Friday, April 26, 2013

"The Whitest Block Ever," a new AFOS weekday block, begins Monday, April 29

Yo, Spike, You Don't Need To Capitalize Every Single Word In Your Tweets. I Love Most Of Your Films, But That Upper Caps Shit On Twitter Is Fucking Weird-Looking.

The start of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is the perfect time to introduce AFOS' new late morning block, which will consist of original themes and score cues from films done by Asian American directors and other filmmakers of color (like Spike Lee, pictured above with frequent musical collaborator Terence Blanchard during a Miracle at St. Anna scoring session) who have worked on films or TV series episodes I've admired or enjoyed. I'm calling this block "The Whitest Block Ever."

Saw director James Wan is taking over the Fast and Furious franchise from Justin Lin because what these street racing movies need is a lot more severed fingers.

Justin Lin, a co-founder of the much-buzzed-about YOMYOMF Network and director of the upcoming Fast & Furious 6 (which was scored by Lucas Vidal instead of Brian Tyler, who's pictured above with Lin), will be represented on the "Whitest Block Ever" playlist by Tyler's scores from Finishing the Game and Fast Five and Akiko Carver and DJ Ropstyle's original music from Better Luck Tomorrow, particularly "Eat with Your Eyes."

And if you tune in to "The Whitest Block Ever" and wonder why hip-hop producer CHOPS' "Chinese School" is on the playlist, "Chinese School," the opening title theme for the 2007 sports comedy Ping Pong Playa, is on there to represent the work of Jessica Yu, who directed Ping Pong Playa and is best remembered for her 1997 Oscar acceptance speech, in which she joked about her Oscar outfit costing more than the documentary she won for. The decision to censor characters' F-bombs with basketball dribble sound FX in Ping Pong Playa sort of ruined that film for me. (Remember the original Bad News Bears? Now imagine that flick with some of the shit-talking covered up by baseball bat crack sound FX--that's how dumb the decision to self-censor the dialogue in Ping Pong Playa was.) But I enjoyed both CHOPS' original tunes during Ping Pong Playa and a lot of Yu's other works, like the West Wing episodes she directed, the 1992 short film Sour Death Balls and the 2012 short doc Meet Mr. Toilet.

The current generation of Asian American YouTube content producers will also be represented during "The Whitest Block Ever" by some of George Shaw's score from the 2010 Wong Fu Productions/Ryan Higa collabo Agents of Secret Stuff. "The Whitest Block Ever," which celebrates the efforts of both these YouTube stars and the filmmakers of color who must have inspired them (and in the case of Lin, are now partnering up with them as part of YOMYOMF), airs at 10am-noon on AFOS every weekday, starting Monday.

Here's one more little taste of "The Whitest Block Ever": the Robert Rodriguez/Tito & Tarantula theme from both Grindhouse's fake Machete trailer and Rodriguez's first Machete movie (Machete returns to entertainingly piss off much of the far right again in Machete Kills on September 13).

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (04/24/2013): Out There, Apollo Gauntlet, The Cleveland Show, Bob's Burgers and Dogsnack

I haven't seen a Sarah Silverman character this entertainingly cruel since the time when Sarah Silverman slept with God and then dumped His clingy ass.
This new collection of Michael Landon's memoirs will sell like hotcakes.
Every Wednesday in "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner," I dine on five of the week's most noteworthy animated shows. The episodes are reviewed in the order of when they first aired.

It took me a few episodes to adjust to Out There's more gentle brand of humor--though 20th Century Fox Television co-produced the show, former South Park director Ryan Quincy's creation is far less brash and flashy than what I usually expect out of an animated series that's co-produced by Fox--but right when I feel like this cartoon about awkward adolescence in the '80s has started to gel, the show's 10-episode season on IFC concludes with "Ace's Wild." The season (or series) finale covers--in one whole episode--an arc that Freaks and Geeks, one of Out There's spiritual ancestors, would have explored with gawky Bill Haverchuck in the second season that Paul Feig and Judd Apatow never got to produce: what if Bill became a jock and began to spend more time with other jocks? Would his best friends Sam and Neal resent Bill and his new clique or would they remain loyal to Bill like Millie did with Lindsay even though she disapproved of Lindsay's new friends from the "freaks" crowd?

