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Archer Review – Back from the Dead (11×1&2)

Archer/ FX

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It can be difficult for many shows to stay fresh deep into their run. The Simpsons have been accused of declining in quality anywhere from season two to season twelve by die-hard fans. Series creator Adam Reed’s attempt at avoiding the typical pitfalls that have befallen many other once critically adored shows was to try to literally reinvent the narrative starting with season five. That season, dubbed Archer Vice, took on the trappings of a cheesy 80’s television series with the gang running drugs, flying twin-propeller planes, and cruising down jungle rivers. 

The show would go back to the status quo the following season but at the end of season seven, we learned Archer was stuck in a coma. This gave Adam Reed the license to spend the next three seasons having Archer reinvent itself as 40’s noir, 30’s adventure, and sci-fi a la Aliens. These three seasons were all apart of a dream taking place in Archer’s comatose mind reminiscent of  Bobby Ewing in Dallas.  Archer’s overarching plot could finally move forward, but it would do so without Adam Reed’s presence in the writing room. 

Season 11 premiered with two new episodes. We begin with a high octane motorcycle chase.  The animation shines in this sequence, managing to fit in an incredible amount of detail and polish while still keeping the same Archer style. The high-speed pursuit ends with a reveal that the team is back to normal sans the titular Archer, who is finally out of his three-year coma but much worse for wear. Archer is in bad shape, now walking with a cane due to nerve damage and a five o’clock shadow painted on his chiseled chin.

Archer returns to the office but it’s quickly apparent the natural order of things is off. Cheryl isn’t acting crazy, Pam isn’t being raunchy,  and Cyril, the oft punching bag for Archers barbs, has bulked up and assumed a leadership role in his absence. Archer is now at the bottom rung of the totem pole.  Predictably, he does not take these new developments well but there’s no time to dwell on things. The team has been tasked with guarding a priceless statue. It’s clear that the team has become quite professional in the absence of Archer’s self-absorbed toxicity and Archer can’t stand being sidelined.  Even worse is Lana, his on-again-off-again beau, and mother to his child has moved on and married.  Its clear Archer is a ticking time bomb that is ready to upend the dynamic.

After a few drinks and a nice moment with Pam, Archer reluctantly accepts his new support role. This new status-quo is upended quickly as the plan organized by Cyril quickly goes to pieces, causing Archer to spring into action. The thieves are thwarted and Archer has taken the first steps in taking back control. 

The second part involves the team infiltrating a martial arts tournament and extracting a man named Win Li. This was the much weaker of the two and tries to walk back some of the changes introduced in the first episode. Cyril flashes signs of competency before quickly becoming a punchline. Pam valiantly holds herself together but after mid-way reverts back to being the crude quip machine. Cheryl is back to being insane. The plan goes belly-up and once again it is up to Archer to save the day. 

It’s here I also remember just how brutal Archer can be for a comedy. Henchmen are callously shot by Archer. Characters get injured and bleed from every part of their body. A scene involving a man getting his foot cut off by a falling piece of glass is particularly hard to watch. The violence works in juxtaposing how ludicrously dangerous the job is against just how little these people care.

There is a lot of good in the two-parter. The animation is extremely crisp, the voice performances are excellent, and many of the jokes still land.  However, the absence of Reed’s guiding hand can be felt in the writing. It simply isn’t as sharp as it was at its height and relies on recycling some of the same gags it’s pulled out for years. There are only so many times the audience can be expected to laugh at sploosh and phrasing.  Still, there is plenty to like and the wheels haven’t fallen off yet which is remarkable for any show that has been on as long as Archer has. Both Archer and to some extent his show’s fans must come to terms with getting older but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a lot of good moments to left to enjoy. 

 

 

Best Lines

– I would like expensive whiskey.

We only have beer and wine.

What am I, 12?

 

-He was doing a fundraiser for kids with cancer.

Oldest trick in the book.

What book?

 

-Well, thank you, Onan the Barbarian.

Thar she blows you mobey dicks.

 

-The recently decomafied brain is a complete mystery to science like dark matter or why squirrels get so enraged when they see me naked.


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7 Must-Watch Shows This Fall

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Monarch - 7 Fall TV Shows to Watch

We’re only a few weeks away from the 2022-2023 fall TV season!

