Foreshadowing is when characters, actions or events (no matter how significant or insignificant they may seem) make aware, pre-warn or prepare the viewer for the upcoming events of the episode, or a whole season. This narrative device is used often as it helps create a sense of expectation; knowing that something is likely to occur but not when helps to establish the desire to get involved with the story and follow it through. Sometimes a character will suggest something that seems outrageous or contradictory only for it to occur later on in the episode.
Other times, a seemingly insignificant action might portend to much greater significance down the line. The more incongruity a foreshadowing event/action appears to have in relation to the event/action foreshadowed, the greater the misdirection and audience surprise at the events coming to pass. For example, if an insignificant event foreshadows a significant event. If a significant event foreshadows an insignificant event, the outcome may be disappointing, unless this is a skillful misdirection to some other event or action not alluded to.
eg. In White Elephant (s5e1) the elephant in the room refers to a massive stash of cocaine hidden in the wall behind Malory's office. Archer imagines life as a drug dealer, thus showing highlights for the rest of the season, before he whispers the seasons name "Archer Vice". The stock-piled cocaine imagery in this scene is a also a foreshadowing of later scenes in Tunt Manor where the coke is stored in a similar hidden compartment as it is sold, lost and otherwise consumed.
Rule of 3Edit
This is a comedic device in which a person, thing or situation is referred to 3 times for increasing effect, with the greatest impact felt on the 3rd occurrence. Stand-up comedians use 3's when doing lists - or for peppering punchlines throughout a set - just as people use it every day when describing or insulting things. It is a human universal buried in the subconscious and, just as "this, that, the other", "beginning, middle, end" or "Father, Son, Holy Ghost" are, it is relatable. Subject to the law of diminishing returns, any more than 3 and the gag seems labored; any less and it doesn't work (one appearance is just that); 3 establishes the pattern without over-doing it. With lists, the spacing is tight, but otherwise the spacing has to be close enough that the connection can be recalled as it is the connection between occurrences which provides the sought after extra punch. So for example, a joke established at the beginning, referenced in the middle and then concluded at the end would be the ideal implementation of the rule. (Such jokes necessarily involves 2 callbacks - see below - for this rule to work). There are numerous instances throughout Archer (as well as other shows) where this technique is utilised; too numerous to mention, but here is an example:
In the first episode, Mole Hunt (s1e1), demonstrating his familiarity with the rule and desire to play with its timing and incorporate it with other techniques, Adam Reed uses the rule at least twice: once when establishing the joke about ants and again when establishing a joke about misdirection. (For a detailed deconstruction see here). Reed incorporates callbacks (necessarily) to build the misdirection gag and then throws a dick joke in as way to build a cheap laugh into his grander, more expensive comedic scheme.
The early introduction of the use of this rule gives viewers an insight into the working of Reed's comedic mind and clues to unlocking more complex jokes later down the line.
The show makes many references back to things that have occurred both within an episode and between previous episodes and seasons. This brings a sense of continuity to the show in contrast to other shows which sometimes tend to forget or disregard the importance of things which happened in the past. Though some animated comedy shows use callbacks occasionally, Archer uses them much more frequently. It is also a comedic device employed by stand-up comics which is necessary to build time-delayed jokes based on the 'rule of 3'. The technique creates a sense of familiarity or recognition of an earlier theme or allusion (which may seem irrelevant or out of place at first) which can help increase the laugh when the theme is called back to later with renewed or altered context. In jazz music a similar idea is a known as recapitulation, where an earlier theme is recalled after a period of improvisation.
The practice is established within the very first episode of Archer (with callbacks to 'ants' and 'misdirection') and is later utilised between episodes to evoke recognition, in-jokes and lay the foundations for the shows many running gags (see below).
- A singular reference to a joke or occurrence in an earlier episode/season is a callback. eg. in The Figgis Agency (s7e1), Archer tells Pam "I will sew you into a canvas bag filled with rats and throw that bag into the river". This threat is a callback to a similar threat made by Queen Yasmin in Pocket Listing (s6e9).