In "Ace's Wild," Chad, who's always longed to belong and not be so invisible to everyone else at school, is the one who falls in with a new crowd: the cool kids in charge of yearbook. Style-conscious yearbook editors Amy (Sarah Silverman) and Amber (Ellen Page) are so entertained by Chad's classroom doodle of their biology teacher reimagined as a walrus that they recruit him to draw similar caricatures for their yearbook. Chad recognizes that his best friend Chris is beginning to feel jealous about all the fun he's been having outside of class with the yearbook committee, so he makes sure Chris doesn't get left out of his new activities by persuading the aspiring daredevil to promote himself to the committee as a candidate for the yearbook's "Voice of the Wild Man" page.

Behavioral Despair sounds like some lame San Francisco new wave band Live 105 used to always include on its playlist in the '80s.
Amy, Amber and an overly pretentious yearbook photographer named Cedric (Jason Schwartzman) are enraptured by Chris and snap several photos of his antics for the yearbook. But Chad realizes that Amy, Amber and Cedric aren't laughing with Chris. Instead, they're laughing at him and are intending to make him and many others around school--like the crying drunk girls at a popular clique's party whom Amy tries to capture photos of at one point--the laughingstock of the campus in the pages of their yearbook. The yearbook staff is basically the TMZ of Holford High School, before there was an Internet or a TMZ: they're a petty, shallow-as-fuck crew of parasites with no journalistic integrity whatsoever. All that's missing from the yearbook staff is an oddly conservative contempt for rap music.

Chad won't stand for the yearbook staff's treatment of Chris, so to get even, he and Chris secretly devise a prank that's their most elaborate and entertaining one yet. Meanwhile, in a B-story that ties into the finale's themes of plotting behind the scenes to help out someone who's been wronged and trying to improve one's social status, Jay wishes for a new bike for a BMX race he wants to participate in, but Wayne refuses to spend so much cash on a new bike. Rose, who was the youngest in a family of 12 kids and was always stuck with hand-me-downs that were given to her from her older siblings, sympathizes with her youngest son's dissatisfaction with receiving hand-me-downs from Chad like his old bike, so she secretly dives into her own savings and gets him the new bike.

But Jay's new ride is the ugliest thing on two wheels before this ride existed, and when Jay winds up in last place at the end of his first race, the spectators ridicule him, especially for his lame bike. Infuriated by their jeers, Rose takes to her garage late at night, demonstrates previously unseen body shop skills and pimps Jay's ride all by herself. In a great little twist, the badass refit--newly christened "the Black Rose"--doesn't improve Jay's speed overnight. He still ends up dead last in his next BMX race, but thanks to Rose's efforts, the other racers and the spectators are so impressed with the Black Rose's design that they ignore his lousy performance and want to pal around with him after the race. If there's any character on Out There who's evolved a bit over the season, it's Chad and Jay's previously unassuming church organist mom. Rose started out as a cipher whose lines consisted largely of typical June Cleaver-esque dialogue like "Here are your lunches, boys." She's been given a pulse in these last few episodes and has turned into the kind of mom every viewer wished they had: Paul Teutul Sr. in a pink housecoat.

June Cleaver meets American Chopper.
The B-story expresses a tinge of sweetness that Out There has only occasionally shown because the show has primarily been about Chad and Chris' misery within the high school that Chris likens in "Ace's Wild" to a turd farm. If IFC doesn't renew Out There, I'm grateful for how all 10 episodes brought us a view of high school that I identify so much with and hasn't really been seen on a comedic series since the days of Freaks and Geeks and Daria: high school is unpleasant, largely boring and ultimately worthless, and as Chad observes in the final line of perhaps the entire series, which sums up so well both the episode and Out There as a whole, "Visibility is overrated. The people you give a shit about will always see you clearly."

Stray observations:
* Chad, on the artsy yearbook room: "I felt like I just walked into an exotic city, maybe Istanbul or Reno."

* Silverman's character crosses off half of the yearbook photo caption of a creepy classmate she dislikes and replaces it with a fake quote of him admitting to being a bedwetter, which is funny because the title of Silverman's 2010 autobiography is The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption and Pee.

