Archer blasts off with its latest from season 3, or technically season 3.5 “Space Race, Part 1,” as Archer and the ISIS crew head into space (with guest star Bryan Cranston) to stop a mutiny on an international space station. While seemingly unrelated to the arc built over the lats few episodes, “Space Race” could be the start of one of the better Archer stories of the series.
I’ll admit, I was tepid about the concept of launching the Archer crew in to space for a two-part season finale, if only for the fact that the show has maintained such a solid standing in its previous two episodes ‘Skin Game‘and ‘Crossing Over‘that it seemed entirely unrelated to suddenly unleash a high-concept event. Perhaps it was unrealistic of me to think that Adam Reed and FX would dole out easily a season’s worth of plot progression in the last four episodes, but the return of Bionic Barry, Nikolai Jakov and Katya seemed so intrinsically tied to Archer mythology that it felt a shame to abate that momentum so soon.
Even my excitement over the prospect of Bryan Cranston couldn’t overcome that trepidation, and lord knows how much I adore that man. So while we’ve only seen the first half of a season finale, and I still share some minor disappointment that ‘Space Race: Part 1’feels a bit disconnected (or out of orbit, I should say), it’s still likely one on the most consistently funny episodes of Archer I’ve ever seen. Some of you may remember that in initial reviews of the season I confessed to never being a true Archer fan, or even doling out more than a few chuckles an episode, but ‘Space Race’had some of the most consistently entertaining uses of Archer‘s various one-liners and gags that it will easily go down as one of the strongest episodes of the series, continuity or no.
Most of the episode’s success lies in the simple sense of fun prevalent throughout the episode, the writers clearly over the moon at the possibility of taking the group through such a rich trope. I mean, of course Archer was going to go into space eventually. The Simpsons did it, The Venture Bros. did it, and of course James Bond did it, so of course Archer would eventually have to be thrust into space as well. Most of the time (and especially as the first half) the why of going into space doesn’t even matter, as in likely my favorite part of the episode, Cheryl and Pam are revealed to have once again stowed aboard the latest travel mission. But like I said, the idea is all about the fun to be had from watching the team struggle to adapt to astronaut training, or toy with the various technologies presented. That may sometimes run a risk of making the trope more interesting than the characters, but it’s never at a lack for laughs.
Additionally, my fears about losing momentum build from the last few episodes were somewhat abated by the genuine moments between Archer and Pam, picking up the thread of their coupling that seemed so hastily swept under the rug last week. Archer has always been a series that slyly mixes actual heart into its comedy, and it was nice to see that amidst the madness of EMP blasts firing every which direction and Lana puking into the floor, Archer still found time to be himself. I half-expect that Bionic Barry or Katya could still show up in the second half, perhaps progenitors of the astronauts sinisterly-revealed intent to colonize Mars, but if the laughs come as consistently as this first entry I won’t have any cause for complaint.
And really, there’s only so much to be said for the first half of a two-parter, particularly when the first half ends on a cliffhanger, and the second is your season finale. It’ll take most audiences a full week before they even know if ‘Space Race: Part 1’really pays off, or began any kind of satisfying closure to the season, but I have a rare feeling of confidence going for a series I previously didn’t make much of.
And Another Thing…
- Predictably, Bryan Cranston is amazing, either with his nigh-unrecognizable bluster in early scenes, or his menacing turn in the final moments of the episode. Finally, someone’s in the danger zone!
- ‘SMOKE BOMB!’
- It was surprising enough when Malory revealed she and Burt Reynolds were still an item, so why away with it just as casually?
- I hate that TV has done this to me with its regular cliché, but I’ll have an audible groan if Lana’s excessive vomiting has something to do with a surprise pregnancy.
- And of course, at least 50% of the VFX budget likely went into this episode, and it shows.
- ‘F$%k you, space.’
- Do I want to know what a MOAB is? The internet is failing me.
What did YOU think?