- Another example of a between-seasons callback is when Conway Stern admits to Lana that he was lying when he said, in response to Lana's 'whatever your name is' remark, that Conway Stern wasn't his real name, as he loses his right hand before falling from the window (this time with a parachute). This scene mirrors and is a callback to Diversity Hire (s1e3), where Conway loses his left hand, denies his name is real and is airlifted away.
- Any joke which is called back to has the potential to become a running gag if it is reinforced multiple times and it's momentum is allowed to build across episodes. This doesn't always happen and so singular instances are simply callbacks. eg. the bag threat is not reused so it does not become a running gag.
A gag which is frequently called back to across episodes and seasons is called a 'running gag'. A classic example is that, whether it's the ISIS mainframe in Mole Hunt (s1e1) or a Swiss Bank account in season 3, the password is always 'guest'. By establishing this punchline in the opening episode, it became a logical joke to call back to and thus, due to the frequency with which it is called back, it became one of the shows first running gags. It's possible to say the joke is lazy, or that it satirises the laziness of human nature. Either will do: pick one. ("Either will do", "Pick one" and "Can't or won't?" are all examples of running gags, as is the 'ants' gag, see here).
- In the above example of a callback involving Conway Stern whereby the scene in Three to Tango (s6e2) mirrors the scene from Diversity Hire (s1e3), the running gag of Lana's big hands is woven into both scenes and illustrates the difference quite clearly.
- When Ray hits Le Chuffre with Malory's purse in Jeu Monegasque (s2e11), he suggests that Malory carries buckles inside them. This is a callback to Mole Hunt (s1e1) in which Malory hits Archer with the purse and Archer asks the same question. As this joke becomes established and utilised more ver time, it becomes a running gag.
- Use (and abuse) of "phrasing" in relation to a perceived innuendo or double entendre is one of the show's most famous running gags. It is also "classic Archer".
- An attempt to catalogue all the main running gags can be found here.
Many times scenes are connected by disparate lines of dialogue in what is known variously as a "smash cut" or a "quick cut". A character might be finishing a line of dialogue, only for a cut to the next scene to occur before the dialogue is complete. This allows the character in the next scene to often finish the previous line of dialogue. Occasionally, the next line is accurate and sometimes it is done just for laughs, by subverting an expectation or inverting a meaning. These types of jokes formed in the spaces between scenes, rather than within them, are technically 'interstitial', which is a woefully esoteric term referring to 'the spaces in between boundaries'.
eg. In El Secuestro (s2e10), Malory and Lana wonder whether Cheryl has been kidnapped. They almost rule it out because the blast doors should be down. However, they realize Archer and Ray had to open them in order to leave the garage. Malory says, "They aren't dumb enough to leave the door wide open. Are they?" Smash cut to the next scene where Archer yells, "Yes!" at Ray in an argument to get Ray to take off his turtleneck.
- The longest sustained sequence using this technique involves an impressive 36 cuts (and many callbacks) and appears in the "Interrogation Scene" in White Elephant (s5e1).
Meta-Humor: Implied vs IntendedEdit
The humor in Archer operates on many levels, roughly corresponding with the unconscious/conscious dichotomy: namely the level of implied (indirect innuendos and ambiguous phrasing etc) and intended (direct, blunt and coarse language etc). Arguably, the implied variety is the more difficult to pull off (phrasing, boom!) but has higher cerebral pay-off; the intended can range from a simple pun or word play meant to playfully poke fun at someone, to a more direct cuss or dick joke and is moderately easier to achieve. (eg. 'Dick Van Head' is a playful conflation of dickhead with a reference to TV actor Dick Van Dyke, whereas dicknuts! is a more direct cuss).
