It’s tough to see an episode like “Viscous Coupling” return to the mundane after the previous two unrestrained bouts of weird and wacky glee. Gone is the cult of transvestite truckers, the gypsy’s curse or Ray’s robot legs (although technically that last one does factor into this episode), as this week essentially boils down to “everyone but Archer has a date, so he tries extra-hard to get one.” It’s not exactly thrilling stuff. Even with a hearty dose of mechanically-upgraded super spies, the story still smacks of being filler material, used solely as a launching platform for more gags. Cyborg characters are a long-accepted part of the Archer universe, so bringing them back doesn’t have the same punch it used to.
The plot also veers a bit towards predictability- once it’s been established that Archer’s pretending to help Barry back to Earth, it’s a sure thing the episode will end with Barry on his way home for real. It’s a nice boost to the serialization that Archer‘s been playing up this season (as is the reveal of Katya as the head of the KGB), but even so, that last-minute reveal almost gives the impression that the rest of the episode was just killing time to get to a new twist.
So there’s a lot to criticize about “Viscous Coupling,” yet even with those black marks it remains a brutally funny piece of television and a perfect demonstration of Archer‘s fluency with the running gag. Like any other episode of Archer, there are about a billion callbacks to previous episodes and previously established jokes, yet “Viscous Coupling” ups the ante by giving each gag a subtle twist. Cheryl goes on a date with a firefighter, and afterwards spends the rest of the half-hour with bruises on her neck. Archer erases his answering machine entirely. Mr. Ford shows up for about half a second without the chance to say anything at all. The story might take the easy route, but Adam Reed is still testing his creative boundaries with the funny stuff.
This week alone sees the birth of quite a few new running jokes- whether or not they’ll see any use outside of “Viscous Coupling” remains to be seen, but the amount of new material developed in one half-hour is impressive nonetheless. There’s even variety among the new gags, as some are audio/visual motifs (the drumbeat that plays as Archer races back and forth between ISIS and Katya’s place), while others are based on quick back-and-forth wordplay (opposite day) or being as filthy as possible (The Fisherman’s Wife). “Viscous Coupling,” despite its faults, is easily in the running for the funniest episode so far this season (in my own opinion, beaten out only by “Legs”).
In the end, there isn’t a whole lot to say about “Viscous Coupling” that hasn’t already been said before. It’s successful despite staying well within Archer‘s comfort zone, with consistent laughs, a nice bump in serialization, and a story that isn’t particularly memorable in the slightest. And while it’s screamingly funny, it may not be remembered as fondly as other episodes, solely because everything worth remembering here are things Archer fans have already seen plenty of.