Saturday, March 24, 2012

Archer engages in a 'Space Race'

In the two-part season three finale of FX's Archer, the ISIS team is asked to travel into space. Told by Commander Drake (Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad) that a mutiny has taken place on board a space station, the field agents and Malory (Jessica Walter) attempt to subdue the bad guys. Which kind of back fires when they learn that Drake is real the villain, planning to take them all to start a colony on Mars, with Lana (Aisha Tyler) slated to make the babies for the new settlement.

Sometimes the show has to stretch things a bit to keep the entire cast together. After all, the field agents all have their roles on this mission, but why Malory comes along is kind of a mystery. She's a little old to be popping out children. Archer's (H. Jon Benjamin) plot to sneak Pam (Amber Nash) on board for sex works, but wouldn't it make even more sense for Drake's plan if he insisted that Pam and Cheryl (Judy Greer) come for some reason, so there are more women available?

That aside, the two part "Space Race" is fantastically funny, as usual. When Archer delays saving the day to have a quickie with Pam, or Cyril (Chris Parnell) discharges his weapon wildly, or Ray (Adam Reed) ends up back in his wheelchair, or Lana runs down the hall with stickers on her boobs, laughs abound. Not to mention, an extended Animal Farm gag that seemingly comes out of nowhere, and avoiding a Star Wars trash room bit. In terms of humor, this episode works very well.

"Space Race" is an original situation for Archer. The spy series has gone many places and done many things. Eventually, they may run out of scenarios to put the characters in. But space is not one that they have done before, and it provides so many curiosities, such as zero gravity, that the series takes two full episodes to explore it. Other spy genre adventures have left the planet, so it's not completely coming out of nowhere, but Archer's take seemed fresh enough.

As the series has been doing from time to time for awhile now, "Space Race" sneaks in some emotional depth for the titular character. Just as everyone is about to go home, recurring thorn-in-the-side Barry (Dave Willis) shows up and begins taunting Archer into a fight. Now, normally Archer would give Barry just that, and in this case, it would put everyone's safety at risk. As Cheryl already does earlier in this story, opening the door for Drake so that she can be Queen of Mars. But instead of falling for the taunts, Archer sucks it up and acts mature. It's a pivotal moment for the character, and it shows a little bit of growth without sacrificing who Archer is. It is moments like these that really set this show above its peers.

Also, Pam has become the most transformative character on Archer. She started as a walking, crass fat joke, and was used mainly for gross effect. Now, she has become a strong, empowered woman, who can not only take care of herself, but is a good comrade to have in dangerous or questionable situations. She even comes off as sexy at times, almost completely erasing her original image. Pam is, in a word, awesome.

"Space Race" is a great capper to a terrific season. Though, it could have been done without the vomit jokes.

Archer has been renewed for a fourth season. It will return next year to FX.

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