This Archer review contains spoilers
Archer Season 8 Episode 3
“Jane Doe” is a perfect episode of Archer.
It all comes down to escalation. From the moment that Pam and Cyril haul Archer and Charlotte to jail all the way through Mallory’s call to the Van Der Tunts each scene feeds into the next and each joke builds upon the previous, creating an increasingly glowing ball of comedic energy.
Also, Ray’s fake I.D. pseudonym is Phil McCracken. Just in case you were worried that this is a dry college thesis on comedy.
That’s the struggle in writing about good comedy. Explaining why something is funny benefits virtually no one. It’s a visceral interaction with art. There’s no other way to explain why this is such a great episode of Archer other than to watch it and laugh.
But here goes.
Remember the recurring joke about Charlotte Van Der Tunt’s incestuous family? How incestuous? Ehhh 4? That’s what opens “Jane Doe” a strong start if there ever was any. Pam and Cyril aren’t moved by Charlotte’s sob story, however, and throw Archer and Charlotte into prison, with Charlotte being entered in as a Jane Doe.
Archer, brilliant dick that he is, immediately recognizes this as a set up to blackmail. If Charlotte’s parents don’t know where she is, Len Trexler can use her as collateral in blackmail, reimbursing him the money he lost when Archer and Pam rescued his Chinese prostitutes. Oh and the aforementioned prostitutes? Don’t worry about them. They’re living their best life with Pam, knitting sweaters.*
*I know the trope of requesting spinoffs from shows we like is starting to become a little tired but I sincerely, 100%, no bullshit need a spinoff of 1940s cop Pam living in a house with about a dozen rescued Chinese sex workers.
Once in prison, Archer forms an alliance with the jazz band from Dreamland, who are in prison thanks to Ray’s overzealous enthusiasm for marijuana. Archer punches Ray in the stomach, forcing him to vomit and the pie-eating guard to come get knocked out and the race to rescue Charlotte “Jane Doe” Van Der Tunt and retrieve and destroy the arrest records of the band is afoot.
Archer, Ray and company’s efforts to break out of prison represent the superbly high level of physical and verbal comedy Archer is capable of when it’s at its absolute best. Not to delve back into my college comedy thesis too much but the prison break in “Jane Doe” masterfully understands that escalation is comedy’s best friend when it comes to both situation and character.
The situations in “Jane Doe” consistently escalate. Each new moment builds on the previous. Archer is adamant that he is to wear the concussed cop’s uniform and lead the bandmates around. Unfortunately, the overweight cop’s uniform is far too large and one of the band members gets to wear it. Archer announces that he gets to wear the next one. No sooner after he does, the group encounters a tall, skinny cop and Archer mutters “Damn it.” We cut to the tall, lanky band member wearing that outfit.
This kind of physical comedy seems so simple on paper. Shows just have to remember funny things they did previously and then repeat them in a slightly different way. Still few shows are as consistent and as creative as Archer is. And “Jane Doe” offers a helpful assist to the traditional Archer comedic method by giving its characters clear missions.
Archer just needs to get he and Charlotte out of jail so he can continue his mission of finding Woodhouse’s killer. Ray and the band need to get out but also find and destroy their arrest record so the cops don’t know about their prior experiences with the law and ganja. As for Charlotte? Charlotte just wants to enjoy the whole experience.
Charlotte is beyond the MVP of “Jane Doe.” When Archer comes to rescue her, she is just screaming.
“How many years have I been in here?” she cries.
“Like 30 minutes,” Archer says.
Then instead of experiencing horror over her wild misunderstanding of space and time, Charlotte is just happy to meet her “first Negroes.”
Charlotte (and the Cheryl that precedes her) is a fantastic character because she’s just so earnest. She has a lot of strange desires (mostly violently sexual) and just wants to experience them as openly and eagerly as possible. It’s obviously funny that Charlotte is just a trademark crazy person. But for an audience it’s also just plain fun to experience the world along her. In a way, the audience’s reactions to events most closely resemble those of Charlotte (hopefully without the being choked to death fetish).
In the episode’s stand-out moment – the hilariously bloody aftermath of a fight between Pam and five able-bodied men including two WWII veterans – Charlotte’s excitement must match that of the viewer. Granted, Charlotte’s excitement seems to be entirely sexual but still it’s nice to have someone onscreen just how amazing what we’re looking at is.
“I’m gonna want a rematch,” Pam says.
“Me too,” Charlotte gasps as she feels herself up.
“Jane Doe” could have fared just fine without a B-plot but it is nice to have something to cut to in-between all the jailbreak action. And thankfully, Lana Kane is as up to the task of maintaining a worthwhile sideplot as she is hopelessly useless at stand-up comedy. Though I would kill to see Aisha Tyler just do an entire set of syphilis-related humor.
Ultimately the best part about “Jane Doe” is what it represents for the future. When Archer, Charlotte and the band are out and safely back at Dreamland*, Mother realizes that now that she has Charlotte, she’s in position to do some blackmailing of her own.
*No thanks to the bandmember voiced by Keegan Michael Key who mistakenly assumes his excuse that he’s bringing the prisoners for treatment and counseling will go over well.
“Jane Doe” does logical and satisfying comedic escalation so well. Thankfully in its closing moments it reveals that the whole Dreamland season, itself, might be just as committed to that comic escalation.