This past Thursday saw the return of the world's greatest spy on FX. Archer, the network's hit adults-only cartoon about the biggest prick in espionage and his dysfunctional co-workers, began its fourth season with a premiere that was as crude, offensive, and hilarious—but not in the ways I've come to expect.
The Season Four premiere was also Archer's long-awaited crossover with Bob's Burgers, the more family-friendly animated sitcom on FOX. Both titular characters, Sterling Archer and Bob Belcher, are voiced by H. Jon Benjamin, an industry veteran also known for his roles on Home Movies and The Venture Bros. Until Thursday, there were no clues as to how Benjamin would juggle two characters in such a crossover, as their voices are virtually the same.
As it turns out, there was a simple solution: the old “retrograde amnesia” trick.
Yes, “Fugue and Riffs” is less a spoof of the James Bond-style superspy genre, as Archer has become known for, and more of a parody of Robert Ludlum's Jason Bourne series—except with more fast food. Archer, distraught after watching his mother get married, has begun a new life with the Belcher family, which is quickly shattered by a visit from a KGB hit squad. He flees to a spa—even when he forgets who he is, Archer is still luxury-loving Archer—where he berates a pool boy for serving inferior cocktails before his friends at the ISIS agency show up to bring him back to reality.
To their credit, the writers manage to make this the most entertaining amnesia story I can remember. There are lots of tropes to play with—Archer can't be confronted directly or his brain will explode, he remembers skills and details with no context, etc.—and the typical tongue-in-cheek self-awareness that makes Archer one of my favorite shows airing today serves the hackneyed plot device well.
Unfortunately, once you get past those initial novelties, there's not that much left in the episode. Besides a rehash of the running “Cheryl and Pam do drugs at inappropriate times” gag, there's no B-plot at all, which is rare for Archer. It's a noticeable absence, too—one of the reasons I started watching in the first place was the truly excellent use of segues; Archer is one of the only shows that can tell jokes and transition between scenes simultaneously, but take away the need for those transitions and it suddenly feels as if half the humor is missing.
There are still callbacks to jokes from past episodes (Archer is nothing if not continuity-driven), and a chillingly amusing cameo from recurring villain Barry Dylan (voiced by Dave Willis of Aqua Teen Hunger Force fame), but those are small consolations. Ultimately, “Fugue and Riffs” may have done well as a bit of mid-season filler, but a premiere episode needs to be more—if it's well done, it can get new and old fans to generate buzz about what next week might hold in store. This was a fun crossover and a neat parody, but I expected more from creator and writer Adam Reed. I hope Timothy Olyphant's guest-starring role this week breathes a bit more life into Archer's new season.