Humor may be argued to be subjective, but it is better to say it is intersubjective: we don't all walk around with our own sense of humor and finding only our own thoughts amusing: we share deeply in the linguistic capacity to laugh at the arrangement, combination and interplay of serious and/or silly words and/or ideas. As such, there are definite ways and means to elicit a laugh. Adam Reed is unafraid to play with combinations of techniques in his pursuit of ever more smutty fun-filled frolics (phrasing?).
eg. The 'phrasing' gag is used on many occasions to highlight the occurrence of an innuendo. It as deployed mainly by Archer but other characters use it as well. This is a direct way of making reference to an indirect source of humor. 'Phrasing' draws attention to something that was just said and, without explicitly saying it, allows the audience to get 'in' on the joke. On many occasions, long after the 'phrasing' gag was dropped (by Reed) Archer asks: "are we still doing phrasing?" thus alluding to the fact that it used to be a thing. This has the complex effect of humanizing Archer by imbuing his character with a memory which creates a bond ('in joke') with the audience thus allowing his which has the character to 'break the fourth wall' (another frequent technique explored below) in subtle ways. There is no doubt that watching those later episodes without the prior context of when phrasing was a thing would be confusing to the uninitiated.
Turning it up to 11, even his use of "seriously, why aren't we doing phrasing?" alludes to the filthiness of the phrase which made him think of it: Archer can hardly contain himself at the crudeness of the thought which has occurred to him. This the effect of directing the audience to the smutty reference he has just perceived and implanting the notion in their mind. This is indirect, implied innuendo at it's finest; a perfect callback and meta-joke (making fun of making fun) at the same time, and one which seemingly has Archer begging for it to be brought back.
Crude, Lewd and NudeEdit
Archer is an adult show for adult audiences with adult themes. As such, it is filled with dick, pussy, ass, breast (and more) jokes with humor often related to bodily as well as sexual (dys)function and numerous perversions. It plays with adult themes out in the open (explicit) and tucked away (implied) and that is the fun of the show. The jokes aren't one-dimensional or predictable and the writer(s) constantly play with their own as well as their audiences boundaries and expectations; knowing where the line is and how to playfully cross it is part of the art form, and the show is judged on how well they are able to achieve their goal: generating laughs whilst making fun out of our bodies, both physical and cultural.
Sarcasm, Irony or Satire?Edit
All three comedic approaches are used to elicit a laugh, either in combination or in isolation.
Sarcasm is ubiquitous, but Malory uses it the most. People have trouble telling when she is serious which is a major drawback of saying the opposite of what you mean all the time (living in a verbal 'opposite world' so to speak). This extreme sarcasm is made apparent in Three to Tango (s6e2), when Cheryl literally cuts open the sofa cushions whilst looking for AJ presumably because Malory had sarcastically implied that the baby was in the cushions. Another classic extreme moment of sarcasm is in A Going Concern (s2e2):
- Malory: "Sterling?! Len?! Either, and, or, both?! Where the hell are you?! Len?!
- Barry: "Yeah, do you know where he is?"
- Malory: "Yes, I'm just screaming his name down the hall to celebrate that fact"
- Barry: "Is that some kind of a joke?"
- Malory: "Is that?" [alluding to his genitals; he is naked]
Irony (or Satire?)Edit
In Archer Vice: Southbound and Down (s5e5) there is a meta-joke which attempts to explain the difference between irony and satire. The joke manages to highlight people's confusion of irony with misfortune (think Alanis Morisette) and the fact that (apparently) no-one really knows what satire is, all the while satirising the 'war on drugs' and parodying coke-fuelled TV shows at the same time! Now that's some meta-ironic-satire for ya!
- [getting shot at by police]
- Archer: Goddammit!
- Pam: And here you are without your gun, that's pretty ironic huh?
- Archer: No Pam, once again you are confusing the word 'ironic' with 'you are an idiot'. What's ironic is that every other store we drive past is a gun shop!
- Pam: Ow, ok… so what's satire?
- Archer: No-one really knows…hang on! [the irony is, Archer is satire, especially 'Vice'... quite a bit of the time]
The observation that "no-one really knows what satire is" in Archer's universe is equally as true in the audience's. Satire normally involves mocking the failures of elites/politicians for events and circumstances which fall within their responsibility but which they - being as flawed and irresponsible as everyone else - routinely mismanage or deal with in a corrupt manner. At it's best it exposes the hypocrisies, disparities, double standards, and sheer insanity of humanity. The social convention which points this out for a laugh and doesn't provide solutions is satire, which Archer does a lot of. It's not to say that satire is pointless, far from it: it is only through realising that problems exist in society that a solution can be found. Plus the laughter is cathartic.