With the addition of streaming services, there are plenty of choices when it comes to what to watch all year long, but honestly, there’s something so special about primetime programming debuting strictly in the fall.

Much like pumpkin spice lattes, it provides a cozy feeling of returning to a routine and reuniting with your favorite TV characters while also welcoming new ones to the fold.

But there are always a few standout shows — new and old — that we think you definitely need to add to your list this season. 

These titles will likely be the talk of the town (see: watercolor talk before remote work took over and turned it into slack talk), and you definitely don’t want to be left out of the conversation—in person or virtual.

 

Lopez vs. Lopez – NBC

Who doesn’t love a multi-cam family comedy? George Lopez teams with his IRL daughter, Mayan Lopez, to portray fictionalized versions of themselves in what’s described as a “working-class family comedy about dysfunction, reconnection and all the pain and joy in between.” Brice Gonzalez of TikTok’s EnkyBoys fame has also been cast in the series, so keep him on your radar! 

Premieres Friday, November 4 

LOPEZ VS. LOPEZ

LOPEZ VS. LOPEZ — Season: Pilot — Pictured: (l-r) Matt Shively as Quinten, Mayan Lopez as Maya, George Lopez as George, Selenis Leyva as Rosie — (Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC)

 

Alaska Daily – ABC

After the short-lived Netflix series, Away, Hilary Swank is returning to TV as a journalist seeking a fresh start in Anchorage, Alaska where she begins investigating a missing woman’s case. 

Premieres Thursday, October 6

 

Monarch – FOX

Trace Adkins and Susan Sarandon are just a few big-time names hoping to hook audiences in a drama about a country music dynasty, the Romans. “When their reign as country royalty is put in jeopardy, heir to the crown Nicolette “Nicky” Roman will stop at nothing to protect her family’s legacy, while ensuring her own quest for stardom, alongside her brother Luke and sister Gigi,” the synopsis notes. A handful of A-list country stars have already been tapped for guest appearances, including Shania Twain and Martina McBride. 

Premieres on Sunday, September 11, 2022
 

 

Vampire Academy – Peacock

Calling all vampire lovers! Julie Plec, the creative force behind The Vampire Diaries, is hoping fans will sink their teeth into yet another series adapted from YA books about a group of supernatural attending boarding school at St Vladimir’s Academy.

Premieres on Thursday, September 15

 

Big Sky – ABC

Big Sky isn’t exactly a new show, but the Montana-set crime drama is sort of reinventing itself in the third season with a brand new mystery and title “Deadly Trails.” Cassie Dewell (Kylie Bunbury) and former partner/now undersheriff Jenny Hoyt (Katheryn Winnick) will team with newcomer and sheriff Beau Arlen (Jensen Ackles) to investigate Sunny Barnes (Reba McEntire) described as a “successful backcountry outfitter with a secret history of missing customers.”

Premieres Wednesday, September 21

 

La Brea – NBC

If you snoozed on La Brea in season 1 because you thought it wouldn’t get renewed, it might be time to catch up ahead of new episodes coming this fall. The series will pick up on the disappearance of three cast members, who were previously stuck in 10,000 B.C following the emergence of a sinkhole in Los Angeles. They have been transported to a different time period, which they must now navigate. Meanwhile, everyone still stuck in 10K B.C searches for a way back home. 

“This season will still largely take place in 10,000 BC. However, we will no longer be telling a concurrent story in modern-day Los Angeles. Instead, we will be telling a story in 1988 Los Angeles,” showrunner and creator David Appelbaum said. 

Premieres Tuesday, September 27

 

The Cleaning Lady – FOX

Again, if you snoozed on the hottest drama, The Cleaning Lady forgives you, but it definitely wants you to catch up before new episodes drop! Elodie Yung stars as Thony, an immigrant mom that’s determined to do anything to save her sick child. When she witnesses a murder, she finds herself working as a cleaning lady for the mob and doing things she never thought possible. 

Premieres Monday, September 19.


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It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – The Gang Goes to Ireland/The Gang’s Still in Ireland (15×05/15×06)

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It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia "2020 A Year in Review"

Always Sunny has has several multi-part episodes, but I don’t believe there has ever been a stretch of this many episodes continuing a single story arc, and so far, I think it’s working wonders.