* Chad: "Are you from England?" Cedric: "I wish. Morrissey would be the best dad."

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (04/17/2013): Archer, Out There, Apollo Gauntlet, Bob's Burgers and American Dad

'Put that thing away,' says Jon Hamm. 'What I'm packing is way bigger, dude.'
The producers forced Jon Hamm to wear underwear during this role as well.

Every Wednesday in "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner," I dine on five of the week's most noteworthy animated shows. The episodes are reviewed in the order of when they first aired.

Damn. So Lana Kane is pregnant, via an unspecified sperm donor. Unlike Ray Gillette ending up confined to a wheelchair once again (by the way, a bunch of Sterling/Ray shippers somewhere must be having a field day over the tickling scene that causes Ray's re-crippling), I didn't see that one coming. However, thanks to all that time I spent in TV Clichés 101, when Lana started puking while heading off with the other agents to stop eco-terrorist Captain Murphy in the second half of "Sea Tunt," Archer's fourth-season finale, I knew right there she was with child. It explains her irritability and largely unspoken concern about settling down and having a life outside of ISIS in recent episodes. I appreciate how Archer creator Adam Reed didn't resort to having Lana spell out her concern in dialogue and chose to have her constantly interrupted before she could spell it out during those episodes. It shows how much Reed respects the audience's intelligence, unlike some other animated series showrunners (*cough*Ultimate Spider-Man writers*cough*).

Archer, Lana, Cecil and Ray discover that Murphy was faking his possession of nerve gas missiles, which makes him, along with Malory and Eugene Mirman's Cecil Tunt, one of several characters this season who concocted lies to get more money because they're broke. Killing off Murphy with a soda machine emblazoned with the last name of the late Harry Goz, the actor who voiced Murphy on Reed and Matt Thompson's Sealab 2021, is Reed and Thompson's twisted and oddly affecting way of both paying tribute to Goz and saying that not even Jon Hamm in the role of Murphy can compare to Goz.

The other revelation about Murphy--he doesn't have any personnel with him at Sealab--is Reed's clever way of working around the fact that Cartoon Network's legal department really did a number on Reed and prevented him from using all the other characters from Sealab. The absence of lewd and frequently nude Debbie DuPree, Sealab's precursor to Cheryl/Carol and Pam, is particularly glaring because she would have fit right in with the Archer universe. Maybe Reed should have emulated Murphy, Malory and Cecil and lied to trick Cartoon Network into giving him the rights to the other characters.

Despite the lack of those characters and the rather minimal screen time given to Mirman and Kristen Schaal in the second half, "Sea Tunt" is a satisfying season finale, thanks to the show's always terrific dialogue (especially when the agents argue over undercover personas and when Cyril frequently snipes at Lana because he's pissed that he's not her baby's father) and great character moments like Archer setting aside his usual asshole self for a second to let Lana know that he wants her to be a better mom than Malory was. Another thing I like about "Sea Tunt" is that it's given me an excuse to revisit one of the greatest--but way too short--TV themes of all time, performed by the indie pop band Calamine.

Memorable quotes:
* Murphy, as he dies: "Forgive my candor. I just felt my spleen slip out of what was my anus."

* Murphy's last words: "Crushed by an off-brand drink machine. Oh my God, just like that old gypsy woman sa--"

* Lana, as Archer lets himself drown Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio style to save her and her baby: "Okay, here it comes! You just gotta relax and let it go in your mouth!" Archer: "Phrasing!"

"Hall H," a new AFOS weekend block, begins this Saturday

Batman in shorts? That ain't fucking right. That's like the Chicago White Sox on that one disastrous day in 1976 when they came out to the field wearing shorts.
(Photo source: The Beat)
Every time I log on to AFOS via the widget on the right side of this blog to check in on what's being shuffled, I notice a lot of Batman animated series or live-action movie score tracks get streamed during "AFOS Prime." That's because I like Batman, especially the animated incarnation that Warner Bros. Animation produced from 1992 to 1999. But even I think I've put too many Batman tracks into "AFOS Prime" rotation.

