Wednesday, February 11, 2015

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of Last Week: Archer, "Vision Quest"

If this were the Bourne movies, Cyril would have been able to kill Krieger with just that bagel.
On some Fridays, I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. The "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week is no longer a weekly feature, but sometimes, I'll catch a really good piece of animated TV one week or a few weeks after its original airdate, and I'll feel like devoting some paragraphs to it despite my lateness to the party. Hence the occasional "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of Last Week. "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," a two-hour block of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, airs weekdays at 2pm Pacific on AFOS.

You know that "Vision Quest," a bottle episode of Archer that finds the characters trapped in a broken elevator for the entire story, is a special Archer episode when it takes two of its most deranged and oblivious-to-reality characters, Cheryl/Carol (Judy Greer) and Krieger (Lucky Yates), the spy gadget builder and possible Hitler clone a la The Boys from Brazil, and gives them each a rare moment of lucidity before restoring them to their usual insanity and obliviousness. Carol (her name this week) has that moment when she perfectly breaks down each of the other characters she's trapped in the elevator with (Carol to Archer: "You want a drink;" Carol to Lana: "You wanna lecture us;" Carol to Cyril: "You wanna masturbate;" Carol to Krieger: "And you're scared that we'll figure out you're actually just a Krieger clone"). Krieger has that moment when he explains that he jammed everyone's cell phones because he's tired of everybody staring at their phones and not having conversations with each other. Krieger hates smartphone zombies just like I do? Go, Krieger!

Den of Geek put it best when they said, "The beauty of Archer's 'Vision Quest' is that it uses the elevator trope to teach its characters absolutely nothing." Usually, bottle episodes of other shows--from Parks and Recreation's recent "Leslie and Ron" to Community's many tributes to The Breakfast Club, the John Hughes flick that's basically one big bottle episode in the form of a feature film--deprive the characters of their comfort zones and inhibitions, strip them bare figuratively (and sometimes literally, for fan service reasons) and put them through a situation where they experience character growth or reach some sort of dramatic understanding after a prior conflict tore them apart. Oh yeah, and bottle episodes are cheap to make.

Confined to just one location or two or three, a bottle episode often acts as sort of a smaller-scale breather from expensive shoots. In Archer's case, the animators needed a bottle episode--I'm glad they went with that instead of a godawful clip show--after laboring over some really expensive and ambitious animation in the past few episodes, particularly the beautifully animated avalanche sequence for "The Archer Sanction," a good example of the raised budget FX gave to Archer this season. "Vision Quest" was what Archer creator Adam Reed--who's remarkably written or co-written every single prior Archer episode--came up with to ease the animators' pain. The episode, which Reed wrote in less than two days, takes its title from the 1985 Matthew Modine high-school wrestling flick that's best remembered for introducing Madonna's "Crazy for You" (outside America, Vision Quest was actually retitled Crazy for You), and it uses that movie for a great episode-concluding punchline.

This least expensive and action-y of Archer episodes has turned out to be the funniest episode of Archer's sixth season so far--remarkably, there's so little spycraft in this episode that at times, "Vision Quest" could be mistaken for an episode of Soap from the '70s or some non-espionage sitcom where characters argue profanely--and it's a unique bottle episode because unlike other bottle episodes where characters experience some growth, Archer, Lana, Cyril, Ray, Pam, Carol and Krieger experience no growth at all. "Vision Quest" concludes with them being far worse assholes to each other than they were at the beginning. Archer's latest bottle episode takes the tendency for many other bottle episodes to either go overboard on the navel-gazing--or lose too many of the funny or sharp qualities we like about the "normal" episodes--and gleefully proceeds to jerk off all over it.

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