The TDF Top 10: Archer
Our latest TDF Top 10 heads towards the Dangerzone to look at the best episodes of adult-sitcom Archer…
“James Bond meets Arrested Development” seems an odd premise for an animated show, but then Adam Reed’s Archer wasn’t like other animated shows when it debuted in 2009. Essentially a workplace comedy set at a fictional intelligence agency in New York, Archer follows the titular spy and his eccentric band of fellow spies, support workers and his mother (his boss, obviously) as they bundle one assignment after another.
Mixing meta jokes with references that keep coming back, with snappy dialogue constantly being fired back and forth between the cast and numerous guest stars; at one point they just spent a whole season being a drug cartel. Later years have seen Archer turn into an anthology series, Dreamland, Danger Island and Archer 1999 all shifting the action to different settings, but the series returned to normality in the latest series which aired on FXX recently.
It took me a while, and I thought long and hard (did we stop doing phrasing?) about including episodes split into several parts, but stuck to picking the best singular episodes of the show. I present The TDF Top 10: Archer…
10. Fugue and Riffs (4.01)
One thing that Archer has done consistently throughout its run, is start off strong, with the opening episode of season four no different. After suffering from amnesia and going AWOL for two months, the season opens with Archer assuming the role of another character voiced by H. Jon Benjamin in Bob Belcher. Of course it doesn't last long before Archer's past catches up with him, as he dispatches the KGB agents who visit the restaurant with ease, before leaving the rest of the Belcher family to clean up his KGB massacre, as he naturally decides to go for a spa day.
The crossover with Bob's Burgers is brilliantly done, with John Roberts reprising his role as Linda Belcher. Despite suffering from amnesia, Archer is still pretty much himself, annoying everyone one around him and even arrogantly attempts to take on Lana in hand-to-hand combat.
9. The Man From Jupiter (3.04)
Of all the guest stars for Adam Reed to get on Archer, one stands out above everyone else, Burt Reynolds. Archer's hero, with season two episode Pipeline Fever chocked full of references to the actor's character in Gator. Sterling is left with a philosophical conundrum of sorts, as he discovers his lifelong hero is actually dating his mother.
Cue Sterling kidnapping his hero, demanding that he end the relationship with Malory, all while trying to evade a Cuban hit squad he knows nothing about (because his voicemail was full, obviously). The look of terror on Archer's face while Reynolds leads them on a frantic chase is hilarious, and Reynolds even manages to fit in some paternal advice about Malory.
8. Mole Hunt (1.01)
I touched on how strong each season starts, but there's no better example than the pilot episode Mole Hunt. This episode alone kickstarted a dozen running jokes that would come back time and time again in later seasons, from "can't or won't?" Malory's bag apparently containing buckles, "Bullet-Magnet Brett" and Archer's love of turtlenecks; this stands up there with some of the best pilot episodes I've seen.
Archer starts a rumour about a mole at the agency, which spreads through the office like wildfire thanks to Pam, the irony of which isn't lost on Archer when he discovers that there is an actual mole at ISIS. Archer and Lana (Aisha Tyler is just fantastic as Lana straight from the off) have their first of many arguments and we even get a creepy look at Archer's dysfunctional relationship with his boss/mother, Malory.
7. The Limited (3.06)
Another fantastic guest appearance, this time from Canadian actor Rob Wells (Trailer Park Boys) as terrorist Kenny Bilko, who ISIS have to transport across the border into Canada. Turning up half-cut due to a mix-up with the meeting time, Archer just wants to to fulfil a lifelong dream of fighting on top of a speeding train. This being ISIS, things don't go according to plan, with Bilko escaping custody thanks to the help of his pals disguised as Canadian 'Mounties'; of course played by Trailer Park Boys' John Paul Tremblay and Mike Smith.
Since she owns half the railroad, Cheryl/Carol tags along and where she is, Pam isn't far behind. Despite being out of the office and missing Krieger, the confined nature of the train means that the characters all end up in the same small space, resulting in the same quick-fire chaos that happens back at HQ.
6. Arrival/Departure (5.13)
Season five or Archer Vice, saw a change of pace for Archer and his
I enjoy the entire season of Vice, and it's only really the quality of the seasons before it that kept more of the episodes off this list. Things were never really the same after this season; Archer begins to change as he adjusts to becoming a father, and the heights that the show reached consistently through this season long side hustle, were never reached in the anthology seasons.
