Archer: Season Four (US - BD RA)
Gabe returns to the Danger Zone with the finest secret agent this side of 007...
Adam Reed’s Archer continues its run as the best animated comedy on cable television. Well, when Venture Bros. is on hiatus. Anyway, it’s back for a fifth season on FX and, in celebration, I’ve written a quick and tardy review of the season four Blu-ray release, divided by episode.
Fugue and Riffs
‘Sour Mix? In a Margarita? What is this, Auschwitz?!?’
Mostly ignoring the extra-planetary adventures of last season’s two-parter, Space Race, season four begins with an unexpected crossover. Noting that H. John Benjamin was also voicing the title character of Fox’s Bob’s Burgers, Archer creator Adam Reed decided to turn Archer into his very own John Munch (the Richard Belzer character that appears on various NBC/Fox police dramas). The episode begins with Archer (H. John Benjamin) as Bob Belcher, working in a burger joint and married to Linda Belcher (John Roberts, who also voices the character on Bob’s Burgers). When Russian goons come to kill him, ‘Bob’ has a Long Kiss Goodnight moment, murders them all spectacularly, and heads off to discover whom this ‘Archer’ is. The rest of the episode concerns a sting the ISIS crew hatches to cure his amnesia. Fugue and Riffs is a fabulous introduction to the season.
The Wind Cries Mary
‘This is Rodney, he's the new, whatever...Gun Librarian.’
Archer sets out to find his best friend, Lucas Troy (Timothy Olyphant), who faked his death during a failed ODIN sting. Despite his co-workers insisting that there’s more between them than friendship, Archer is blind to Troy’s advances. Worse, Troy is planning on funding their ‘new life together’ with stolen uranium. Meanwhile, Pam (Amber Nash) attempts to do staff peer reviews and is met by the usual passive aggression and heavy sarcasm. Cyril’s (Chris Parnell) threateningly negative review of Lana’s (Aisha Tyler) performance is particularly amusing. More great moments here include one where Archer finds Cyril’s clothes and briefly assumes that The Predator (from the movie of the same title) is hunting people, Troy’s constant stream of ‘Your Mom’ jokes, and the look on Lana’s face after learning what Troy did to Archer one night after he passed out.
‘So, it’s going to look like I’m leaving, but that’s only because I’m leaving’
Dr. Krieger (Lucky Yates) offers to make Ray (Adam Reed), who is still a paraplegic following the events at the end of season three (for real, this time…), robotic legs. Though he initially resists, Ray decides that it’s a good idea, much to Archer’s dismay. Meanwhile, Malory (Jessica Walter) has granted Rodney (Andrew Donnelly), the new armoury supervisor, more power, making it more difficult for the ISIS staff to waste resources doing stuff like trying to make Ray into a cyborg…or using a rocket launcher to kill cyborg Ray. The horrendously gory imagery used during the human-to-cyborg surgery scenes is a high point, not to mention Pam’s beer-fueled attempts at being a surgical assistant. During one of the amusing asides, it is established that Krieger replaced mole agent Conway Stern’s arm sometime after season one, which is most likely just a random joke, but also might be hinting at the character’s return in future seasons.
‘The butterfly effect. You know, a butterfly in Africa lands on a giraffe's nose, the giraffe sneezes, that spooks a gazelle, the gazelle bonks into a rhinoceros, and the rhinoceros blindly stampedes into a phone booth, calls New York somehow and says ‘Hey, go kill this idiot Ron, for a suitcase,’ because the rhinoceros speaks English!’
Archer is forced to bond with his new stepfather Ron Cadillac (Ron Leibman), when Ron decides to rescue him from a passport and money-free trip to Montreal. Unfortunately, Ron’s secret criminal past comes back to haunt him and make the trip home difficult. This episode does a good job of securing Ron’s place in the show and earns huge points for its unexpected and violent turns, including a transgender trucker snuff ring.
’What, you said be convincing!’
‘Convincing, not deliberately hurtful!’
Katya (Ona Grauer), Archer’s one-time cyborg girlfriend, contacts him, looking for her current beau and Archer’s mortal enemy, Barry (Dave Willis). The only problem is that Archer and his ISIS friends left Barry stranded on a space station. In hopes of winning Katya back, Archer hatches an idiotic plan to save his arch-nemesis and drags the less professional members of ISIS along for the ride. Viscous Coupling isn’t an easy episode for non-fans to go along with – it requires too much previous knowledge to understand callback jokes and character references – but, in the context of the entire series, it might be the season’s best. It’s fast-paced, well-layered, full of twists, and sets track for more serialized, fan-friendly episodes.