The first benefit the serialized formula of these episodes provides is long-term payoffs for jokes. Always Sunny’s humor normally comes from two main places – the humor of the current plot and the characters’ reactions to what’s happening (such as Mac talking about sitting on the drains at the water park), and the humor of long-standing continuity references, (such as Charlie and Frank referencing “Nightcrawlers”). But in “The Gang Goes to Ireland” and “The Gang’s Still in Ireland,” there are plot based jokes that payoff across episodes in a way Always Sunny doesn’t normally get to revel in. The guys wanting to take a vacation originated in “The Gang Replaces Dee with a Monkey” and is still paying off in “The Gang’s Still in Ireland” in major ways. Dee doesn’t wake up in the middle of the country if the guys aren’t on vacation and Mac’s identity crisis swapping from episode to episode provides a fleshed out running gag. These longer payoffs gives Season 15 a very unique feel, which is great news for such a tenured sitcom.

The writing on a whole is great in this arc, though, so it isn’t just a benefit for the humor. Going to Ireland has specific ramifications for the cast, and the more specific a location is to your characters, the better a setting for a story it is. On a broad scale, it’s a fitting location just due to the name of their pub, but on a character specific level, Mac, Charlie, and Frank all have particular issues that are being brought about by Ireland.

Mac decides to tie his identity to his Irish heritage, which leads him down a path of crisis when he learns from his mother that he isn’t actually Irish. Charlie meets his real father (gasp) and starts to pull away from Frank as he begins to identify with his culture, and Frank begins to realize that he may be losing Charlie. These plot lines are built around the Ireland setting, tying location to character and giving the setting a relevance to the story. Many sitcoms go to a foreign land to shake things up without actually tying a real plot line to the location, which makes those excursions feel more like a pallet swap than a necessary story beat. Ireland is pushing these characters in new directions, and I love that.

For Dee and Dennis, Ireland itself doesn’t affect them in quite the same way, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t just as intricately tied to the journey as the rest of the gang. Dennis falling ill is specifically tied to traveling (while being unvaccinated), which ties his storyline to the journey even if it isn’t Ireland specific, and Dee’s acting gig is what kicked off the journey in the first place. Dee’s plot line could have happened in Philadelphia, yes – she could have been late for filming anywhere in the world – but what makes the journey around the world so relevant to her is that the rest of the gang followed her. This was, potentially, a chance for Dee to start over without the gang; a chance to break free. Instead, her friends drag her down, bringing out the worst in her, and keeping her in the exact same state of mind she’s always in.

Asides from using the location to its fullest, these last few episodes’ structures are also excellent. While this may be the most serial Sunny has ever been, it hasn’t lost use of its format. So far, these episodes have been distinct storylines contained within themselves – in other words, these are not two-parters. “The Gang Goes to Ireland” deals with a very different plot than “The Gang’s Still in Ireland,” even if the events of the former directly affect the events of the latter. Personally, for anything that isn’t a mini-series or two-parter, I like distinction between episodes in television. Like chapters in a book, they provide much needed structure to long-form storytelling. It’s very easy for episodes to start blending together when each is just a continuation of the last, but when one episode is about Dee’s film role and Frank destroying documents and the next is about Dee dealing with her sick brother and Frank losing his best friend, a distinction is provided that helps keep the story manageable and lends purpose to the episodic format, instead of feeling like a sliced up movie.

Overall, I’m really enjoying the direction the middle of Season 15 is taking. It’s given a bit of new life to the series and hasn’t just been thrown together – each character has been taken into consideration when crafting this plot and coming up with a setting. I’m excited to catch the next episodes, curious to see how this approach will affect the characters next.