'Electric Chair' should have been the theme song for Minority Report. 'Gimme the electric chair for all my future crimes, y'all.'
I want to see a little more variety during "AFOS Prime," so I'm going to reduce the number of Batman tracks (as well as Michael Giacchino Star Trek tracks and a few other sorts of tracks) in "AFOS Prime" and transfer every Batman (or Bad Robot-era Star Trek) track over to a new weekend block that's called "Hall H."

The 10-hour block will focus on selections from scores to shows and films that are popular with the comic con crowd or were promoted at cons, including Batman: The Animated Series, Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, the rebooted Star Trek, the Marvel Universe film franchise, X-Men: First Class, the Hobbit trilogy, Attack the Block and Doctor Who. I turned to illustrator and AFOS fan Kevin Greene, the man behind Heroes & Villains: The Science Fiction Caricature Art of Kevin Greene, to pick which name the block should have--it was either going to be "Hall H," as in San Diego Comic-Con's Hall H, or "Masquerade"--and Kevin picked the former. Thanks, Kevin. Now that I think about it, "Masquerade" isn't as original as "Hall H." It was the title of an early '80s Kirstie Alley spy show and was later the title of a Rob Lowe neo-noir. George Benson's cover of "This Masquerade" was playing in my head while I was thinking up block titles, so "Masquerade" wound up as an idea for the block title. "Hall H," which, for about 10 minutes, was going to be called "Masquerade," will air Saturdays and Sundays at 7am-5pm, beginning this Saturday.

In the meantime, enjoy these photos of comic con folks cosplaying as Cloak and Dagger--not the Dabney Coleman Cloak & Dagger, although that too would be interesting. I stumbled into loads of Cloak and Dagger cosplayers while Googling Cloak and Dagger as research for a review I just wrote for Word Is Bond about Adrian Younge's Ghostface Killah project Twelve Reasons to Die. And then I got distracted by a picture of a Psylocke cosplayer and found myself going on a Psylocke cosplayer image search.

(Photo source: Quantum Continuum)
(Photo source: David Ngo)
(Photo source: lenlenlen1)
(Photo source: VampBeauty)
(Photo source: VampBeauty)
(Photo source: VampBeauty)
(Photo source: VampBeauty)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (04/10/2013): Archer, Scooby-Doo!, Out There, Apollo Gauntlet and Do's & Don'ts

'Tonight on LMN, our pyromaniac marathon continues with Molly Quinn in Mother, May I Light This Match? at 8, followed at 10 by Gary Coleman in that TV-movie where he played an arsonist.'
Some people just want to watch the gazebo burn. (Photo source: Archer Wiki)
Every Wednesday in "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner," I dine on five of the week's most noteworthy animated shows. The episodes are reviewed in the order of when they first aired.

Jon Hamm's last animation guest shot had him voicing a talking toilet on Bob's Burgers, and in Archer's two-part "Sea Tunt" season finale, Hamm voices a character who's almost as bizarre as that toilet: Captain Murphy, one of many batshit crazy characters who populated Sealab 2021, Archer executive producers Adam Reed and Matt Thompson's Adult Swim show from the '00s. Here, Captain Murphy (the namesake of electronica/hip-hop producer Flying Lotus' masked alter ego as a rapper) is reimagined as an eco-terrorist who's plotting to attack Miami, New York City and the nation's capital with missiles tipped with nerve gas.

But the Mad Men star doesn't really get to do much in "Sea Tunt: Part I." The episode is more of a showcase for guest stars Eugene Mirman and Kristen Schaal, who get to interact with their Bob's Burgers co-star H. Jon Benjamin, and the entire regular cast (except for Lucky Yates as Krieger, who stays behind at ISIS Headquarters), and any episode that traps the entire cast in enclosed farcical situations that escalate into gory (or in other episodes, nudity-filled) chaos is always entertaining.