’I mean, look, I don’t want to sound racist but –‘
‘…but you’re gonna power through it…’
Archer is bitten by a venomous snake while on mission, leaving Cyril (who is too insecure with his relationship with Lana to call for extraction help) and Ray (who injures his back trying to lift their jeep out of the sand) to drag him around Turkmenistan as he’s slowly driven insane by hallucinations. As he lays dying, Archer is given the ‘Ghost of Christmas Past’ treatment from a cut-rate James Mason, where we learn more snippets of his back-story. Meanwhile, Lana is offended that Malory didn’t send her on the Turkmenistan mission and their passive/aggressive interactions boil over. The episodes best gag is a series of misunderstandings between Cyril and the Turkmenistanese, who use the same word for their leader, their leader’s dog, bread, and snakes. It sounds like a cheap joke, but it is so well-executed.
Live and Let Dine
‘Yeah, ‘child-murderer’ shouldn’t be hyphenated. That makes it seem like he’s a murderer who’s also a child.’
ISIS is sent undercover as wait staff in an upscale restaurant that also happens to be the home base of a reality show called Bastard Chef, starring a celebrity chef named Lance Casteau (voiced by real-life celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain). Live and Let Dine is a generally funny, episode on its own merits, but is especially funny because it so perfectly apes the ridiculous style and structure of a Hell’s Kitchen-like cooking show. Every time someone makes a particularly snide remark they call for it to become a pre-commercial ‘bumper.’ The B-story concerns Malory holding Pam’s betta fish, which she needs for an underground beta fish fighting ring, prisoner.
‘Since when is babysitting Archer my jo—oh my God that is exactly my job!’
ISIS is sent to capture a Mexican coyote (the kind that sneaks people over the border, not the kind that looks like a puppy), but things go wrong when Archer realizes that this particular coyote is a particularly attractive woman (Carla Jimenez). After betraying Cyril and Lana, he takes the coyote and her passengers across the border in a junker of a station wagon. Meanwhile, back at headquarters, ISIS tries to figure out where Archer and the Mexicans have disappeared to. Archer’s interactions with Lupe, an elderly Mexican lady that only replies to him in Spanish, are among the episode’s highlights. Also note that ISIS’ computer tech, Bilbo, dies of a heart attack this episode when Malory berates him, something that is alluded to in a earlier one.
‘I'm coming, Cyril!’
‘Lana, wait! Bet that's the first time you ever said that. Right? Huh? Okay, now we can go.’
Lana and Archer go undercover as newlyweds in a ritzy New York hotel (the Tuntmore Towers) to uncover a North Korean uranium smuggling ring. But the job becomes secondary when Archer spends his time enjoying room service and bugging Lana into performing her ‘wifely duties.’ Meanwhile, Pam, Cyril, and Cheryl set themselves up across the street to spy on the fake couple. The biggest laughs in this episode tend to be non-contextual, like the thwap thwap sound of Archer scurrying up Tuntmore Towers with suction cups or the little boy that takes a picture of him and Lana as they argue outside his hotel window. Cyril screaming ‘Suppressing fire-extinguisher!’ (a callback to him screaming ‘Suppressive fire’ during a shootout) is another gut-buster.
Un Chien Tangerine
‘Something about nukes in Pakistan. Or one of the 'akistans.’
Lana and Archer are again trapped in a hotel room together; this time in Morocco, where they have been sent to rescue a member of ISIS, who turns out to be a Saint Bernard named Kazak that has issues digesting kafta. Meanwhile, Pam tries to prove she’s worthy of fieldwork. Watching Archer interact with animals, which he treats like human equals in conversation, is always entertaining. Un Chien Tangerine (the title is a Luis Buñuel/Salvador Dalí joke) is also the beginning of more Pam-centric episodes.
The Papal Chase
’Who am I? Cypher? The gayest X-Man?’
