great story, Robert, I just wish it could have been louder, and grosser.”
- Archer, somehow still being nicer to the waitstaff than his mom: “You’re trusting Kyle to pick our food? The entirety of his life’s decisions have led him to this job and that haircut. No offense, Kyle.”
- Gabrielle, completely unfazed by Lana’s defensive assertion that “they don’t teach you everything in neurobiology school”: “Well, no, obviously not.”
- I really liked the bathroom attendant guy—both as a character, and as a human shield. In fact, between him and the woman Lana splashes, great job from the B(athroom) Team overall.
- Oh, hey, Veronica Deane got away after shooting Archer(s).
- Cyril, after seeing the bill at L’orange: “I had a serving of bone marrow, not a goddamn transplant!”
- It’s the phrase we all hate to hear, Krieger: “That anime hologram’s just not that into you.”
- We get a couple choice Malory lines tonight, but none so venomously cruel as this one, after giving the window-washer cash to drive Archer’s car: “Oh yes, big smiles. I, too, would be excited if I was about to overdose in a hollowed-out boxspring.”
- Although “We’re trying to follow that horse in front of us, not inseminate it,” is also a classic.
- We get so little Cheryl in this episode, but Judy Greer puts so much into it. A national treasure, forever.
- Pam’s probably lying about how much she believes in Cyril, but she really does need the agency: “I can’t get another job. I have, like, a shit-ton of felonies.”
- Obscure reference alert: Very light tonight! Andrew Fielding Huxley is one of the scientists that isolated the squid giant axon, which was instrumental in helping scientists learn how the action potential, the chemical and electrical process that propagates signals down a neuron, works. (Sorry, failed former neuroscientist here.) Other than that, I got nothin’—although I did check to see whether Malory and Robert were watching a real movie. (No, as far as I can tell.) Oh, and San Marcos has apparently recovered from its brush with ISIS back at the conclusion of Archer: Vice.
- Line of the episode: It’s really a whole sequence of dialogue, but the entire conversation about Robert’s past is full of amazing stuff. (Including the fact that his second wife was “a gift from the Saudi crown.”) Tobolowsky gets the award, though, for his response when Lana demands to know how he could have had 11 dogs die on him: “Well, you know, there’s just a huge language barrier?”
- Bonus line of the episode award: It’s not really funny, but Chris Parnell tops off one of Cyril’s best episodes with a pretty fantastic speech, letting loose a season’s worth of frustrations on that poor, implacable pitching machine.
- Lana, taunting/consoling Archer about how badly he blew it with Gabrielle: “And those cans, am I right? “Yeah, they looked…pretty squeezy.” It’s all about Benjamin’s sheepish delivery.