4.07- "Live and Let Dine"
While the ISIS operatives on Archer travel to exotic locations and the show directly references or parodies different elements of popular culture each week, the structure of the show itself rarely changes. But with the newest episode, the show tried out a new style. In "Live and Let Dine," the ISIS agents went undercover at Seize, a swanky restaurant that just happens to be the subject of a popular reality show called Bastard Chef (think Hell's Kitchen). Real-life reality show superstar Anthony Bourdain even voiced head chef Lance Casteau.
The episode reminded me of the "Queen of Jordan" episodes of 30 Rock – or, if you're hungry for an animated comparison, the "Behind the Laughter" episode of The Simpsons. The episode tried out a temporary, new style without sacrificing its fast comedic pacing. The Archer franchise put its own spin on the reality genre by changing the animation style, zooming in for close-ups and occasionally having the director speak directly to characters, just like a reality show would.
It's a tough, risky choice for a show like Archer to step outside its typical format, especially when the show has enjoyed consistent success for four years. Done well, an unconventional episode becomes an instant classic; done poorly, it comes off as gimmicky. I couldn't help but focus on the introduction of this new style for that very reason – even the show's weaker episodes have the same edgy, quick-witted humor, so a change of style, albeit a slight one, is worth taking time to think about.
My issue with "Live and Let Dine" was that at heart, the episode wasn't all that different from the norm. Compared to “Behind the Laughter,” for example, there was less of a commitment to the style the episode was trying to emulate; I just didn't feel like I was watching a reality cooking show. It was less of a parody of the genre and more of a vehicle through which they could introduce a new scenario. The episode was still funny, and they still had episode-long jokes (my favorite was Casteau’s personal motto, "ABBAB (always be berating and belittling)," and callbacks to season-long jokes (Archer gets to be sous chef because he has experience – he has "fine dining experience" from when he ran Bob's Burgers in the season opener). But they shrugged off the opportunity to run with the style and make a unique episode.
From a character perspective, I thought that Bourdain created a very interesting one-off character. Archer has well-documented mommy issues, which is probably clear to anyone that's watched more than five minutes of the show, but he also is eager to please any potential father figures that come into his life, and Casteau fulfilled that role. Archer's sudden dedication to being a chef makes him question his life and career until he is let down by a father figure once again. Casteau poisons the Albanian diplomat that ISIS went undercover to protect to begin with; ironically, the diplomat wasn't really even in danger in the first place, as Malory was behind the threat in an attempt to dine at the exclusive restaurant.
I still haven't really decided how I feel about what seems to be a season-long story arc: the return of Archer's robotic rival agent, Barry Dillon. I like the character and the conflict he represents. He exists as an external conflict, as opposed to the self-imposed conflicts the characters generally create for themselves each week. He puts them in danger, which contrasts with their constant tendency to put themselves in danger. On one hand, it makes me feel like everything that has been happening on the show this year is connected.
On the other hand, this feeling is artificially imposed – Barry didn't even show up until the final shot, so revealing that his hand was pulling the strings all along didn't really take any commitment on the part of the writers. I appreciate when a well-crafted storyline comes together because it means they considered every detail. Even though you don't know what's happening until the reveal at the end, rewatching the episode provides you with a new experience. There is an undeniable enjoyment through seeing how every detail fits once you know there is a hidden truth behind every moment. But I didn't have that experience with this episode because Barry was introduced to the story in a way that didn't require him to be involved at all. Without the last scene, the episode would have still worked. It seemed like he was forced in at the last minute rather than him existing silently until he was revealed at the end.
Overall, "Live and Let Dine" wasn’t anything special, but was still as entertaining as the other episodes of this season. The show continues to balance running jokes and irreverent sarcasm expertly. The episode lived up to my expectations, it just didn't exceed them.
Ben Wachtel likes baseball, the Boston Celtics, pancakes, tacos, and swam collegiately at Purdue University. You can follow him on Twitter at @benwachtel24.