At the end of “Skin Game,” the 11th episode of the uproarious third season of Archer, Barry (Dave Willis) and Katya (Ona Grauer), both brought back to life as cyborgs, recreate the famous ending to The Graduate. The katana-sharp animated series’s references to the Mike Nichols classic (the “Are you trying to seduce me?” scene was referenced in season two) are oddly endearing and particularly apropos to the high-speed, high-stakes world of the eponymous not-so-secret agent (H. Jon Benjamin) and his colleagues at ISIS, the freelance spy agency headed by his mother, Malory (Jessica Walter).
The third season’s first three episodes (the “Heart of Archness” trilogy) chronicles Archer’s adrift escape from that life, however, mourning the death of Katya, which closed the series’s second season, in his especially booze-hungry, womanizing, and self-absorbed fashion; naturally, we’re reintroduced to our hero mid-cuckolding. It takes not only fellow agents Ray (series creator Adam Reed) and Lana (Aisha Tyler), but also Malory’s erstwhile flame, Rip Riley (Patrick Warburton), to rescue Archer, after he unintentionally becomes a pirate king and is subsequently, inevitably mutinied. It’s unlikely that Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock got up to any similar adventures during his unseen college years, but Braddock and Archer are both handicapped by the responsibilities of post-adolescence and find hugely destructive ways to feign the maturation and wisdom that they glaringly lack.
Whereas Braddock simply takes up with a married older woman, a seductive vision of adulthood, Archer has fully modeled himself after the paternal action heroes of his youth, from James Bond to Steve McQueen to, most prominently, Burt Reynolds. Fittingly, Reynolds gives a superb vocal turn as himself in “The Man from Jupiter,” the season’s fantastic fourth episode, wherein Archer’s two identifying elements come into catastrophic contact when he both gets to pal around with Reynolds while also realizing that his idol is dating Malory. Reed, who’s credited as sole writer on all but one of the season’s 13 episodes, smartly allows the giddy carelessness of Archer’s forever-humping existence to retaliate on him without sermonizing about any perceived certain evils of such a life. It’s also the closest thing to the plum role one hoped Reynolds might have sought out and found after Boogie Nights.
Though the series makes the most hay out of Archer’s overcompensations for fatherlessness and essential maternal abandonment through violence, drugs, sex, and pop culture, the show’s propulsive wit survives largely on Reed’s unerring attention to his entire roster of characters and their own unique issues. The show’s secret weapon is Pam (Amber Nash), who secretly becomes Archer’s fuck buddy in “Crossing Over” and attempts to barter a deal with the yakuza in “Drift Problem.” ISIS accountant Cyril (Chris Parnell) makes an unlikely ace field agent in “El Contador,” only to prove utterly inept at the position in “The Limited,” which also further explores the perverse wealth of ISIS secretary Cheryl (Judy Greer). Ray faces the subtle shifts and old grudges of his hometown in “Bloody Ferlin” and even Lucky Yates’s underutilized Dr. Krieger enjoys the spotlight while dismembering a corpse in “Lo Scandalo” and reanimating Katya in the aforementioned “Skin Game.”
Indeed, “Skin Game” offers a far more potent summation of the series’s thematic sprawl than the highly amusing but slight “Space Race” diptych that closes the season. It certainly contains the season’s most odd and revealing sequence, which involves Archer’s flailing hysteria when he finds Katya’s bionic vagina in his bathroom sink, awaiting a healthy scrub from Archer’s faithful servant, Woodhouse (George Coe). The separation of Katya from what Archer considers the key component of her femininity deeply beguiles him, as he largely defines women by their ability to please him sexually. Astonishingly, Archer eventually overcomes his disgust and uncertainty, only to be forced to make a bigger concession when Katya and Barry run off together. The capacity for growth in Archer (and, for that matter, the show itself) is blindingly apparent, and one of the great joys of the series is watching the struggle to achieve change while consistently evaluating how quickly those windows of chance are shut or relocated entirely. Archer is almost chaotically humanistic, and Archer’s decisions to finally let Katya go and, toward the end of “Space Race: Part II,” choose livelihood over pride suggest that he’s closer to escaping the same milieu that we left Braddock still swamped in at the back of the bus.
Fox's DVD transfer of the third season of Archer is pretty strong, all told. The rich use of color in the animation is retained nicely, from the costumes at the dinner party in "Lo Scandalo" to the various cars of "Drift Problem" to the aeronautic environs of "Space Race." Detail and clarity could have used some more care, as certain medium shots look a bit soft or blurry. In general, however, these issues never pull focus from the show's unerring propulsive narratives. The audio is equally good but not great, with the fast, whip-smart dialogue clearly out front, and J.C. Richardson's bouncy, espionage-tinged score and sound effects filling out the back nicely. It's not a transfer that will show off your home theater's oomph, but is utterly serviceable in nearly all facets.
The big get here is the select-audio commentary with Adam Reed and various cast members. It's comforting to know that the show's cast is just as funny and engaged in free-form discussion as they are in their roles, as they riff on their characters, the show's themes, and Reed's writing. The edited-together version of the "Heart of Archness" trilogy is interesting and the three accompanying shorts are enjoyable, but they are essentially disposable after one watch.
Fox's release of the third season of Adam Reed's deliriously brilliant and hilarious Archer shoots straight with a solid A/V transfer and a small arsenal of extras.