Instead of voicing their Bob's Burgers characters like John Roberts got to do in "Fugue and Riffs," Mirman voices Cecil Tunt, Cheryl/Carol's oceanographer/philanthropist brother, while Schaal plays Tiffy, Cecil's easily perturbed helicopter pilot and girlfriend. Malory turns to Cecil for one of his deep-sea vehicles, which will allow her and the agents to recover a hydrogen bomb inside a B-52 bomber that went down in the Bermuda Triangle in order to get a reward from the U.S. government. Of course, nothing goes as planned: the bomb turns out to be a hoax concocted by Cecil to get ISIS to stop Murphy, the lead scientist at Cecil's undersea research lab, from going through with his plan. The hoax is also a scheme for Cecil to obtain on record as many stories about his sister's insane behavior as he can from her co-workers so that he can get conservatorship over her to steal her inheritance and use it to fund his numerous philanthropies.

How fitting that this two-parter involving an undersea lab has a guest star named 'Mirman.'
(Photo source: Archer Wiki)
"Sea Tunt: Part II" is bound to be a more impressive and chaotic half than "Part I," but this episode isn't too shabby, thanks to killer jokes about score music and Cheryl/Carol's sanity. When everyone reacts in shock to Cecil's bit of info about Murphy's nerve gas supply, lifelong pyromaniac Cheryl/Carol is the only one who's thrilled about the madness that's about to ensue. Her giddiness matches our own.

Stray observations:
* Malory: "We are going to beat the Russians!" Archer: "Give it up, folks! Mike Eruzione!" I knew watching that DVD rental of Miracle would pay off someday.

* Archer, after being introduced to Cecil: "Yeah, Rien Poortvliet just called. He wants you to pose for him. [Awkward silence.] Oh, c'mon, beloved illustrator of Gnomes? Jesus, read a coffee table book!"

* Pam references an '80s Stephen J. Cannell show that, for a change, is neither The A-Team nor The Greatest American Hero: "I assume you've got an epi-pen on this big Riptide-lookin' bastard?" I wouldn't be surprised if Archer or one of the other ISIS employees was a Renegade viewer back in the '90s.

Best allergy medicine commercial ever.
(Photo source: Archer Wiki)
* Homer Simpson's eating noises used to make me instantly chuckle, but now I think Pam's eating noises while wolfing down vegan crab legs, courtesy of Amber Nash stuffing her face with cheese puffs, are funnier. Or maybe it's because they're paired up with the sight of Pam's face swelling up from soy allergies.

* Cheryl/Carol keeps hearing suspenseful score cues: "Just ignore it. It's non-diegetic." And later on: "Goddammit, shut up, John Williams!"

Monday, April 8, 2013

AFOS finally adds to rotation the expanded score from a great Chicago movie, The Fugitive, while it's time to look back at Chicagoan and Fugitive admirer Roger Ebert's tastes in film music

Look, ma, no CGI!
(Photo source: DVD Beaver)
Jurassic Park, which stomped back into theaters a couple of days ago in a 3D-converted 20th anniversary edition, conquered the box office in the summer of 1993. But that summer, because I was at that time a fan of A&E's reruns of The Fugitive, David Janssen's noirish, anti-authoritarian show from the '60s, I was more excited about--and ended up more enthralled by--a different blockbuster, director Andrew Davis' film version of The Fugitive. Sure, dinosaurs are cool, but white-knuckle, non-CGI-assisted action sequences involving narrow escapes from bus-train collisions and spur-of-the-moment swan dives from dams into waterfalls are cooler.

So are both Harrison Ford in the role of Janssen's memorably laconic and twitchy Dr. Richard Kimble (perfect recasting) and Tommy Lee Jones' entertaining reinterpretation of Gerard, who was a much more unlikable and humorless cop on the original series (Jones won an Oscar for his work, and let's pretend U.S. Marshals never happened). Blink and you'll miss Neil Flynn as a transit cop in a scene that Scrubs later used as a clever gag about the murky past of Flynn's nameless janitor character on the show. A not-as-tiny element of The Fugitive is James Newton Howard's original score.

The first score that Howard composed for a blockbuster is a pretty decent score with a couple of terrific cues. "Helicopter Chase" is the same theme that Debbie Allen's dancers performed a bizarre interpretive dance to at the 1994 Oscars (a moment that elicited snickers from many TV critics, including then-New York Times film critic Janet Maslin, who cracked, "Who ever said the score from The Fugitive had a good beat? Who said you could dance to it?"). The other standout cue is "It's Over/End Credits" (the theme for Kimble during this cue was later recycled by composer Louis Febre in CBS' 2000 Fugitive reboot with Tim Daly as Kimble and William T. Michaelson, er, Mykelti Williamson as Gerard).

