TV Club

Archer Season 4 recap: ISIS saves the pope. Meh.

ISIS is hired to save the pope, predictability ensues.

Pam Poovey goes on her first mission with Father Guido Sardouchebag, AKA, Sterling Archer.

Courtesy of FX Networks.

In Slate’s Archer TV Club, Jeremy Stahl will IM each week with a different fan of the FX spy comedy. This week he chats with Slate editorial assistant Emma Roller.

Stahl: Hey!

Roller: Jazz hands!

Stahl: Yes, jazz hands! The robotic Krieger jazz hands schtick was one of my favorite things in an otherwise disappointing episode. ISIS is hired to protect the pope from an assassination attempt and Woodhouse comes along as a decoy because he’s an exact doppelganger for the pontiff. Ultimately, the agents discover that the Swiss Guard is not behind the plot, which instead is being orchestrated as a false-flag operation by the cardinal who hired them and is next in line to become pope. Or something. All very confusing, while at the same time all too predictable.

One thing I was very glad to see: Pam in the field for the first time. Her Three Stooges-esque performance—nearly crushing the pope to death with a giant mirror—seemed like an apropos introduction to that line of work. Also, Archer’s get-up as a dead ringer for SNL’s Father Guido Sarducci (Guido Sardouchebag) was hilarious.

Roller: I’m glad you mentioned the Father Guido Sarducci reference, because to me this episode was one big love letter to the nerdy, sometimes obscure humor the show’s writers admire. Perhaps I’m not well-versed enough in my ‘80s SNL or sci-fi movies, but too many references whizzed over my head for me to fully enjoy the episode.

Stahl: Yeah, this was one of those episodes that relied more on esoteric jokes landing than the story or the dialogue. For me, some of them did (“nice job, Oliver Cromwell”), and some of them much less so (Junkie Brewster).

Roller: The references were so front-loaded that they overpowered the point of using them. This episode definitely confirmed your theory from a few weeks ago that Archer is best watched with Wikipedia at the ready. Exhibit A: At the beginning of the episode, Archer says he prepared for his Vatican mission by watching Lucy, Daughter of the Devil, which he says was a grossly underrated show. Wiki tells me the show was a cartoon on Adult Swim that only had 11 episodes, but the devil character is voiced by none other than H. Jon Benjamin! That was a fun Easter egg.

Stahl: I too had to look that up even though I am fairly well-versed in Adult Swim. That was a very nice little shout-out, but I still think those kinds of references were used as a crutch this week.

What really bugged me, though, (and maybe this is a pedantic nerd complaint) was the kicker. It’s pretty much a running gag that ISIS is only hired by people who want, expect, and actively plan for these agents to fail. Malory has played into this herself in the human trafficking episode when she sent Archer, Lana, and Cyril to unwittingly divert the U.S. border patrol from her actual goal of helping sneak hundreds of Mexican people across the border.

Everyone at ISIS, including Malory, knows that even when ISIS succeeds, it screws up. So why would it upset Malory for Pam to reveal that they were (again) hired by saboteurs expecting them to fail? And why is this supposed to be funny? Seemed sloppy. Or maybe it was meta?

Roller: I’m going go with sloppy. Even though Archer is really good at using unconventional humor, the arc of its story lines can get predictable from episode to episode.

One thing I noticed was how many meta-jokes there were in this episode—even more than usual. I especially liked this exchange between Pam and Archer when the Swiss Guardsmen are speaking in Italian: “Pay attention to the friggin’ context!” “Who am I, William Safire?” Also, when the pope meets Woodhouse, his doppelganger, Archer says, “Trope alert!” and a liberal arts film major gets her wings.

Stahl: Ha! Loved that line too … I guess there was some good stuff in this episode … Still! When things get too formulaic on Archer without being funny enough, that’s when the show is at its most disappointing, which—as I have said in the past—is, to me, still better than most other comedies currently on TV.

Roller: One more critique: I usually love the banter between the characters, but the Lana/Archer/Pam triumvirate really got on my nerves for some reason. I think it’s because a lot of the dialogue just devolved into schoolyard back-and-forth without the underlying wit the show usually gives us.

Stahl: There’s not as much chemistry between these three yet, but for the sake of Pam as a field agent, I hope it develops. The show’s best pairings have always been Lana and Archer, Archer and Cyril, Pam and Cheryl, and Krieger and anyone. Maybe Pam will come into her own as an agent next time, or maybe Cheryl “accidentally” gets sucked into a mission.

Thanks for chatting with me, Payne Stewart!

Roller: Right back at you, Bishop the android from Aliens!