‘Archer’ Returns, With an Identity Crisis

[17 January 2013]

By J.C. Macek III

Double Cartoon Life

Since his debut in 1994’s Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, the actor H. Jon Benjamin has been nearly ubiquitous on TV. Currently, he’s voicing both Bob Belcher in Bob’s Burgers and Sterling Archer in Archer.
The fourth season opener of Archer explains and pokes fun at Benjamin’s double cartoon life, setting its first scene in the restaurant that gives Bob’s Burgers its name. This is no mere nod to a sister series, but a valid plot point: due to a bout of stress-induced amnesia, Archer believes he is Bob and has been living Bob’s life, the life we’ve seen in Bob’s Burgers, verbatim, for the past few months, which feels, in Archer/Bob’s words, like “two trillion eons.” (John Roberts even reprises his role as Bob’s longsuffering wife Linda.) But of course, this is Archer, not Bob’s Burgers, a point underlined when this first scene is interrupted by a KGB attack. 
This sort of joke—surreal and insider—is typical of Archer. From here, Archer/Bob sends himself off on a “spa weekend” where Lana (Aisha Tyler) attempts to jog his memories of his career with the superspy agency ISIS. Archer (as Bob) confuses the organization with “The Shazam/Isis Hour” TV show, spending an inordinate amount of time attempting to recall the name of the child actor who played Billy Batson and screamed the magic word “Shazam!”

Lana’s recovery project soon extends to the entire team, including Malory (Jessica Walter), ISIS’ mildly sociopathic head and Archer’s mother (it hardly needs to be repeated that Walter is famous for playing the mildly sociopathic mother in Arrested Development, as well as Clint Eastwood’s obsessive girlfriend in Play Misty For Me). And as everyone seeks a cure for Archer’s fugue state, a state he references repeatedly over the course of this appropriately named episode, “Fugue and Riffs,” we might be reminded that Archer, the show, has always displayed its own sort of identity crisis. Floating between violent and bloody spy genre spoof and comically self-aware pop culture commentary, it delivers laughs via antic situations and sharp, geeky dialogue.

This commentary is a function of creator Adam Reed’s renowned satirical bent. While Archer‘s plots can sometimes be conventional, they usually provide for clever bits: if it’s not Archer turning every James Bond cliché on its ear or Malory lamenting the fact that her son can’t stand to see her happy, it’s Cheryl (Judy Greer) excoriating the ISIS staff or Lana (accidentally) proving herself to be the superior spy to Archer in virtually every way.

Even though Archer does occasionally overwhelm its sharp wit with violent fight sequences or simplistic shocks, it usually recovers with a one-two punch of cool animation and skillful wordplay. The show’s sarcastic pop cultural awareness doesn’t make this episode’s use of Bob’s Burgers any less a gimmick, but it does help make it a welcome and fitting gimmick. Fans of both Archer and Bob’s Burgers should be pleased. And other viewers will appreciate some of the funniest genre-skewering, comic-book-conscious scripting this side of The Venture Bros.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/167320-archer-returns-with-an-identity-crisis/