Thursday, July 7, 2016

AFOS Blog Rewind: Archer, "Fugue and Riffs"

Shortly after the conclusion of Archer's seventh season, a largely satisfying season that rebooted Adam Reed's profane spy spoof as a private eye genre spoof, FX announced last month that it has renewed Archer for three more seasons. From January 23, 2013, here's a repost of my discussion of one of Archer's best episodes from its days as a spy show (as well as the days when the name ISIS didn't have depressing connotations like it does today). This episode, like all other episodes from Archer's first six seasons, can currently be streamed on Netflix and Hulu.

"Fugue and Riffs" is another sharply written Archer story involving ISIS agent Sterling Archer's ongoing conflict with his mother/boss Malory (Jessica Walter), and it contains a brilliant crossover with lead voice actor H. Jon Benjamin's other current cartoon, more semi-nudity from Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler) and esoteric references that are funny simply because they're so damn esoteric (British spy hero Thomas Elphinstone Hambledon! Manning Coles, the duo that created Hambledon! The star of Shazam! Émile Zola!). You won't see Spidey cracking a joke that's a nod to Zola's "J'accuse" letter during Ultimate Spider-Man, that's for damn sure.

The season premiere opens with Archer tending the grill at the exact same titular restaurant from Bob's Burgers, Benjamin's other show, while surrounded by the Belcher kids and Linda (John Roberts, the only Bob's Burgers voice actor reprising his role), who gets to berate Archer with one of the various insulting nicknames that have become one of the Adam Reed cartoon's trademarks ("Well, excuse me, Ike Turner!"). Instead of appearing in their more familiar character designs from Bob's Burgers, Tina, Gene, Louise and Linda are awesomely redesigned to blend in with Archer's '60s comic book aesthetic.

I like how the cold open strings us along into thinking Archer is undercover as a burger joint owner as part of some ISIS op, until it becomes clear that it's no op and he has no memory of his life as an ISIS agent, although a few pieces of that life remain. They include fighting skills, which Archer puts to use during a badass and extremely gory restaurant confrontation with KGB assassins straight out of A History of Violence, his literary tastes (he dubs the restaurant's newest burger "a Thomas Elphinstone Hambledurger with Manning Coleslaw") and his metrosexual side ("What I am gonna do is find out who this Archer jerk is... I'm also probably gonna do a spa weekend").

It turns out that two months ago, Archer developed amnesia due to a moment of extreme stress and ran away to a new life as a seaside fry cook named Bob. He married Linda and apparently became her second husband, which makes me wonder what happened to the original Bob in this universe (Alex, I'm gonna go with "What is dead?," and because much of this show's humor thrives on kinky or freaky behavior, I wouldn't be surprised if Linda has been remolding Archer Vertigo style to look more like Bob). Both ISIS and the KGB are after Archer for different reasons: Malory assigns Lana, Cyril (Chris Parnell) and Ray (Reed) to stage a fake run-in with the KGB in front of Archer to try to jog his memory and get him back to the agency, while bionic villain Barry Dylan (Dave Willis) sends more KGB assassins to eliminate Archer.

Part of the fun of "Fugue and Riffs" is trying to figure out the stressful moment that triggered Archer's amnesia. We're given a clue early on when Malory complains that her son hates seeing her be happy, and when the catalyst is revealed at the end to be neither a bomb explosion nor a Bourne Identity-style, ISIS-sanctioned attempt on his life, but something far less action-y--Malory's wedding to Ron Cadillac, the most successful Cadillac dealer in the Tri-State Area--it makes perfect sense within the neurotic, wracked-by-mommy-issues world of Archer.

In a great bit of stunt-casting, the show has recruited Ron Leibman from The Hot Rock and Friends, as well as Walter's real-life husband, to voice Malory's new hubby, who's won over everyone at ISIS during Archer's two-month absence and whose presence this season is bound to reignite an old thread from a couple of seasons ago: Archer's search for his biological father. (Archer reportedly begins to form a bond with Ron in the new season's fourth episode. I can't wait to see if Reed, who's obsessed with the movies of one-time Archer guest star Burt Reynolds, will toss into that episode a reference to The Hot Rock or Leibman's other '70s crime-genre cult favorite, The Super Cops.) The rest of the fun of "Fugue and Riffs" involves being reacquainted with the elements that make Archer such an entertaining adult cartoon, from the batshit crazy behavior of Dr. Krieger (Lucky Yates) and office subordinates Pam (Amber Nash) and Cheryl/Carol (Judy Greer) to the self-satisfaction Archer gets from anything he does or says, particularly his esoteric jokes, as if he's a boy who just discovered cursing.

Archer may be a competent, book-smart, sharply dressed and jet-setting spy with a sex life many of us Archer viewers would kill for, but deep down, he's really just a kid who never grew up and knows only how to be a narcissistic asshole, thanks to screwed-up parenting from an asshole of a parent. "Fugue and Riffs" reinforces Archer's childishness when he woo-hoos like a kid over the Molotov cocktails he and Lana lob at the assassins, or when one of Lana's attempts to get him to remember ISIS tanks and causes him to go off on a tangent about his love for Shazam!, which sometimes crossed over with the superheroine show The Secrets of Isis in the '70s--a nod to how this episode crosses over with Bob's Burgers.

No wonder Archer identifies so much with Shazam, née Captain Marvel, even in his fugue state. Shazam is a boy in a grown man's body, just like Archer.

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