TV Club

Is Archer more like the Simpsons, or more like Seinfeld?

Is Archer more like the Simpsons, or more like Seinfeld?   

Who’s a good boy? Kazak is a good boy! Yes, he is!

Courtesy of FX Network

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 Yahoo Sports writer Jay Busbee.

Jeremy Stahl: Hey, Jay! What did you think of tonight’s Turner & Hooch/Most Valuable Primate/Bart and Stampy plotline? I’m not a dog person—never had a pet in my life—but this might have been my favorite episode of the show’s entire run.

Jay Busbee: I’m sincerely regretting feeding my dog Hawkeye so much kofte this morning, that’s for damn sure.

Stahl: So, Lana and Archer are in Morocco to extract an unknown agent named Kazak, who turns out to be an incredibly lovable, gassy dog (a boxer, I believe).* ( Archer has already been driving Lana mental by falling for a dumb hotel scam, bringing Dutch co-eds back to their shared room, making her sleep on the floor, and then probably concussing her by stopping short when they arrive at the extraction point.

Things only get worse for Lana when they have to escape through the desert in a car with a dog that is barfing and/or farting every few minutes after being fed five kofte by Archer. Lana then makes her yearly promise to quit ISIS and gets out of the car to wander through the desert by herself without a GPS, gun, sat phone, or life-saving water. Ultimately, she has to be rescued by Archer, who realizes the error of his ways only after an incredibly sweet conversation with Kazak.

Busbee: This would be the kind of episode you could show to someone who’d never seen the show. Someone with … appropriate sensibilities, of course—it may have been the gassiest episode in the series’ entire run. Seriously, I needed to Febreze three rooms after this one.

Stahl: I counted three farters, but I could not count all of the farts. You had Sterling passed out naked on the bed at the start of the episode, Pam (also completely naked) during her IFAAB test, and all of the Kazak farts including that epic blast at the end.* Best punchline ever. I bet that snooty Duchess was also letting a few rip in the flashbacks while we weren’t looking.

This week was light on a lot of the typical Archer stuff: very few hidden references, very little scene-jumping dialogue between characters, very few secondary plots.

The entire first act was just Lana and Archer hanging together in Morocco, the first time there’s been that much focus on two characters alone for such an extended period of time.

Busbee: One of the hallmarks of this new “golden age of television” has been the one-act play episode, where we focus in on just a couple characters and let the drama unfurl like a play, carried by dialogue. (Think the fly episode of Breaking Bad or the briefcase episode of Mad Men.) The repartee between Archer and Lana is one of the hallmarks of this show; it’s almost like stagecraft because of the improvisation and nuance. That opening scene was a perfect encapsulation of that.  

I would’ve been cool with only the two of them all episode, but we did get the nice little plot advancement of Future Field Agent Pam, which is awesome.

Also, I feel like we need a good fart sound after all that hoity-toity dramaspeak, so feel free to imagine one.

Stahl: In his Warming Glow chat last week, Archer background director Jon Bass called tonight’s show the “Lisa Bonet of the Archer season 4 Huxtable family,” because it was so “pretty and funny.” To me, this week felt like it deserved yet another comparison to The Simpsons. Not just because they used the great “he thinks he’s people” line again, but because this episode demonstrated Archer’s Simpsons side versus its Seinfeld side.

By Seinfeld side, I mean characters that are ostensibly friends but are really horrible to each other all the time without any remorse. By Simpsons side, I mean that each character is so well-shaped that despite their awfulness, you can’t help but root for them to realize that they are a family. So, which side do you think the show has more of: the nihilist Seinfeld or the shrewd yet tender Simpsons?

Busbee: This is the old question about whether mankind is fundamentally good or fundamentally evil. I’m an optimist, so I tend to think that these people really do like—or, perhaps more accurately, need—each other, but it’s buried so deep in their subconscious that they don’t even realize it. They’d need therapy to dredge up their true affections, and for each of these characters, that’d be like opening a gate to hell … who knows what else would come spilling out? Bottom line, though, Archer has found that sweet spot of romantic attachment intertwined with mutual loathing. Archer and Lana won’t be able to ride it forever (phrasing!), but for now it’s a perfect status quo.

Stahl: That car scene with Kazak and Archer was a bit like therapy, as was Lana’s chat with herself while scaling Tuntmore Towers last week, as was Archer’s Heaven Can Wait flashback a few episodes ago. This season has been very introspective, and I think it has taken the show to another level.

Correction, March 22, 2013: This post originally misstated the name of the test Pam took. It is the IFAAB (Isis Field Agent Aptitude Battery) test, not the IFAB test. Also, Kazak appears to be a mastiff, not a boxer.