Other Thoughts:

  • The serialized format also lets us see these characters live life in an uncut sequence of time, proving the madness never stops. This has also proven to me that this show could probably run in a serialized way if it ever wanted to. The writers take enough care into mixing plot with character that I’ve no doubt they could do this format if they wanted to (I’m not saying they should, just that they probably could).
  • Sure, Dennis could have gotten sick anywhere, but tying it to travel works for the story and as a commentary on real-world travel safety during the pandemic, and Always Sunny does enjoy making commentary.
  • The music change has also given these episodes a fresh feel. I love Sunny’s classic music, but this change makes this particular journey feel special, and I like that the show ties its music together with its setting.
  • So I guess Frank is definitively not Charlie’s father???
  • They are leaning HARD into Dennis’ creepiest character traits. I always felt they would keep these traits quiet, even if obvious on the surface, but I sort of feel the longer this show goes on the more definitive of an answer we’ll get to Dennis’ true nature.
  • Dee would be a great horror movie protagonist. Her all-for-herself attitude combined with her verbal aggression is the perfect mix for it.


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It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – The Gang Buys a Roller Rink/The Gang Replaces Dee with a Monkey (15×03/15×04)

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It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia "2020 A Year in Review"

“The Gang Buys a Roller Rink” is an experimental episode of Always Sunny, flashing back to what basically amounts to an origin story for the gang. But does the gang really need an origin story?

Flashback origin stories (like prequels) are most successful when the information about the origin re-contextualizes something we know about the characters the story is exploring. An example where “The Gang Buys a Roller Rink” succeeds is in the reveal that Charlie actually paid for most of the bar, as it re-frames our knowledge on exactly how Charlie became the rat-killer of the joint. Dennis and Mac completely screwed Charlie over, and while this isn’t necessarily a surprising revelation, it does lend us a new perspective to the supposed early partnership between the three. If you want to take it deeper, you can even say it explains Charlie’s hard dedication to the bar that the others don’t seem to have, as evidenced in “Charlie Work.”

Unfortunately, I feel this is the only reveal in “The Gang Buys a Roller Rink” that really works. Dee truly earning her nickname as “Sweet Dee” in her younger years, only to be ruined by a bonk on the head doesn’t re-contextualize anything. We already know the gang played a huge role in turning Dee into who she is today through their constant mockery, so revealing that Charlie played a role into turning Dee into “Dee” doesn’t actually change the perspective much. Maybe one could argue that the point is to show how innocent mistakes can have drastic consequences, but in the context of this show, I don’t think that works.

And that’s the biggest issue with the episode. “The Gang Buys a Roller Rink” goes out of its way to clean up Charlie, Dee, and Dennis so that we can see the contrast between their 1998 incarnations with their present day selve, and tries to show us exactly what went wrong in their lives to lead them there; but based on the history of the show and the meticulous characterization each main player has been given, we already know there isn’t one thing that lead them to their horrible selves. It was decades of abuse, neglect, self-aggrandizement, brainwashing, and more, mixed in with their own base instincts, and their awfulness continues to perpetuate through the dysfunctional circle they’ve trapped themselves in. Giving a single day explanation to everything doesn’t just feel wrong – it goes against the themes and continuity of the show.

And yet, I’m not sure I even buy that this is canon. The gang are proven unreliable narrators based on other episodes that feature flashbacks. Even when they think they’re telling the truth, their memories often betray them because they were drunk or too caught up in their own egos to realize they weren’t the center of attention they believed they were. For a show that cares so much about its own continuity, I find it hard to believe the writers ever make a “mistake” when it comes to continuity, even if they choose to disregard a previous piece of canon, I believe in most cases that is a conscious choice by them.

So I can’t criticize “The Gang Buys a Roller Rink” for “ruining” the continuity of the series because I’m not sure I trust the memory we witness on screen. At the end of “2020: A Year in Review,” there was footage of the gang at the events they claimed to be part, which proved without a doubt that they were telling the truth in that episode. There are no such clarifying pieces of proof at the end of “The Gang Buys a Roller Rink,” so it’s definitely possible this episode is just an excuse to have some fun and experiment with these characters in a new way.

But if this is canon? I think it hurts the characters. I find it hard to believe the Dennis in this episode ever called himself a Golden God while in high school, or that Dee turned out as this sweet after being relentlessly bullied for her back brace (after all, we’ve already seen how much resentment she held onto from that time of her life). Those earlier details seem sort of meaningless if the gang only became the gang because of the singular night we witness here. I prefer some backstory to remain mysterious, even after 15 years, as the gang is infinitely more fascinating when they are the result of a million different things over the course of a lifetime and not a singular event that created them, because people are more complex than that, and frankly, so is Sunny.