In 2009, La-La Land Records released an expanded edition of the Fugitive score and corrected a huge audio mistake on the previous release of Howard's score, which nobody outside of Howard and his fellow musicians would have noticed (someone accidentally reversed the left and right channels on all the tracks). The booklet art on this two-CD La-La Land set is strange because it doesn't contain a single photo of Jones' craggy face and is filled with pics of the One-Armed Man, for the two people out there who are fans of the One-Armed Man. DVD producers can't clear pop songs on box sets of TV shows without ponying up an arm and a leg, and now movie stars' faces inside soundtrack album booklets can't be cleared either?

This new Battlestar Galactica prequel, Blood and Chromeo, sounds interesting. I'm looking forward to hearing all the old-model Cylons speak through P-Thugg's talkbox.
Though I enjoyed the 1993 film, I never got around to copping the 2009 release until a few weeks ago, when La-La Land posted that the album will go out of print in April. Selections from the now-out-of-print album are now part of the "AFOS Prime" playlist, so you don't have to search every warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse to hear some of this album.


The Fugitive made great use of Chicago locations--that St. Patrick's Day parade where Kimble hid from Gerard wasn't in the script and was an event Davis, a Chicago native, received permission to shoot in at the last minute--but that's not the only reason why the late Roger Ebert, who was also a Chicago native, loved the film and considered it "the best of all the summer thrillers" that dropped in 1993.

'I don't care!,' said the dude at La-La Land who put together the Tommy Lee Jones-less Fugitive soundtrack booklet photos as well.
(Photo source: DVD Beaver)
The louder parts of Jones' Oscar-winning performance are what everyone from Scott Glenn in a 2008 Monk guest shot to more recently, Tim on Justified imitates or quotes from (and by the way, Tim was referencing a movie Justified cast member Nick Searcy appeared in), but the quieter parts of Jones' performance were also fascinating to Ebert. "As the chase continues, [Gerard] gradually becomes convinced of the innocence of his prey," wrote Ebert, "but this conviction is wisely never spelled out in dialogue, and remains ambivalent, expressed in the look in his eyes, or his pauses between words."

The original series was notable for delivering exposition through opening voiceovers by narrator William Conrad, which 2000 Fugitive series showrunner John McNamara said were a holdover from radio in an Entertainment Weekly article about the 2000 reboot. The film ditches the narration and avoids having characters deliver infodumpy dialogue, except in believable situations where minor infodumps are called for, like in Gerard's famous "Our fugitive has been on the run for 90 minutes!" speech to his team. As Ebert observed, the characters instead gradually reveal the way they are thinking, mostly through their facial expressions.

"The Fugitive has the standards of an earlier, more classic time, when acting, character and dialogue were meant to stand on their own, and where characters continued to change and develop right up until the last frame," wrote Ebert at the end of his four-star review of the film.

Ebert himself was a writer from an earlier, more classic time, when the newspaper industry that he and Gene Siskel emerged from wasn't in shambles and film criticism was everywhere on TV. Both lovers of all things Chicago and haters of deep-dish "Chicago-style" pizza (I agree with their opinion of "thumbs down" regarding that kind of pizza), Siskel and Ebert pioneered the movie review show format of two critics debating each other. It's a format that, frankly, sucked when Siskel and Ebert weren't the critics debating each other because "the original frenemies," as one of Ebert's Chicago Sun-Times colleagues referred to the duo in an oral history about their friendship, were the only ones who were great at it on-screen.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (04/03/2013): Archer, Out There, Apollo Gauntlet, Animation Domination High-Def and Adventure Time

Goddamn, his booty hole is really pooping out a ton of crap, or as it's also called, a Fox News rant.
Louie Anderson should really avoid coffee before making a high dive.
Every Wednesday in "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner," I dine on five of the week's most noteworthy animated shows. The episodes are reviewed in the order of when they first aired.