Tone is frequently deployed to distinguish between sarcastic and ironic utterances, and is deliberately used to create ambiguity. Krieger, Pam and Ray are particularly fond of "I mean..." and "You know..." with raised inflections that imply some variation of statements such as "the answer you are looking for is yes, but no", "I know I shouldn't think X but I do in fact think X", "do you really want me to answer that?" or the "I won't dignify that with a response" response. All characters say "right?!" as a question/statement with raised inflection on a frequent basis.
Use of Figuratively vs LiterallyEdit
At a certain point in the show (exact location to be inserted) the characters start addressing the figurative/literal dichotomy, with each trying variously to ensure correct usage. (It was alluded to in Diversity Hire (s1e3) but not made explicit until later episodes). This was a possible reaction to the culture of the time, or zeitgeist, whereby people started literally saying literally all the time even when they literally meant figuratively, such as, "Archer is so funny, I am literally dying of laughter." This is obviously as annoying as it is grammatically inaccurate, so Reed had a lot of fun playing with the dichotomy and finding situations where the usage and the action come into tension with each other.
eg. In Three_to_Tango (s3e2), Archer is still trying to come to terms with the fact that, in their first encounter, Conway Stern had both literally and figuratively stabbed him in the back. ('Stabbing in the back' is a figure of speech meaning 'a betrayal', as traitors sometimes literally stab people in the back.) In this callback-rich episode, however, Conway literally shoots Archer in the back - but since it is still a betrayal, he manages to figuratively stab him in the back too.
- Playing with the idea that a person can be literally shot and figuratively stabbed in the back at the same time is an example of top-tier writing, demonstrating Reed's writing prowess.
The micro-politics of office spaces (something Archer directly satirises) combined with the viral power of the internet (which only borderline exists in the Archer Universe) are ways in which such annoying linguistic behaviors can be transmitted, and the writers of Archer (and other TV shows) have found ways to lampoon them.
"Read a book"Edit
Archer may seem an unlikely literary fellow, but he does have the drop on obscure references and is always urging people to 'read a book'. This literal appeal to the literary ideal seems to be an expression of Reed's own enthusiasm for the word - written, spoken and implied. A highly literate writer, Reed explores the interstices between book (high) and pop (low) culture, forging connections spanning the last century of film, TV, comics, comedy and millennia of books and stories. Once located he deftly combines and serves them up as cocktails in episodic form. It is not a massive leap to suggest that Reed expects his audience to be well read. If they are not and find themselves wanting in the wit department, well they can always do as Archer suggests, and "read a book". Literally. And if they are...
Breaking the Fourth WallEdit
The fourth wall refers to a modern performance convention whereby the audience is separated from the performance by an invisible fourth 'wall' (the other three walls are the sides and the back of the theatre, thus adding up to 'box'). The audience can see through the fourth wall to observe the performance but, ordinarily, the performers can't 'see' the audience as they are not part of the action. When the performers interact with the audience, or when a character turns to address a particular point to the crowd, they are said to have 'broken the fourth wall'. This creates a sense of intimacy - a shared moment - with the character, or a sense that they are self-aware. This device is used many times throughout the show with characters seen turning their head slightly towards the viewer in order to deliver a line. A unique example is in Sea Tunt: Part I (s4e12), wherein Cheryl seems to hear the show's dramatic music, which is intended solely for the audience and not the characters.
eg. From Dial M For Mother (s1e10):
- Malory: "What is wrong with you?"
- Archer: "My head hurts... and I have no father."
- Malory: "Sterling, of course you have a father. Just maybe...
- [Malory pauses then turns to viewer and raises eye brows on 'wanted']
- ...not the one you wanted."
- ↑ Trinity
- ↑ Running gags are so numerous and such an integral part of Archer that they justify having their own page - running gags). Some of the running gags are so iconic that they are worthy of their own page, such as the classic phrasing.