Anatomy of a Joke or Why Archer is Just Operating on a Different Comedic Level

***Note, this will stand in for the weekly review of ARCHER, season six, episode five: Vision Quest. Just know that it was spectacular and a great referendum on refreshing old jokes and plotlines from previous seasons.***

I’ve learned something about myself. My favorite comedies are intelligent highbrow shows that are both self-referential and include characters being completely brutal and cruel to each other. I still believe the best comedy on TV is HBO’s Veep, but a close second is Archer. Seasons 2-4 of Archer remain my favorite run of comedy seasons in recent memory, only dropping down with the completely admirable, but creative setback that was season five, Archer Vice. What Archer is known for is the clever “inside-joke” quality of its punchlines, the obscure references and the constant humor or referring back to past jokes in a new light. But something in the latest episode was a little different. And for this Archer fan, a little brilliant.

The latest episode from Archer in it’s sixth season is “Vision Quest,” a good old fashion “stuck in an elevator” episode. All the usual suspects are present minus Malory (obviously) and the episode brings it’s A game with insults about Cyril’s sweater vest, Krieger’s human soup and Pam’s lack of bladder control. But what has kept my intention well after viewing this episode is a seemingly throwaway line that I can’t seem to let go of.

As they are piling into their secret elevator in their secret Dry Cleaners (hey, where’s Popeye, voiced by Clarke Peters been at?), Sterling is the last to make a run toward the elevator. Ray (in a call back to him ditching Lana the previous week) tries to close the elevator on him but claims he’s trying to keep it open (“Oh no, it’s like Maximum Overdrive all over again!”). Sterling does in fact make it on to the surely over capacity elevator before scolding Ray:

[quote_simple]”There’s a red button and a green button Ray, what are you colorblind?”

Ray responds, “Actually I am.”

Sterling, after a beat, then pressing the top floor for the elevator, “Typical.”

Wait, what?

And of course, Ray responds back with the audience’s voice, “Typical of what?”[/quote_simple]

Now for those that aren’t aware, Ray Gillette (voiced by creator Adam Reed) is gay. Ok, why do you need to know that information? Or a better question, what does that have to do with Sterling’s “Typical” jab? Absolutely nothing. Which is part of the brilliance of this joke and speaks to the reputation and cache of the jokes on this show.

If we are being honest, 60% of Archer’s comedy comes from Sterling having completely irrational or bizarre responses, be they conversation topics or adversity in the field as “the world’s greatest secret agent.” In addition, he constantly peppers Ray with insults like he does everyone, but (and the writer’s are smart here) those insults don’t deal with Ray’s sexuality. For that Sterling makes a lot of assumptions that are typically so out of the realm of insult or reason that they don’t seem offensive or even insulting. There’s the “Wind Cries Mary” episode from season four where the Sterling exchanges goes something like:

[quote_simple]Archer: “…yeah he is, but not in the Ray kind of way.”
Ray: “Meaning what?”
Archer: “Uh, gay. Duh.”[/quote_simple]

Or the hissy-fit that Archer threw when him and Ray were wearing the same turtleneck in the “El Sequestro” episode from season two.

[quote_simple]Archer: “Take it off Ray, we look totally gay.”
Ray: “I am gay.”
Archer: “Well I’m not.”
Ray: “Then why are you wearing that turtleneck.”[/quote_simple]

Archer is oblivious to anything that could be qualified as “gay culture,” mostly because he’s oblivious to all culture that doesn’t include knowing types of alcohol or firearms competency. So when Sterling says “Typical” to Ray being colorblind, the most obvious assumption of Sterling’s comment is that Ray is colorblind because he is gay, which makes absolutely no sense. But this is Sterling willing to attach any unique trait to Ray based upon what he assumes is the most unique aspect of him, his sexuality. The problem (or what have you) is that we’ll never really know, for two reasons. One, Sterling surprises in his justifications all the time. Take the “Archer Sanction” episode from earlier in season six, where the team was trying identify an assassination target and Sterling believed that they were from a country of origin that was an Axis power in WW II. Of course, when the target turns out to be Irish, Sterling has no reasonable justification for how wrong he was…until he gives the entirety of the Romanian involvement during the war, complete with nuance and socio-political intrigue all under an umbrella of “I must have had those confused.”

[quote_simple]Lana: But seriously, how in the hell did you think Ireland was an Axis power?

Archer: Oh my God, I think this whole time I was actually thinking of Romania, but only as an inevitable consequence of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the Soviet invasion of Bessarabia.[/quote_simple]

Bruh. So it’s possible that Sterling had a non-Ray’s-orientation reason for thinking it was typical that he was colorblind. Reason number two we’ll never know is because Sterling never answers Ray’s response. It’s just left hanging there until the next joke comes fast and furious, knocking it off the hook.

And maybe it’s the disposable nature for which it was dealt with that made it stand out so much to me. After five plus seasons of jokes, references and call-backs, the bench is so deep for Archer in determining what jokes they spend time with and which ones they use as springboards for other jokes. And still, I’m sure that the “Typical” rebuttal and it’s ridiculous connotation will make a comeback later in this season (as it was repeated at least once or twice this episode). This is the chessboard that the writers of Archer play on while so many comedies are yelling “King me” to their target audience. The ability to access a joke or a sentiment that is multiple seasons in the making is a glorious luxury to have, especially when said joke isn’t even a centerpiece for the scene. The “Typical” jest isn’t the funniest joke of the episode, but the irreverence of it, the amount of backstory that makes that joke funny and casual way we enter that joke and exit it just shows that when it comes to Archer, there are levels to this.

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  • William is the Editor-In-Chief, leader of the Black Knights and father of the Avatar. With Korra's attitude, not the other one.

  • Show Comments

  • akah

    If you love Veep then you’re sure to love its UK parent series, The Thick of It. It’s wonderful, even better than the already great Veep, in my opinion, and the curses are even more spectacular there. Although you’ll have to learn to get used to thick British accents and British politics but well worth it for the series.

  • Saffy

    What I can’t figure out is how Ray can be colorblind if he’s a licensed pilot? Can’t fly if you’re colorblind.

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