Friday, June 3, 2016

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Archer, "Deadly Velvet: Part II"

Occasionally on Friday, I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. It's the "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week. Stream "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," my one-hour mix of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, right now.

So when Archer's seventh season opened with a dead Archer lying in the pool a la Sunset Boulevard, I was expecting the spy-turned-P.I.'s demise to turn out to be a fakeout. Then when Archer's deranged co-worker Krieger was later seen putting the finishing touches on his robot doubles of all the Figgis Agency employees, I suspected the Archerbot would be the corpse in that pool. "Deadly Velvet: Part II"--the conclusion of an ambitious season that took a few more chances storytelling-wise than even the similarly ambitious "Archer Vice" arc did and was largely successful--totally proved me wrong. I didn't expect Archer creator Adam Reed to go through with it and actually kill off the title character instead of placing the Archerbot in the pool and letting the real Archer go scot-free.

Reed's commitment to not scamming the audience (I'm relieved that he didn't go for the sucker's move of saying the body belonged to a clone or an imposter wearing Archer's face) is admirable. But we all know that in a spy-fi universe where mortally wounded men live on as cyborgs and Nazi scientists get married to sentient holograms, Archer's death won't hold, unless FX cancels the show. Right now, the low-rated Archer's future on FX looks kind of iffy because the network hasn't renewed it yet. But if FX does renew the show, our favorite immature P.I. with a weird love for Shazam! (the '70s TV show, not the app) will be back to pulling voicemail pranks and pestering Cyril in no time.

So killing off Archer like that is kind of pointless, especially in an increasingly repetitive year of TV that's been overloaded with character deaths and death fakeouts to keep shows from losing their buzz on social media, and if an eighth season does take place, his murder at the hands of femme fatale Veronica Deane would lose much of its impact because there's no way the show would go on without H. Jon Benjamin and with Malory and A.J. being the only Archers around. But Archer's death gives Jessica Walter's character more to do than just deliver her usual pithy insults--so she does care about her son, even though it never appears to be that way--and it results in Walter becoming the MVP of the finale. Walter also gets the finale's biggest laugh when her pop-culturally illiterate character--whose cluelessness about the obscure pop culture (or literary) references her son, Pam, Cheryl and Krieger are so fond of dropping on the regular appears to have been lifted from Walter's real-life cluelessness about such references--hears the term "Turing test" for the first time and wonders if the term comes from "Star War." And I especially like how Archer's sexual attraction to the 50-year-old movie star, which contains disgusting Freudian overtones, literally became the death of him. His infatuation with Veronica didn't just destroy his relationship with Lana. It also ended his life. The show's character designers (including Chi Duong, whose Archer character designs can be glimpsed on her Tumblr, which she named Mochi Baby) further added to the grossness of Archer's Freudian infatuation by interestingly making Veronica closely resemble Walter when she starred in Grand Prix.

The villains on Archer have ranged from forgettable to perfectly cast (like when Timothy Olyphant was the highlight of an Archer episode that some have viewed as homophobic or when Jon Hamm guest-starred in the role of Captain Murphy, an old character from Reed and Matt Thompson's Sealab 2021). Those characters have never really been the highlights of Archer, but thanks to both the season-long insurance scam that she orchestrated behind the scenes and the consequences of that scam, Veronica marks the first time that an Archer villain has been truly formidable and intriguing. Plus Reed and Thompson recruited a superb performer to voice Veronica and bring her to noirish life this season: Mary McDonald-Lewis. Her name won't mean much to viewers who pay very little attention to cartoon voice actors, but to us '80s kids who grew up watching G.I. Joe, she's like an old friend. McDonald-Lewis was the voice of G.I. Joe heroine Lady Jaye. So Archer was killed by Lady Jaye.

And maybe FX as well--if it goes all Red Wedding on us like ABC and Fox did this spring.

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