Only on Archer will you see a lengthy comedic discussion of obscure European weapons like arquebuses and halberds (which, according to Archer, were made obsolete by arquebuses). It's what separates Archer from other spy comedies like Get Smart or the Austin Powers movies. What also separates the show from other spy comedies is its ballsiness--it doesn't give a shit whether you get some of its jokes or not--as well as the terrific character writing, which is on display in the coincidentally timely "Papal Chase," a fast-moving tour de farce that gives plenty of much-needed screen time this season to Woodhouse, Archer's long-suffering, smack-addicted butler (has George Coe been in poor health or something lately?). Woodhouse closely resembles the Pope (also voiced by Coe), so Archer uses him as a decoy to thwart an assassination attempt on the Pope's life.

Pam undertakes her first mission as a field agent and goes undercover as a nun, while Archer dons a cassock and seems to have based his priest disguise on old Weekend Update segments with Father Guido Sarducci. Sure, the ISIS HR lady aced the IFAAB (ISIS Field Agent Aptitude Battery), she's a capable fighter due to all those years of underground bare-knuckle boxing, she's amusingly nonplussed every time Woodhouse jabs a heroin needle in her neck and she's great at quickly picking up Italian phrases, but her field inexperience is evident during the mission, especially when she appears to have accidentally killed the Pope by dropping a giant mirror on top of his body while he's sleeping.

Speaking of dropping things, I wish we saw more mic drops from Pam throughout the season (I loved that "Wind Cries Mary" gag of Archer and Pam punctuating their sentences with mic drops) because the season's about to come to a close with a two-part finale that reportedly had Adam Reed treading carefully around Cartoon Network's legal department due to references to Sealab 2021, Reed's old Adult Swim show (like guest star Jon Hamm's role as Sealab's Captain Murphy). Towards the end of "The Papal Chase," Archer experiences a rare moment of genuine distress for one of the other agents when he sees Lana get shot in the arm (Pam's reaction to Archer not giving a shit about her shoulder bullet wound is classic Pam). Has Archer developed the kind of feelings for Lana that Sean Connery once described as "unselfish love, grown-up love" in the 1990 film version of The Russia House, and will the finale address it? Or will it be left abandoned like a halberd?

'I-uh saw the ad about missionary work, so I'm-uh here for the missionary position. Phrasing, uh-boom.'
Stray observations:
* Pam, to an incredulous Archer regarding the Italian phrases she learned during the flight: "Who am I? Cypher? The gayest X-Man?" Archer: "Well, I dunno. Gambit looks like he knows his way around a pair of..."

* I'm more incredulous about Pam being so well-versed in X-Men and New Mutants comics. She always struck me as more of a Mark Millar kind of gal. I didn't know who Cypher was and had to Google him after the episode. As Don't Panic's "League of the Lame Superheroes" list says about Cypher's not-so-dynamic-looking superpower, "Imagine being surrounded by mutants who can fly, control the weather, set things on fire, or morph into other people, and you're just a slightly more charismatic version of Google Translate."

* "Pambit," Archer's nickname for Pam, resulted in an Archer fan drawing "Pambit." Ooh, ooh, somebody should draw "Nightkrieger." He would bamf every time he exits a room with "Smoke bomb!"

I'd rather watch a movie with this Gambit instead of having to sit through X-Men Origins: Wolverine again.
(Photo source: All Aboard the Cutie Muffin Fuck Wagon~)
* In addition to all the dialogue about Marvel mutants during "The Papal Chase," the loss of all of Archer's clothes--including his socks and shoes--during the gas tank explosion appears to be a joke about how Marvel characters like Hulk and Wolverine often emerge from explosions with most of their clothes torn off, yet the remainder of their threads somehow strategically cover their bathing suit areas.

* Cardinal Corelli (special guest star Rene Auberjonois): "Mio dio!" Archer: "I know, right? Trope alert!"

* Archer: "Goddammit, quit telling me what to do! I'm the goddamn agent-in-command!" Pope: "Figo! He really drops the G.D. bombs..."

* The parachute pants-clad Swiss Guard Commander: "Well... ISIS has a certain reputation." Archer: "Hey, whoa! Not cool, Payne Stewart."