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'Skytanic' Was the First Truly Great Archer Episode

This Season 1 episode perfectly blended the show's James Bond parody with its grander, more vulgar ambitions.
  • Archer's "Skytanic" (photo: FX)
    Archer's "Skytanic" (photo: FX)

    With the premiere of its 14th season on August 30, Archer is back for one final round of spycraft and delightful vulgarity. Over the years, Archer’s characters have evolved along with its format, with various seasons set amid the Miami drug trade, 1940s noir Los Angeles, and in outer space. But before the show could transcend its spy-comedy roots, it had to establish them, which it did with confident quickness throughout its first season. One episode in particular managed to lock in the tone, scope, and character beats of what Archer would be for the next decade and a half, and that was "Skytanic."

    As its title implies, "Skytanic" is the episode in which Archer, Lana, Mallory and the whole ISIS gang (ah, the days before geopolitical horror forced the show to change its spy agency's moniker) board a commercial blimp flight in order to foil a bomb plot. Archer's first season quickly established the dynamics between its major characters: arrogant idiot Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin), his forever disapproving mother/boss Mallory (Jessica Walter, whose 2021 death was a major blow to the show), and his ex-girlfriend and spy partner Lana (Aisha Tyler). With those dynamics in place, "Skytanic" lets the team flourish on a field trip episode that gets everyone involved in one way or another and finally introduces one of the show's major characters in hilariously memorable fashion.

    Archer is the creation of Adam Reed, who had previously co-created the animated series SeaLab 2021 and Frisky Dingo for Adult Swim. Both those series were aggressively on-point parodies of '70s children's animated series and superhero fiction, respectively, with Frisky Dingo proving to be especially nimble in morphing into other hyper-specific parodies, whether it was Big Trouble in Little China or political documentaries. Archer followed that same path with its James Bond parody. "Skytanic" quite obviously takes its inspiration from the 1985 Bond film A View to a Kill, with its blimp-flying villain. Even if you didn't know that specific film, you probably assumed that James Bond fought a villain aboard a blimp at least once in his long career in spycraft.

    Archer's brand of Bond parody was loose like that, which freed the show up from having to follow full Bond plot arcs and tumble down its own rabbit holes of ongoing gags and increasingly extreme character choices. Recurring jokes like Archer screeching "Danger Zone!" and everyone making a crack about Lana's oversized hands show up in "Skytanic" with the confidence of a show that's many seasons into its run. And then there are the tangents contained within the episode itself, like Archer obtusely ranting about the combustibility of the blimp despite repeatedly being reminded that it's filled with non-flammable helium. Or the multiple corrections that it's a "rigid airship," actually.

    Where "Skytanic" really lays its claim to being the first truly great Archer episode, though, is in the wider character map. Archer and Lana are the only two characters working the blimp mission, and Mallory finagled her way into first-class accommodations as part of her plan to get one over on hated co-op board rival Trudy Beekman, but the rest of the ISIS team manages to sneak aboard as well. Cyril (Chris Parnell) is there in his capacity as all-purpose cuck to Lana, always happening upon her at the worst possible times, whether she's bragging about the smoothness of her vulva or seducing a possible bomber suspect. This sends Cyril careening back to his regrettable one-time sex partner Cheryl (Judy Greer), whose proclivities towards rough sex seem to ramp up by the minute. Pam (Amber Nash), who up to this point has been mostly an awkward HR representative, further exhibits her boundary-less nature ("dropping a deuce" with the door open) and tendency to not know her own strength (accidentally killing Cheryl in the tub).

    And then there's Ray Gillette (voiced by Reed himself), who makes his Archer debut in this episode, working with Lana and Archer over the phone to defuse a bomb. The sassy Southern gay stereotype that Ray embodies is buttressed by his hyper-competence and absolute lack of patience for Archer's nonsense. Within just a few short scenes, Ray embedded himself into the show's comedic landscape, and he unsurprisingly became a regular character shortly thereafter.

    With one exception (mad scientist Krieger isn't in this episode, though he always functioned best as an outsider), "Skytanic" locks in the Archer team as a dysfunctional, highly volatile unit that works best — comedically, at least — when everyone is tumbling on top of each other in an intertwined storyline. With that dynamic in place, the show is free to let loose with boundary-pushing humor (the show gets a lot of mileage out of Cheryl wanting to get choked to death during sex) and note-perfect references ("Nice read, Velma" is hands down the biggest laugh in the episode). This is the episode that set the show on course for 14 seasons of creative, hilarious, sex-and-violence-infused animated comedy. With the final season underway, there's no better time than now to revisit that rigid airship.

    New episodes of Archer air Wednesdays at 10:00 PM ET on FXX and stream next-day on Hulu. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Archer, Adam Reed, Aisha Tyler, Chris Parnell_(Actor), H. Jon Benjamin, Jessica Walter, Judy Greer