More than any other episode of Archer Vice so far, “Smugglers’ Blues” is the perfect marriage of both versions of Archer. There’s another stab taken at getting rid of the all the cocaine the former ISIS agents have, but the process in the episode is much more typical of classic Archer missions – especially the two- and three-part ones. On top of that, the division of characters in “Smugglers’ Blues,” though the most gender segregated, is probably my favorite of the season. Given all this – and the freshness of Archer Vice in general – in addition to the announcement in-between these reviews that the series has been picked up for two more seasons, you’d figure Archer would feel like it’s in a pretty good spot. Yet, the viewership it’s pulling in is noticeably low right now, dipping last week to its lowest in numbers since the first season (and Archer, remember, is one of the few FX comedies that didn’t make the transition to FXX, which might have explained those lower numbers). It might just be that people aren’t warming to the new structure of the series, and if that’s the case, then I would imagine they probably won’t have to wait much longer than the remainder of this season for the series to revert back to its secret agent identity. But it’s a shame if that is the case, since Archer Vice – and specifically this episode – is delivering a wonderful combination of exciting plot and entertaining dialog.
The heavy serialization of this season is the main component that makes “Smugglers’ Blues” feel like one of those epic Archer tales, but the inclusion of “La Madrina” as a potential mini supervillain also helps bring to mind arcs like the brilliant “Heart of Archness” from season three. Hopefully, she’s sticking around for at least another episode while Sterling, Cyril and Ray have to find a way out of being tortured and killed. If she’s not back, though, she at least brings out a lot of the old Archer, who chokes on his drink several times presumably because he hasn’t had much positive reinforcement as a ladies man recently being stuck in the Tunt mansion. “Smugglers’ Blues” actually has a lot of great callbacks, including the self-aware realization that “phrasing” has been out of the rotation for a while. Most of those kinds of gags work best when it’s Sterling and Lana out in the field, but it’s looking like Malory is guilting Lana into rescuing Sterling, because lord knows someone has to. The other returning gag is Archer’s elaborate voicemail, which – in his explanation to Ray about how he got it onto Ray’s phone – is even more elaborate than ever. So, apart from being the most mobile episode of the season thanks to sneaking into international territory, “Smugglers’ Blues” is also the laugh-out-loud funniest episode of the season so far. In some ways, it’s unfortunate that Archer Vice won’t allow for a higher concept episode like last season’s “Live and Let Dine,” but that just comes with having a tighter structure this year.
As mentioned, the character combinations in “Smugglers’ Blues” are fantastic. The episode opens with the females – Malory, Lana, Pam and Cherlene – as they crack more jokes at the expense of Lana’s pregnancy. Aside from those times when Pam and Cheryl annoyed Malory outside of her office, I can’t remember a gender division this clear in Archer plots. Of course, Krieger is around (and so is Woodhouse, though he’s off doing creepy Woodhouse-y things), but just seeing the girls hanging around playing pool and drinking before realizing that the boys are going to need an extraction plan is a great break from what the others are up to.
There’s far too many good comedic moments to mention here (just to get a couple in, though: Cyril not knowing anything about cars and Archer reminding Ray about causing one of his bouts of paralysis are highlights), but Archer typically saves the best for last. As the guys are being hauled off, the only thing Archer can think about is getting a tiger, which his smirk explains after Ray tells him specifically not to say that. Both the other characters and the viewers know Sterling way too well, and moments like this made extra hilarious because of that. Two other thoughts that I had while watching “Smugglers’ Blues”: 1) without subtitles, the episode manages to get in a lot of Spanish profanity that normally wouldn’t be cool even for FX (and, as with all the other references Adam Reed uses, Archer doesn’t care if you get all of this nor is it necessary to appreciate the episode) and 2) because of how densely packed each episode of Archer is, I’m always surprised to find out that episodes usually run a couple minutes under the normal comedy running time (Archer usually hovers between 19:30 and 20:30, whereas most comedies on the broadcast networks are at least 21:00 every week).
[Photo via Giovanni Rufino/FOX]