Archer: Season 3, Episode 5
Nothing about "El Contador" screams originality. After just bagging on 30 Rock's two offerings tonight for seeming like warmed up re-treads, I sat down for an episode of Archer with a mission for an A-plot, office hijinks for a B-plot, and Mallory showing up to yell at everyone randomly. In other words, basically every episode of Archer ever. Yet, not all that surprisingly, it worked. This is the formula the show uses basically every week, and yet it is still fertile ground for laughs. Where over in my 30 Rock reviews, I complained of seeing the same thing again and again (though, to be fair, I also talked about laughing a lot) here I will break out the old adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it"; because for as formulaic as "El Contador" is, there is almost nothing to complain about here.
Perhaps its because while 30 Rock hits the same character beats ad nauseum, Archer is actually developing its characters within its constraints, in a way that respects its history and feels completely natural. Tonight, Cyril emerged as a field agent, and he was both surprisingly good at it and as ineffectual as ever, both of which somehow made perfect sense. Cyril's ability to think ahead has been displayed before, as has his utter lack of skill in anything physical. So when he lied his way into a position of trust beside the drug lord ISIS was out to capture for the bounty (to solve the agency's seemingly endless financial problems, which is one of my favorite touches of subtle realism on the show), it made sense for the character, but also shed new light on what he was capable of.
Letting the characters on a show develop organically is fantastic, but there is also plenty to be said for just allowing us to use what we know about the characters already to predict what will happen, and paying off that expectation well. The whole B-plot, in which Krieger drugs the office and Pam is not knocked unconscious like everyone else was the sort of thing that fit perfectly within the characters wheelhouses, and the type of joke this show has done with these characters before. But damn it if Krieger screaming in fear at something he hath wrought or Pam running around half naked doesn't make me laugh every single time. That this show evolves as it does while keeping the same formula impresses me, but that it is sharp enough to make me laugh even when it isn't reinventing even slightly is what mystifies and delights me.
"El Contador" was basically just a "Most Dangerous Game" riff with a standard sub-plot, but pulled both off so well, it shone for the effort. The reason I think this episode is so solid (in addition to how much it made me laugh) is that it also had on display what Archer does best: slow, subtle, almost imperceptible character development that tends to rear its head in interesting ways further down the line. Cyril showed himself to be more capable tonight that we would previously have guessed, and while the end of the episode seems to return him to a more ineffectual state, that is just evidence of the way the show realistically evolves its characters step by step over time. It doesn't sound like rocket science, and it isn't, really. But its something most shows do poorly, and that a show as irreverent and hilarious as Archer manages it so fluidly is something that continues to impress me. This is a show that knows its characters and their histories very well (see: Pam's super-strength and durability, Archer's fear of alligators and crocodiles, and everyone's obsession with correctly using "literally" and "figuratively," and Lana's giant hands, all of which appear tonight), and one that isn't afraid to let them grow. And also isn't afraid to let them hallucinate, pass out, wake up, pee in a cup, and ride off with the boss' booze and no clothes at the end of the day. Because this is ISIS. And it feels like home.
-"Thanks, Ghost of Teddy Roosevelt."
-"What's a klik?" "Yeah, you say that all the time and I never know what you mean."
-"I literal...I mean, figuratively scoured the globe for these ingredients."
-"You're looking for Predator, aren't you?" "Yes." Couple of things. One, he's invisible." "Not totally, he has a telltale shimmer!"
-"It tastes worse than it smells!" "If I had a nickel for every time I heard that...I'd have 8 nickels."
-"I'm going to die in a toilet stall. Just like that gypsy said."
-"The floor is lava! The floor is lava!"
-"Which is why tomorrow at sawn I'll be hunting the most dangerous game in the world." Jai alai?"
-"if you want I can watch while you masturbate. But my heart won't be in it. It will be with that dead tiger's family."
-"Thank god! I thought those were Yeti hands!"
-"Goddess of the jungle. You are a whore."
-"Crocodiles. On a three wheeler?" "Right? How scary would that be?"
-"For the love of God! Seal the exits!"
-"Oh hey, speaking of excellent, did you hear we met a tiger?...But he got murdered."