‘I don’t know, Gambit looks like he knows his way around a pair of…’
ISIS is sent to foil an assassination attempt on the Pope. This elaborate scheme involves using Woodhouse (George Coe), Archer’s long-suffering, heroin-addicted manservant, as a decoy. Pam is sent along to prove her skills as a field agent. Meanwhile, Cheryl tries to figure out why Cyril is so afraid of Catholic costuming. The Papal Chase isn’t the season’s cleverest episode, but it brimming with quick wit and slapstick, like a bit where Pam drops a giant mirror on the sleeping Pope or the bit where Archer is thrown naked from a moving vehicle. Archer also makes reference to Lucy, Daughter of the Devil, an Adult Swim series Benjamin worked on.
Sea Tunt: Part 1 and 2
‘And what is he getting out of this?’
‘I guess whatever useless thing philanthropists get out of squandering their money on the poor.’
The two-part season finale sends ISIS into the Bermuda Triangle, where they are set to retrieve a stolen nuclear device to
Part two brings the action down to an underwater lab beneath the Triangle, where an impulsive captain named Murphy (Jon Hamm) threatens to unleash missiles laced with nerve gas unless his environmentally friendly demands are met. This is clearly in reference to Reed and company’s first show, SeaLab 2021, including Murphy’s appearance and the design of the lab itself (right down to the break room). The isolated space and science-fiction-y location do recall the previous season’s finale a bit too much, but there’s an awful lot going on here and all of it is incredibly funny.
Like Reed’s other shows and most of the cartoons that appear on FX, Adult Swim, and Fox’s ADHD, Archer is a simple, Flash animated series. The characters are simple vector drawings, usually with one colour shade, and no gradient blends. Textures and patterns are also rarely utilized, so the clarity of the animated elements are almost strictly found in the vibrancy and clarity of the colours, and the solid nature of the black edges. On these simple terms, I have no complaints concerning this full 1080p, 1.78:1 transfer. The episodes are stretched over two discs, so compression artefacts aren’t an issue, save maybe a bit of low level noise on the darker warm shades. The backgrounds are, for the most part, Photoshop-filtered photographs, but have begun to include more texture and digital effects with the fourth season (the action scenes are especially impressive, compared to previous seasons). This is much more obvious in straight-from-the-Blu-ray 1080p. On television artifacts make the backgrounds appear painted. The filters create some edge-enhancement effects that I’m thinking are unavoidable. The contrast between the more graphic-animated character elements and the static, more natural backgrounds is a bit muddier on the DVD release, which loses plenty of the smallest details.
Archer comes fitted with a relatively modest DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that more than adequately fits the bill. The uncompressed quality makes for a cleaner and generally louder experience than the Dolby Digital 5.1 HDTV airings, which are also a bit more muddled. The mixes are usually quite simple and heavily dependent on dialogue and sounds nice and clear. Stereo channel jokes are pretty common, usually when an off-screen character has a sarcastic quip to lob at that on-screen characters. When there is some kind of explosion of sound, it’s usually in the form of literal explosions or gunshots (the KGB shootout in episode one is pretty spectacular), though there are a handful of aurally expressive car chases. These exceptions to the rule are plenty clear and expressive in terms of movement, but the effects are usually pretty low in terms of volume. The music is also consistently a bit low on the track for my liking considering the generally cool quality it adds to the action sequences, but the opening and closing titles sound great.
The brief extras are relegated to disc two. These include Fisherman’s Daughter (3:30, HD), a short, anime-style cartoon starring Krieger and his computer girlfriend (revealed to have been created by the Doctor and Pam), and Archer Live! (20:00, HD), footage from a live table read/Q&A with fans.
Archer is still a great series and going strong with this fourth season collection. It’s difficult to boil the show down to its ‘best’ season, but there are certainly some classic series moments here. Fox’s Blu-ray is sharp and aurally crisp, though there isn’t exactly an excess of special features for fans to chomp into. The new (fifth) season is also off to a great start, by the way, so those without a cable television subscription or willingness to buy the episodes in iTunes/Amazon have even more to look forward to.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and have been resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking the individual images, but due to .jpg compression, they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 7th January 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Fisherman's Daughter Short, Archer Live!
Easter Egg: No
Cast: H. Jon Benjamin, Judy Greer, Chris Parnell, Aisha Tyler, Jessica Walter, George Coe, Amber Nash, Timothy Olyphant,
Genre: Action, Adventure, Animation and Comedy
Length: 2 minutes
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