Archer: Danger Island finds its feet in Episode 2, Disheartening Situation, as Sterling makes an emergency landing while Pam, Cyril, and Lana fight their way through giant local wildlife.
I think Sterling Archer himself would approve of the following joke, which is that the only disheartening situation in episode 2 of Danger Island was the state of Archer itself. Not that it was bad or anything. But I did find myself wondering how, exactly, we got here; how Adam Reed’s sneakily-genius satire became, gradually, a satirization of Archer itself. I guess that’s what nine seasons will do for you.
The good news is that I’m over it. I’ve determined that judging the show on the basis of what it once was or what I’d like it to be, rather than what it is now, would be a profound waste of my time and yours. I could lament that Danger Island seems to have traded its psychological depth for same-old gags, most of them about the same-old though slightly-different cast, but that’d be missing the point. The important question is this: Are those gags still funny?
Episode 2, Disheartening Situation, proves that they are. It wasn’t the funniest episode I’ve ever seen, and ****, it probably won’t be the funniest of this season, but after last week’s episode ended on a midair cliffhanger I got a jolt of lively energy as this one opened. This is useful at 0700 on a Thursday morning. Archer himself was still stranded in a rickety seaplane with faulty landing gear, desperately searching for a place to safely land it while drinking himself unconcerned, as Pam, Lana, and Cyril (yes, I’m using their original names – I’m not willing to let go completely) parachuted into the knotty thickets of Danger Island’s verdant jungle.
From there, it’s a two-front fight for survival, as episode 2 stylishly flits back and forth between our imperilled heroes. The exotic dangers of the gorgeously-animated jungle were a particular highlight; quickly incorporating a giant serpent and a horde of flesh-eating Komodo dragons in two bloody action sequences. It’s an obvious throwback to the adventure serials Danger Island is ripping off, but it was mostly an excuse for a steroidal Pam to beat back the encroaching beasties. I liked a few things about Disheartening Situation, but I liked this new, heroic Pam the best, particularly when she had a machine gun.
Archer’s half was less exciting but funnier. After clearing out the seaplane’s liquor cabinet and making (literally) on-the-fly calculations that don’t amount to very much, he eventually elects to land the plane on the town’s main street. Thanks to the creative wiggle-room afforded by the animation this is a pretty spectacular sequence, as his emergency landing cleaves its way through the shorefront and he, miraculously, comes out relatively unscathed. There’s a joke about that (he insists he’s immortal) that reminded me that we still don’t know whether the events of Danger Island are part of his comatose subconscious, or if we’ve abandoned that link altogether, but no matter.
Besides, the funniest stuff, aside from the bit about Archer’s six-inches of wingtip clearance (“I can do a lot with six inches!”) can be attributed to Malory, Ray and Cheryl. The latter gets a sight gag involving a box of stolen chocolates smeared on a wall, which is only marginally less amusing that an aggrieved Ray’s fake French accent when he realises the chocolates were his. Malory bails Cheryl out of jail for typically Malory-esque reasons – she wants Cheryl to join her stable of hookers, although she insists on calling them “courtesans”, because of course she does.
Disheartening Situation even contained a couple of hints about the show’s overarching plot, which I’d honestly forgotten about until Cyril mentioned a mysterious idol. (Of course there’s an idol. The cast will be running away from a boulder by next week, I’m sure of it.) I guess I was too enthralled by all the oversized local fauna in episode 2 to really give a **** about where Danger Island plans on going. And I guess Archer can consider that a win for itself, since as recently as last week I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to look past such a thing.
That’s to be expected, though, in a show as confidently-made as this one. Adam Reed has been putting these folks through the wringer since I was a teenager, and the rhythms of sexual double entendres and multilingual in-jokes are so natural now that it’s never a surprise when he hits the mark and barely an issue when he doesn’t. Danger Island might have lost something essential about previous seasons of Archer, but episode 2 proved both that it has found a relaxed attitude that suits it, and that the usual well hasn’t run dry just yet.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.