So aliens exist in the Archer universe. I guess let’s just start with that.
Archer has never been a show particularly concerned with realism or believability. Sterling Archer has lost enough blood in gun fights to kill at least 5 James Bonds and drank enough liquor to kill at least 20. But Archer has never gone so overtly sci-fi as it does in Nellis, where it introduces a whole new sentient non-human species.
It’s certainly a bold and welcome move for a show that thrives on absurdity as much as Archer does. But the final product is very short and surprisingly underwhelming. “Nellis” takes place at Area 51 and features aliens, so why does it feel like it’s only an 11-minute outline of an episode?
For as disappointing as it eventually becomes, “Nellis” actually starts with a hilarious concept that builds on the six-plus years of a crucial bit of Archer mythology: Archer’s constant travel problems. He’s been in: a zeppelin that accidentally bombed Europe, a runaway Canadian train, a country music star’s tour bus* and a freaking space ship, just to name a few.
*When Archer finds out they’re going to Branson for a country music concert, he asks if this is about Cherlene. “Who?” Cheryl responds. “She has no memory of that,” Pam says.
So when he calls Cheryl at the office (“Carol. Hey. Shut up. I need your help.) and she correctly infers he’s in a jam and needs air-lifted out, we know that a “travel” episode is in play. Since Archer is on the no-fly list (“I want to fly the plane!” and the no-trains list (“I want to fly the train!”) one can only guess as to what’s next. Will it be one of those sound-barrier breaking New Mexican desert cars? A hot air balloon? Has Krieger figured out teleportation? Nope, Cheryl will just bring Cyril, Pam, Ray and Krieger to pick Archer up in a private Sky Tunt jet. Oh well.
Subverting audience expectations could have worked here and I certainly don’t mind when Archer gets meta and calls attention to the fact that it is probably just burned out on certain plots or tropes. But by the time Captain Ray Gillette notices they are in Nellis Air Force Base’s air space, something already feels off. Crash landing in Area 51 is not necessarily a bad idea for Captain Ray and his passengers or the show, itself, but the execution just doesn’t work in either respect.
Upon crash landing, Archer begins his hyper-competent espionage work he’s always able to call upon when needed and provides the Air Force with Agent Slater’s Q Code. He says that Pam, Krieger, Cyril and Cheryl are his prisoners and he is responsible for their safe passage back to New York. Of course, there’s always time to check out the Air Base’s officer’s room bar.
While Archer is disappointed with the drink options, Pam and Krieger witness two classic portrayals of “gray” aliens walk in. They freak out and take off after the aliens. And as Cyril points out that might not be a good thing if they are supposed to be Archer’s captives.
Archer tracking the destruction Pam leaves in her wake as though she is a wild animal is undoubtedly pretty funny. And it’s the second time in as many weeks that Pam’s beast-like qualities have been highlighted. Similarly satisfying is Archer’s realization that the Lieutenant Colonel he met upon landing isn’t actually named “Lieutenant Colonel.” He is then forced to beat up the paper-soft Air Force guards. Archer is always an amazing martial artist when the plot calls for it but the show randomly denigrating one branch of the Armed Forces as particularly soft is particularly funny.
By the time Archer actually catches up with Krieger and Pam, they are quivering, crying messes. The aliens knew their names (helpful reminder that Kreiger’s name is “Algernop”) and share with them the secrets of the universe. It’s quite anti-climactic and not even creatively so. As a viewer, I want to be let in on the secrets of the universe, even if they are deliberately anti-climactic.
- The Mallory and Lana B-plot in “Nellis” is shockingly bad. So bad it couldn’t even make it into the main portion of the episode review for an already thin episode. Baby Abba Jean has a weird name and a Polish nanny. That’s about it.
- Archer not knowing what hush puppies are is arguably the most monstrous thing he’s done.
- Save for making fun of Ray’s teacup pig.
- I don’t recall an episode this season in which Cheryl had a full grasp of where she was geographically. Last week was “What is this, Soviet Russia? No really…is this Soviet Russia?” And this week she asks Ray if they’re in Myrtle Beach. I like how Judy Greer seems to be dialing up the panic ever so slightly each week. I also wouldn’t be surprised if we have an entire episode dealing with Cheryl’s dementia.