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For the first time this season, Archer strays a little off course. It had been an excellent three show start and last week’s “The Limited” was one of the best episodes of the entire series. However, all the things creator Adam Reed managed to get right so far this year (and for most of the first two seasons) - like the fast paced and exciting storytelling, the small hints of character development and, above all the unrelenting joke fueled dialogue - didn't seem to click in "Drift Problem," a more aptly named episode than Reed would probably like. I noted earlier than it’s quite surprising how it's taken over two seasons for the series to spoof the spy car genre staple. I mean, Archer with a spy car, complete with gadgets, is such a promising premise but, unfortunately, "Drift Problem" just didn't fully deliver.
"Why do you even bother... living?"
Obviously, as with any good television show, "Drift Problem" even as a weaker episode still had its moments. It had several great lines and even some nice character work between Archer and Malory - and by character work, I mean revealing Archer's childhood scars - but there were just a few too many joke callbacks that the episode felt a bit haphazard and unexciting. I'm not one to to advocate against layering the comedy across episodes and even seasons (in fact, I praised Archer's ability to do just that last week), however, it has to be done cleverly and sparingly. Tonight was a messy pileup.
"It makes the Mach 5 look like a vagina!"
The episode opened by introducing the main thread of the week, Archer's birthday and soon, his birthday present. The tag consists a lot of action but, unfortunately, not a lot of laughs. Woodhouse makes Archer breakfast in bed for his birthday but happens to ruin it by prematurely celebrating with confetti/garbage. And since it's grocery day, that means that was a one of a kind garbage breakfast and Archer will have to go without.
No worries, his spirits remain high all the way to the office until it seems that no one, including his mother, has remembered Dr. Birthday Boy's special day. Good thing too because he hates surprises. Fire alarm ruses though? They're Ray-droppingly okay with Archer (an act which may or may not have hurt the paralyzed former field agent) as long as they include a sweet new spy car. It ended on a high note but for a show usually so good with its rapid fire joke delivery, there are far too few laughs.
"Yeah, caltrops. Try maybe areadenialweapons.com"
That's right, mommy didn't forget her Sterling's birthday (their relationship is weird but loving... and weird), she actually bought him the best gift imaginable and something that the best secret agent in the world was definitely lacking. To prove how awesome some of Krieger's additions are (like the red, uh blue button), Lana fires a round that ends up, of course, in Brett's side - just one of literally hundreds of callbacks, okay figuratively hundreds of them, throughout the episode.
After a clever bit of product placement, that allowed the show to both make some coin and mock the process ("Thanks Dodge!"), Malory foreshadows the rest of "Drift Problem" by insisting that Archer ensure his Charger doesn't get stolen. Immediately I knew that Malory was going to be the one to steal it and that, therefore, she was also the one behind the infamous childhood bike theft. It's just another example of how the show that's normally so original came across as rather obvious this week. The car is pretty rad though and his joyride/police chase, while not memorable television was enjoyable enough.
"Join that club. Then shut up and act like you know what you're doing."
After Archer sends Woodhouse to further spruce the spy car, he soon receives a phone call announcing the inevitable - the car has been stolen. Woodhouse thinks it might be the Gyppos but Archer is busy ignoring him, lost in a flashback to the day his bike was stolen and he was ping pong paddled by his mother. And for the first time I can remember, the butler proves faster than the secret agent, getting him with pepper spray and then refusing to hand over the bottle. Although, in theory, I don't mind Woodhouse taking some revenge out on Archer, in practice it just felt, uh, wrong. And I didn't laugh (did you?).
Archer rushes to ISIS to recruit Lana and her bottle opener hands to help him retrieve the car, too bad they don't know where to look. Good thing that Pam is (going to the bathroom/eavesdropping) into some intense Fast and the Furious Tokyo Drifting and figures that looking into the Yakuza she races against might be a good place to start. Carol agrees from the stall next door and Cyril is roped into the actual mission, where Archer as Randy has a tough time fighting off several advancing Yakuza at once. The ass kicking was amusing so it might be time for a call back, I mean, a RAMPAGE. Some level of rampage anyway.
"Duh. Why do you think they call me Shiro Kabocha?"
Caught in a stand off with the Yakuza, Archer and company soon realize that they didn't steal his spy car so Pam swoops them into her Honda (or whatever) for a speedy, circular track getaway. And here, the animation also seemed less than stellar this week. The FX animated series prides itself on the long and arduous computer process (and usually it shows, like the great train exteriors in "The Limited") but nothing about the chase sequence(s) really wowed.
While the field agents have trouble fending off the gangsters in a car chase/shoot out, Malory tries to call Archer about dinner and we hear another of his famous fake outgoing messages. Carol soon spills where the team has gone - the ensuing slap and growl was great - and Malory insists that the pair go after them. When they arrive, The White Shadow/The White Pumpkin's fancy driving has already disposed of most of the threat, and we finally learn the true, and totally foreseen, identity of the car thief as well as the what really happened to that long stolen Schwinn Sting-Ray 5 Speed.
"Jeez. Ow. You got another one in ya?"
Sadly, something I realized about midway through "Drift Problem" was that the problem with this week's Archer was with Archer. We were spending entirely too much time with the lead alone with his car. This is a show that thrives on seamlessly weaving narratives and the entire cast of characters throughout the episode but this week works more like a snowball rolling down a hill.
Archer starts the narrative ball rolling and it collects the other members along the way, unfortunately by the time the ball has any momentum or size, half the show has been wasted and now there's not enough time for the stolen car story and resolution not to mention the entire ensemble. Instead we get an extended sequence of Archer talking to, and being by, himself.
Actually, a lot of "Drift Problem" comes across as half baked (and the story felt small and short) which is perhaps why the show is pieced together with call backs. Now, I know this all comes across rather harsh. I've just come to expect the best from the FX animated comedy and this week simply didn't deliver. Am I worried? No. Like I said, the episode, even as a disappointment, had its moments and was worth the watch. Next week's "Lo Scandalo" sounds like another debaucherous international adventure and I'm sure Archer will be back on track... but without his suped-up Dodge Charger, "what you lookin' at Sucka?" A nice cameo from Mr. Ford (or President Ford, or whatever he's going by) of Frisky Dingo, Reed's former animated comedy. Archer airs Thursdays at 10p.m. ET on FX. It stars H. Jon Benjamin, Aisha Tyler, Jessica Walters, Judy Greer, Chris Parnell and Amber Nash. It was created by Adam Reed.