Friday, April 25, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Archer, "Arrival/Departure"

Guest star Christian Slater attempts to kill this show like he's done with My Own Worst Enemy, The Forgotten, Breaking In and Mind Games.
Every Friday in "'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week," I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," a two-hour block of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, airs weekdays at 2pm Pacific on AFOS.

Earlier this week, in a nice little audio essay by NPR TV critic Eric Deggans ("TV's roster of late-night talk show hosts is whiter than a bobsledding team from Scandinavia."), he recommended to CBS that they should consider handing over the Late Late Show time slot to Archer cast member Aisha Tyler if the enjoyably off-kilter Craig Ferguson quits The Late Late Show. In addition to being a funny stand-up and a decent interviewer during her own podcast Girl on Guy, the current Whose Line Is It Anyway? host has plenty of TV interviewing experience (she's one of the 80 jillion hosts of The Talk on CBS and was even once a frontrunner to replace Craig Kilborn, Ferguson's predecessor), so she'd be the perfect replacement for Ferguson.

Plus a nightly show wouldn't interfere with Tyler's voice work on Archer (according to another Archer cast member, Judy Greer, it takes about only 30 minutes to record lines for the show). Her role as Lana Kane, the seemingly level-headed and continually frustrated ISIS agent, closet Republican and now, new mother, easily outstrips all her previous acting roles, much like how Mark Hamill's voice work as the Joker for Batman: The Animated Series, the B:TAS spinoff movies and the Batman: Arkham Asylum video game franchise is the best thing Hamill ever did, even more so than his on-camera work in the Star Wars movies (or his campy guest shots as the Trickster on the '90s Flash TV series).

16 shots and pregnant
In Archer's satisfying fifth-season finale, which finds the gang still stuck in the fictional dictatorship of San Marcos, Tyler continues to demonstrate why she's a tremendous voice actor, whether it's when her character's experiencing what has to be the first sitcom childbirth scene in TV history where the mom gets slapped and punched around by other women (I particularly love how the animators gave Lana such bloodshot eyes while she's in labor) or when Lana's quietly introducing Archer to their baby daughter Abbijean. There are times during Archer's run when I've felt like Lana is on the underwritten side in her role as the straight man to the likes of Archer, Malory, Cheryl/Carol/Cherlene and Pam, despite how much life and nuance Tyler brings to her character. But when Lana reveals to a suddenly tinnitus-stricken Archer in "Arrival/Departure" that she stole his sperm in order to procreate, it's a great reminder that Lana isn't always as level-headed as she thinks she is and that she's capable of being as batshit twisted as the rest of the gang.

"So I guess it maybe wasn't the most ethical thing I've ever done in my entire life," muses Lana to an adrift and distracted Archer. It's not the only example of unethical behavior in "Arrival/Departure." There's also the whole convoluted deal that had the former ISIS employees (unsuccessfully) slinging cocaine for the CIA, an arrangement that turns out to have been masterminded by Archer and Malory, while everyone else in the gang was kept in the dark about Archer and Malory's involvement in the CIA-ISIS deal. Archer's bold, season-long experiment as "Archer Vice," which is brought to an end in this episode by Malory successfully blackmailing CIA operative Holly (Gary Cole) to restore ISIS to her, was fun while it lasted. It proved that the show could still be enjoyable without the spy agency backdrop and that Archer creator Adam Reed could handle much more ambitious storytelling as capably and effectively as he did with the mission-of-the-week structure during the show's previous seasons (particularly the second and third ones).

The fiasco that was the gang's cocaine mission also gave a new sense of purpose to secondary characters who have always been funny but whose subplots were starting to feel repetitive late last season, particularly Cyril and to a lesser extent, Cherlene. Her new career as a country singer spawned perhaps the show's cleverest piece of tie-in merchandise, an actual country album featuring musician Jessy Lynn Martens as Cherlene (one of its tracks, "Cherlene's Broken Hearts & Auto Parts," a cover of album producer Kevn Kinney's "Broken Hearts and Auto Parts," is briefly used in this episode as source music while the gang attempts to flee San Marcos).

So now that ISIS is back in the picture, I hope Reed doesn't revert next season to the mission-of-the-week structure that he admitted was starting to bore him last year. "Archer Vice" was as close as Archer got to the Wiseguy approach of storytelling (as in one long undercover mission lasting for seven to 12 episodes), which I've always wanted to see more spy shows experiment with (missions-of-the-week are more their jam). Earlier this year, Reed said he was considering sending the gang to prison for Archer's sixth season, but I like to think he remembered the tedium of My Name Is Earl's season behind bars and then dumped the idea.

Maybe Reed should send the ISIS agents to go undercover as execs from Cherlene's record label for the entire season, a la Wiseguy's Dead Dog Records arc. But whatever Reed decides to do with ISIS next season, let's hope it continues to result in funny bits of business like Cyril delivering Rambo's climactic monologue from First Blood after Juliana Calderon (Lauren Cohan) dumps him, Cherlene referring to Lana's vagina as mauve or Abbijean being her father's daughter when she does Archer's "Hold up, I'm drinking" gesture while being breastfed. And now that Lana's the mom she always wanted to be, hopefully, the addition of a baby won't ruin Archer (like it has with too many other sitcoms) and put a damper on how much of a great role Lana has been for Tyler, whether or not she becomes, outside of the show, the late-night host she deserves to be and a sea of mauveness in the way-too-lily-white desert that is the late-night landscape.

Stray observations/memorable quotes:
* Remember all those clips in the montage that concluded "White Elephant" at the start of the season, which I said was a "season 5 trailer that's badly disguised as Sterling's fantasy sequence about his new life"? Most of those clips turned out to be fake. As Reed said, "almost none of the things in the original trailer as written wound up in the season. So we went back--and I guess how they make real trailers--watched seven episodes and used footage to put in the trailer." Shit. I was really looking forward to seeing more of Cherlene fending off adversaries with a rocket launcher.

* "Aww... All the gardeners are running away."

* "Psh! You know how many times I've helped a cow give birth in the barn? Plus one time, my sister Edie? Well, she couldn't have it in the house. Long story. A long, racist story."

* Malory: "Lana Kane, you have known me for a long, long time. When have I ever been honest with Sterling?" Lana: "Huh." Malory: "Exactly."

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