If there ever was an episode of a cartoon - sorry animated series - that would make people take animation as seriously as its live action brethren, Archer's "Placebo Effect" would be it.
Bold claim? Absolutely. But I'm here to back it up. So grab a drink and sit down because unlike my usual short Archer reviews, where I only point out LOL moments, this one's going to be a little longer.
That drink you grabbed... I'm hoping you did Sterling and Malory proud and made it alcoholic. Preferably some whiskey on the rocks. Because I know I needed one the first time I watched it.
Archer is usually fairly light-hearted, despite its adult nature and violence. But tonight Adam Reed and company took us on a dark adventure.
The first time I watched the episode, it was back-to-back with the episode's predecessor, "Stage Two," and in a pitch-black room at night. Needless to say, despite the happy ending, the episode left me feeling a little depressed.
What!? But I'm TV Fanatic's resident, self-proclaimed King of Sitcoms Slash Cartoons! How could I ever be stuck watching something depressing!?
Seriously, how many cartoons, nay, comedies, outside of Showtime's The Big C, can you think of that took on the C word? Now how many of them had a powerful message while still making it funny? Certainly not The Big C. Zing.
Sure, the two parter initially went for the cheap joke of going with breast cancer. Haha. A man with breast cancer. Then, they went for some more easy light-hearted laughs as Archer manipulated his cancer in the way only that asshole could. All easy stuff and this was when we knew our spy was gonna beat cancer.
It really took the cancer spreading to Archer's lymph nodes and this week's darker turn for the episode to get to the good stuff. Much like my review. Thank you guys for sitting through my nine paragraph intro. Let's get into the episode and start with the intro.
So of course, a narcissistic jackass like Archer would believe that he was badass enough to take down some chemo without a hint of nausea, hair loss or any other side effect. So much so that he was completley blindsided when Krieger revealed he's been popping sugar pills and pumping Zima intravenously. Seriously, Sterling, chewable chemo medicine?
But once Archer learned he was taking a placebo, we were soon introduced to Ruth, a fellow cancer patient that was also duped, and the main inspiration behind our man's rampage and the reason this episode was so powerful.
Without introducing Ruth, Archer's rampage would have been yet another selfish moment in his life. But by getting so close to an elderly cancer patient, Sterling revealed his sensitive side that his character hides so well. Layering her throughout the episode in marijuana-induced flashbacks gave Archer a purpose the audience could get behind no matter how dark and violent things got. More on that as we continue the adventure.
So where we were? Oh, right, when Archer tracked things down to the warehouse where the drugs got swapped in arguably the funniest, most violent scene in the show's history. As Archer played his own version of Family Feud between the Irish mafia and Hungarian janitorios, I was laughing so hard I was not only in pain, but I had to constantly rewind to catch the jokes. Survey says? Funniest. Scene. Ever.
Oh and then there's, Lana. Sweet, sweet Lana. She's normally the only competent, closest thing to a by-the-books ISIS agent you can get on this show. But this episode revealed this tough-as-nails woman has a heart as big as her hands.
Even if Lana didn't see eye-to-eye with her ex-boyfriend's overly-violent rampage or condone his drug abuse throughout the episode, she had Archer's back as the two took down the entire Irish mob and Archer needed just one line to prove there's a lot more to this guy than we often see:
Delaney, did you see Regis this morning?
But then we flash forward to the present. Here, of course, we're reminded it is just a television show and they're not going to kill off their main character. We learn that Archer beat cancer. Did he learn anything? Probably not. But either way I'm still on #TeamLiveBadass.
So was it a perfect Archer episode? It was obviously a little lighter on the humor than some previous episodes, with the bulk of its scene devoted a serious topic, but in addition to the Family Feud scene, there were plenty of traditional Archer humor in the form of repeated jokes, past episodic and obscure references.
I think the episode did a pretty fantastic job of blending its serious, creative rampage storyline alongside the jokes. My only complaint? The B story of Krieger and the Boys from Brazil.
Krieger is by far one of my favorite characters on the show and I'm all for learning his backstory. But I couldn't help but feel like this was one episode where no secondary story was necessary to cutaway to. I would have understand if they tried cutting away to a light-hearted adventure with the ISIS goons, but cutting away to a Nazi cloe storyline? Hardly breaking up things.
That said, I would argue this was the best episode in the show's history and implore the staff to submit this for an Emmy nomination.
I know Jon H. Benjamin was already previously nominated for his voicework. This time around? He definitely delivered the goods, but things were only so convincing thanks to the creative direction of the team. If anything, I could have see Benjamin give a more "sick" sounding performance.
Aisha Tyler, meanwhile, delivered one of her best, dramatic performances. Just her tone as she talked Archer through things when he lost his hair helped sell Lana as such a believable sweetheart beneath her rough exterior.
Before I let this review get any longer, though I'm going to cut myself off and ask everyone to leave a comment, please. Let me know: was it just me that was so obsessed with this episode? Would you guys hop in if I tried to start an Emmy petition?
Eric Hochberger is the programmer of TV Fanatic, so please forgive his mediocre writing. His programming is far better. Follow him on Twitter and/or email him. Just don't request threaded comments. They're coming.