I also didn’t find this episode too funny. Mac’s “mark my words” jokes don’t have a great payoff and are sort of easy jokes to plop in a flashback. Dennis watching Frank have sex issn’t anywhere near as funny as Dennis and Frank’s confusing conversation prior, and with Dennis’ view on Frank I find it hard to believe he would stay through the entire session. Mac dealing drugs might seem like it is in character, but his success with it really isn’t, as he’s always been a fake tough (even here with the broken gun!) and he definitely would have had his money stolen from him way earlier.

I did think it was fun to watch, though! Despite all my complaints, I enjoyed seeing this different spins on such recognizable characters, especially Charlie. It’s always fun to see him be competent.

“The Gang Replaces Dee with a Monkey,” presents such a perfect counter-example to “The Gang Buys a Roller Rink” regarding character consistency that I find it hard to believe they were written back to back, but maybe that was the point?

The monkey plot line is alright. The guys trying to pick a vacation destination is some pretty classic Sunny, where a simple task turns into a huge project. Unfortunately we don’t actually get to see them arrive at their destination, so I feel like that plot line didn’t quite pay off because we sort of skip to the reveal. I think an extra scene here with them building the words to write on the board would have helped, even if the words were kept a secret to keep the final reveal intact. The monkey is fun, though.

Dee, on the other hand, has an excellent story that is so completely in line with her character that it hurts to think she’s only this way because she bonked her head. She shows both progress and regression as a person in such a smooth way, which is exactly what I want out of this season of Sunny. After being brutally insulted by the casting director, I expected Dee to either lose her **** with him or spiral into a depression, but instead she listens and learns. Dee! Dee listens and learns!!! Even though she doesn’t grow as a person ethically, not internalizing the insult is a huge step forward for the self-loathing Dee. It suggests that for once, maybe Dee doesn’t care what someone else thinks of her.

This also allows her to recognize that the young actor in her class does care heavily about what others think of her, and Dee sees this as an opportunity for, I don’t know, retribution? Revenge? Catharsis? She finally has someone she can influence and control and, after years of suffering the same fate herself, she knows exactly how to do it. Dee is old enough, and dare I say wise enough, to recognize her flaws; after all, she must recognize her own flaws if she’s going to manipulate those same flaws in someone else.

Which makes her final reversal absolutely magnificent. After getting the call from the director, Dee returns to the Dee of years past, because guess what – she finally got approval. She’s validated, and that validation immediately blinds her again. It’s a perfect display of growth and regression and comes about naturally in a way that is true to life.

The key is that Dee’s character doesn’t change almost at all. She’s still crude, rude, and has no idea what she’s talking about regarding acting. Her small growth is only in her reaction to the insult of her acting ability and her horrific plan to exploit a young actor for her own sick comfort. This is, dare I say, near peak Sunny, and I’m excited to see what Ireland brings us.

Other Thoughts:

  • The gang being so upset about the rink closing down before revealing they haven’t been there in over 20 years is very in character for them.
  • If anyone has an explanation for how the characterization in “The Gang Buys a Roller Rink” fits in with the existing continuity of these characters younger years, please share it.
  • I know the show isn’t medically accurate pretty much ever, but Dee hitting her head and shifting personalities is one of those things that has actually happened in real life, and yet still feels unrealistic within the show. Sometimes, just because it’s true to life, doesn’t mean it’s true to the show.
  • Danny DeVito looked great in the flashback. Almost exactly like Season 2 Frank.
  • I’m really excited to see what the show does with a bit of serialization. I know I wrote an article about needing more episodic TV, but a show 15 years into its run needs to experiment some and I think this is a good risk to take.
  • I wonder how much influence the marketing strategy had on “The Gang Replaces Dee with a Monkey’s” final reveal. Ireland was so heavily promoted in the show’s ads and that final reveal was somewhat built on the audience awareness of what the destination was going to be. I actually think it sort of worked? At least on me. I didn’t put it together that their vacation destination would be Ireland, even though it seems so obvious in hindsight, except there was NOTHING in show to tell me that – me feeling Ireland was the obvious answer was solely built on the marketing. Interesting to note.


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