5. Stage Two (2.08)
Stage Two sees the show tackle a serious topic in its own way, with Sterling discovering he has breast cancer, after a routine check following his mother's (later found to be a false) positive test. As the egotistic spy begins to mellow and come to terms with his predicament, we begin to see a different side to Archer, if only in glimpses.
Archer being Archer, he abuses the new found sympathy that comes his way, robbing Woodhouse of his pre-paid trip to Las Vegas with his younger brother Dicky, taking his place and getting Cyril arrested in the process. The episode seems to be heading towards an expected recovery, before the bait and switch, with Archer finding out he still has the disease. Relief and an immediate reversion to his past ways is swiftly replaced with anger, an anger that will fuel a rampage further down this list.
4. Legs (4.03)
Ray Gilette has had a pretty bad time in the first few seasons of Archer, mainly due to the actions of the titular character. By the end of season three, the Olympic Bronze Medalist finds himself paralysed, until Krieger, ISIS' Head of Applied Research and inventor of the sex-robot 'Fistoroboto,' offers him the chance to to walk again, with bionic ("From the Greek for like kickass!") legs.
What should be a simple operation, albeit conducted by a doctor of questionable education and an assistant in Pam who is throwing back beers like it's Friday night, turns into race against time before Archer can stop the operation. Living in fear of robots, Archer resorts to acquiring an RPG from the armoury, which he ends up firing off inside the armoury to escape. The side characters shine throughout this episode, with Pam, Krieger and Cheryl stealing the show.
3. Skytanic (1.07)
Skytanic builds on the plotlines that season one has been working to, with Cyril's ever increasing descent into his sex addiction coming to the fore again, all while Archer is failing to grasp the "core concept." Taking place on a 'rigid airship' (a blimp), ISIS are hired to deal with a bomb threat, and this being ISIS, everyone ends up in the air. Despite the airship being filled with non-flammable Helium, Archer spends a majority of the episode in fear of the whole thing going up in flames, or as he asks one guest as he punches a cigar out of his mouth: "Are you trying to blow us all to s**t Sherlock?"
From Friends and Scooby Doo to Walt Whitman and 1930's District Judge Joseph Carter, every scene in the 20 or so minutes of Skytanic is stacked full of references that blend into the fast-paced back-and-forth between the characters. This episode spawned one of my favourite memes from the show and is the episode that I recommend first to new viewers of Archer.
2. Placebo Effect (2.09)
The follow-up to Stage Two, starts with the discovery that Archer's Chemo drugs are counterfeit, and that means only one thing: RAMPAGE!!! Spending a large part of the episode baked on his medical marijuana, as Lana drives him around so he can get to the bottom of the fake drugs. Archer at his most vindictive, the episode sees him commit to his rampage completely. He kneecaps two Irish mobsters, threatening a pharmacist with, well I don't really want to say it, and (purposely?) mistaking a smoke grenade for a frag grenade after he had, well let's just say he placed it inside one of the mobsters.
Developing a rare friendship with an older cancer patient called Ruth, Archer goes from rampage to daydream, the weed helping him out there, all while dealing with the sudden effects of his chemotherapy, once they find the actual medication. The show started and ended seasons with two or three part specials, but this one sandwiched in season two is the best of the lot.
1. Vision Quest (6.05)
Most fans of Archer will probably say that the show peaked somewhere between season two and Archer Vice. Which makes this selection from season six an odd choice at first, but bear with me, because this has been my favourite episode since I saw it air on TV. Finding themselves in a trapped elevator on a Saturday morning, the episode only works because of all the groundwork that came before it. Krieger, Pam, Cheryl, Ray and Cyril began as bit part characters but over the five and a half seasons that came before this one, they each have their moments that flesh them out more and more.
Ray reveals he is colour-blind, which being the resident bomb disposal expert is most certainly a lie, Krieger convinces no one that he isn't in fact a clone they picked up in San Marcos, Pam strips naked after she p****s all over the small bit of floor they have, and whenever Izzy Greer pops up as Cheryl, it's hilarious. The contrast in the calm scene of the ascent at the start of the episode, to the depravity that's happening when Malory resets the elevator at the end could only happen with this group of characters.
Anyone who read my Community TDF Top 10 will know that I love a bottle episode, and in essence this is what Vision Quest is. With the vast majority of the voice recording for the show being done individually, the seamless way everyone jabs back and forth in this 20 minute interaction is a testament to the work that goes on behind the scenes in creating this show, and one of the reasons I keep coming back to this one.
What are your favourite episodes of Archer? Let us know in the comments below...