[Since the "Heart of Archness" arc served as the conclusion for season 2 of Archer, I will be reviewing "The Man From Jupiter" (3.04) as the season 3 premiere. I'll put this episode in the context of the whole show and discuss the upcoming season, saving the grade for next week's episode.]
From a certain perspective, discussions of the quality of a show is irrational - quality is a subjective measurement based on arbitrary attributes. However, finding a reviewer whose tastes agree with your own can be invaluable for filtering the deluge of media. A good reviewer also helps his audience find greater enjoyment in the shows that they already watch by calling attention to aspects that they might have missed so they might be noticed in the future. This perspective on criticism is often forgotten or ignored but is invaluable for my posts.
Archer doesn't challenge its audience in the way that dramas (and some comedies) do with character development and complex relationships. The focus on humor instead of dynamic and realistic characters seems to indicate "turn-your-brain-off" television (a subject I've discussed with Allen from It's Primetime Somewhere) but Archer continually rewards its viewers for close attention and consistent viewership. The show's subtle references, running jokes ("runners") and quick pacing help set it apart from other comedies.
"The Man From Jupiter" epitomizes these qualities. Unlike other animated shows, Archer doesn't always reset at the end of each episode. This week, Ray contributed to the field mission from a wheelchair and behind sunglasses because of his injuries in "The Heart of Archness" miniseries. Archer's inconsistency in this regard (Sterling has been shot multiple times with no lasting consequences) is a sign of the writers' expectations for the audience. The sight gag of Ray on the field mission is much more effective for viewers who watched "The Heart of Archness" and expected his injuries to disappear by the next episode. The quick pacing keeps the audience from lingering on this discrepancy with rapid fire jokes and the runners provide consistency to connect the episodes.
The show's frequent runners serve dual purposes. Beyond rewarding the consistent viewers who recognize the jokes, they also help provide persistent threads that can offset the changes that Archer is willing to let stick across episodes. Other animated comedies (such as Family Guy and The Simpsons) rely on their unvarying worlds to provide many of their jokes (e.g. Bart's chalkboard lines gags are only possible because he is always a child). By allowing changes, Archer risks losing many of the easy joke setups that the other shows enjoy. The writers' genius is in using their runners to replace these setups while using them sparingly enough to keep them from becoming tired (a problem Family Guy frequently encounters). This episode's callback to Sterling's trick voicemail was only used once previously and the way it built didn't drag on too long. It also set up some future callbacks: "Laugh it up" "I am" and "This conversation isn't over!"
The episode also made terrific use of guest star Burt Reynolds, who is a perfect fit for Archer's hyper-masculine and action-packed world. Part of the fun of Archer's character is the inconsistency of his effectiveness as a spy: his selfishness and affinity for distraction usually overshadow his skills. The fictional version of Reynolds is the type of agent that Sterling wants to be (and believes he is). By introducing him as a love interest for Malory, the writers were able to add another layer to Archer's Oedipal relationship with his mother.
This season of Archer looks to continue expanding the show's world by putting the existing characters in new situations and interacting with peripheral characters. As reported by the Huffington Post, the upcoming season will include:
- Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad, Malcolm in the Middle) guest-starring in a space-themed episode
- Jack McBrayer (30 Rock) as ISIS agent Ray Gillette's brother
- Exploration of Pam's history as a drift racer in Japan
- Archer getting lost in the South American jungle
- "It's pretty hard to stay anonymous when you're the world's greatest secret agent." "Well, calling yourself that can't help."
- "What's awful, Mr. Reynolds, is I almost punched you!" "He, no you didn't."
- "I even saw At Long Last Love. I thought you were great!" "Really?" "Well, I wanted to." "Me too..."
- "You'll wake up in a mental ward with total amnesia under somebody else's name" "That's actually kinda scary" "Eh, wouldn't be the first time"
- "Who calls it Tinseltown?" "Carol Channing?" "Or somebody who just thinks that's what movie stars call Hollywood" "Stockard Channing!"
- Loved the slowest elevator/van joke
- Ditto with the "Laugh it up" "I am" runner
- "Ridiculous" "Preaching to the choir buddy"
- Great to see Krieger's wife again
- Hal Needum was one of the first references in Archer that I've recognized without resorting to Wikipedia
- "Wait, was that the same footage?"
- "Leave me for some hot little 20-year-old? Well I'll show him - I'll go find me a 10 year old!"
- "Nobody wants your... your... mustache rides around here buster!"
- If you feel compelled to explore Archer actors' work outside of the show, I highly recommend Aisha Tyler's podcast Girl on Guy (especially the Adam Reed episode - the closing anecdote is gold)