Maybe I’m just a bit jaded at this point, but there’s a perversely intense affection I feel any time a TV show doesn’t do the obvious thing. Take “Out Of Network,” tonight’s consistently funny episode of Archerwhich opens with a stock premise: the whole Agency crew showing up at Archer’s place to ambush him with an intervention, on account of him being a consistently drunken mess ever since his mother skipped town at the end of the last season. It’s not that an episode centered on an Archer intervention couldn’t be funny—although as I’ve noted in recent reviews, my patience for Extended Bickering Session #683 from these characters has begun to wane. But it’d be a very safe choice.
Thus my delight tonight, when Archer suddenly swerves on all his unwanted brunchmates, revealing that he is, in fact, in therapy. Messy, sexually charged, and deeply Oediapal therapy, sure—this is still Archer—but therapy nevertheless. We then waste very little time getting to the motive force of the episode, as Pam’s well-meaning attempts to log Archer’s therapist, Dr. Lacania (who’ll be purred into life by Missi Pyle once we finally meet her) with the IIA system instead triggers an automatic kill order against her for operating “out of network.” (She knows too many secrets, andit’s, in Fabian’s words, “puts an unfair burden on the IIA health plan.”) And just like that, we have both our premise, and our theme.
And dang, but if that premise isn’t a brisk one, as the crew bounces its way across multiple New York locales in an effort to keep Archer’s new one-stop shop for all his emotional, maternal, and sublimated sexual needs alive. That includes a stop-off at Pam’s amazing off-the-grid loft, which basically confirms that the writers of this show love our Ms. Poovey even more than I do. (Lacania’s assertion that Pam may be “the first completely psychologically healthy person” she’s ever met might be laying it on a tad thick, but I like seeing Pam get a win too much to quibble.) Plot and action-wise, there’s nothing here as interesting as last week’s junkyard magnet fight, and IIA’s various goons don’t even bother to have a single collective personality. But it all rolls along with a quickness, giving the whole ensemble (minus Carol/Cheryl, who’s still absent—did Judy Greer have some sort of scheduling conflict this season?) a chance to magnificently fail to contribute to the plan’s success.
Meanwhile, we get a window into everyone’s views on therapy, as Cyril, Krieger, and Ray all repeatedly assert that none of them need it—just emotionally charged, un-vetted, and in-depth guy talk with their buddies, in which they unpack all the various traumas of their lives. (Krieger: “It’s like therapy, but with fewer credentials! And a completely random success rate!) Pam’s Pam—she’s hooking up with Swiss super-spy Alessia from last week, which is a cute touch—while Lana is mostly just concerned with figuring out whatever the hell Archer has told Lacania about her. It’s a good role for her: Lana always works best, to my mind, when she’s backfooted by a more confident/competent presence, allowing Aisha Tyler to really lean into the character’s pettiness.
Which leaves us with Archer, who, in the episode’s funniest twist, gradually realizes that there might be something a little weird about becoming both emotionally dependent on, and sexually attracted to, a formidable, no-nonsense woman named Malory. (Which is, of course, what we eventually learn Dr. Lacania’s first name is, right around the moment when she starts dressing in Mother’s old clothes.) It feels like the episode could have pushed this even further—Archer remains surprisingly calm in the back half tonight, even as the entire cast ends up dressing in his mom’s signature grey dress-suit in an effort to distract the assassins—instead of keeping the psychosexual weirdness at a slight remove. If you’re going to transmute the subtext into text like this, why not go all the way into a full screaming freak out? Lacania’s final efforts to woo Sterling away from the secret agent lifestyle also ring a little hollow, not because her case for a peaceful, pleasant, non-asinine life running a bakery in Europe doesn’t make sense, but because it makes so much sense that his eventual refusal feels like an artificial constraint imposed by the script. (You already played your “But we’re family!” card for the year, Archerdon’t go pushing it.)
Still, “Out Of Network” gets points for the attempt to dive into this stuff—and for being a pretty funny half-hour of TV, which it absolutely is. There’s very little dead weight here, whether we’re watching Cyril, Krieger, and Ray implode on each other with tales of dysfunctional dads or porcupine-afflicted dogs, or hearing H. Jon Benjamin work therapy language into Archer’s usual flippant assholery. It’s not quite the window into our hero’s head that that opening had me hoping for, but it’s a damn good fine joke machine, and that’s still the most important metric by which this series can live or die.
- “Cyril?! To what do I owe this opposite of pleasure?”
- “Now, what’s this about an intervention?”
“It’s not for your drinking.”
“Good! Because if anything, I’m getting better at that.”
- Issues Archer is dealing with in therapy: “Impulse control, abandonment issues, PTSD… *takes a swig of Bloody Mary* “Self-medicating.”
- Krieger is an advocate for alternative medicines: “Brain chunks, snip-snip, think about it!”
- Pam’s desktop is a fun little treasure trove of stuff, mostly focused on romantic getaways with Alessia, nude photos of Alessia, and a section titled “Pam Life Hacks” that I would personally love to have access to.
- Ray, after cracking a joke: “Sorry, I’d wiggle my eyebrows, but my forehead’s still paralyzed from spider venom.”
- Cyril’s dentist is apparently also set for a kill order. Meanwhile, Krieger asks the big questions: “And haven’t we all wondered, why do we have teeth only in our mouths?”
- This is a low-key great episode for Chris Parnell, whose panicked, instinctual “I’m working, I’m working!” when Fabian crashes the “Save Dr. Lacania” meeting is very funny.
- Dr. Lacania grasps the whole comedic hook of the show after watching Archer beat a man with a dentist’s mirror: “You focus on the mundane to avoid contemplating the barbaric nature of your work.”
- Krieger spends his time at “Office lab, home lab, Sealab—where the only law is science!”
- Ray doesn’t need therapy, okay? “I had the worst childhood and adulthood imaginable, and you don’t see me crying about it, because I’ve got it under control! …Unless I see a porcupine.”
“Why a porcupine?”
“Who are you, the therapist I don’t need?!”
- Very funny to me that Pam’s got movie posters up from multiple actresses who have personally stabbed or shot Archer—Rona Thorne and Veronica Deane both appear.
- I know it’s just a cartoon, but I hate seeing those vintage pinball machines get shot.
- “I’m not sure they’ll let me on the train covered in this much blood.”
“Yeah, blood’s more of a subway thing.”
- A clever touch, as Ray and Krieger’s unresolved issues both screw them up during the mission. “I should have…gone to therapy!”
- Archer, referring to his “didn’t get to have train sex” erection: “This is somebody else’s problem. Ideally, two someone’s.”
- Obscure reference alert: Pretty packed evening for the ORA. Pam drops a reference to ’80s virtual disc jockey Max Headroom—who has a fascinating backstory, if you’ve never read up on it. She’s also got an arcade game based on Milton the copier/toaster that appears to be patterned on classic joke game Desert Bus. T.S. Lawrence did, indeed, die after wrecking his Brough Superior SS100 motorcycle, and dampfnudeln is a traditional German dumpling. And then, of course, there’s the matter of Dr. Lacania herself, whos name is presumably a reference to Jacque Lacan, the famed French psychoanalyst who billed himself as a “return to Freud.”
- Line of the episode: Pam, improvising a cover story for why she and Lana are outside Lacania’s office: “And you’ll keep going to therapy, young lady, until you stop having sex dreams about Grave Digger, the monster truck!” It’s the “the monster truck” part that gets me.