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When the entire foundation of a show is upended and virtually wiped out it breathes new life to the possibly repetitive formula. (Lets admit, Archer was getting quite repetitive and even one-note in its fourth season. Always funny though.) The series underwent a drastic retooling that has propelled its characters into new and fresh situations and has compelled Adam Reed to create unexpected and unforeseen scenarios. Now, this has been clear since the season premiere in the kinds of stories portrayed. The characters have had to react to different kinds of threats and troubles: FBI agents shutting down ISIS, attempting to become cocaine dealers, getting rid of a million dollars in counterfeit bills.
The change of setting definitely provides a fresh environment for them to inhabit and react to. They have had to adjust to an entirely new living situation, all of them squatting in the Tunt mansion which kind of serves as the new headquarters. The characters spend a good amount of time running around in the insanely huge and creepy mansion equipped with hidden rooms, underground tunnels, old-timey exercise room and a gunroom. All of which led to a considerable shift in the series’ storytelling, as expected. What was not entirely expected is the surprising yet appropriate and welcome occurrence of honest character growth, which subsequently gave way to wonderful character moments: Cheryl/Carol’s generosity and concern and care for Pam, Malory’s maternal instincts taking over, Archer and Lana’s weird relationship, and particularly this episode’s delving into Archer and Pam’s friendship.
As I’ve said before, the new situation and the kind of desperation that comes with it have pushed the characters to their most base personalities. They have had to whittle their priorities to the most essential thus making their motivations more clear. Also, these few episodes have really cemented a feeling of camaraderie and bonding within the group that feels entirely new. Sure the ISIS gang had worked as a team before and enjoyed their share of bonding moments in the past, but now they really do need each other in order to get out of this dilemma. So while they are stuck together, they are sharing this crazy experience that does bring them closer together. This sentiment is exemplified by Archer and Pam’s story arc in this installment. Archer reluctantly accepts Pam as his road trip sidekick and though she is responsible for many of the complications they face in the episode, he consistently has her back. He even takes the blame for the trouble she has caused, which, let us not forget wouldn’t really have happened if Archer had not brought the cocaine in the first place. However, hes hows some uncharacteristic qualities when protecting Pam.
A big theme the series has always played with is the idea of Archer growing and/or maturing, and whether it is possible for him to do so. For so long it seemed that he would remain the egotistical, narcissistic and immature buffoon from the beginning of the series. He would make slight moves towards maturity but quickly diffuse them and revert to his selfish nature. His brush with cancer, his brief foray into fatherhood, even his relationship with Lana have all been junctures where his character has been tested in such a way. While his development has been left unclear, this episode communicates that he as grown somewhat and that deep down, he is a pretty good guy. Yes he is still incredibly narcissistic and self involved, but when it matters, he will actually do the right and even noble thing. This shows that he is a guy with genuine feelings that, perhaps due to the pathetic childhood he experienced (Malory was never a very maternal being), has trouble expressing them adequately. From what we have seen of the many hilariously horrible flashbacks to his childhood, it is a miracle that he is a relatively functioning adult. He served as the unlikely voice of reason in his discussion with Pam and was charmingly (as well as amusingly) honest with her, “And for what its worth we all kind of liked you the way you were…Pam, who cares? That’s just subcutaneous adipose tissue, albeit a shitload of it, but I can’t bang you if you die from an overdose.” His words are playful and humorous but always contain truth and are said out of genuine concern/care for his friend.
And Pam who is always a figure of absurdity and has the most cartoonish personality was given a very human moment to play. Her need/desire to be liked is endearing and effective and works wonderfully against her usual brassy and excessive temperament. The moments between them worked incredibly well not only as a broadening of the characters’ relationship, but also for expanding their emotional depth in a believable way. Also it is especially effective since it is happening in the fifth season of the show. There are four seasons worth of history between the characters and us viewers that merit these kinds of moments and pay off exceedingly well.
And with all this character development and sweet material, not once does the show ever stop being funny. There isn’t an awkward tonal shift where it suddenly feels like you are watching some heartfelt sitcom moment, the show never ceases to bethe irreverent Archer we fell in love with in the first place. As for the rest of the episode it was your basic Archer craziness,lots of jokes, running gags, and bold fun. Cherlene continues to be another hysterical extension of Cheryl/Carol; eccentric and absurd in her own special way. And once again the show never misses the opportunity to explore Archer’s ridiculous obsession with Burt Reynolds, “Smokey and the Goddamn Bandit.” Fantastic. Really, “Southbound and Down” was all about the Archer/Pam dynamic and it completely worked.
After a lengthy break it is absolutely delightful to have new episodes of Archer Vice back again, glad to see it come back with a great outing.