Reviews — From the March 2013 issue

Rake’s Progress

Adult animation grows up with Archer

Discussed in this essay:

Archer. FX. Thursdays 10:00 p.m. EST.

The Simpson family is hightailing it away from a murderously intentioned Sideshow Bob. Having attached himself to the underside of their car, Bob endures speed bumps, scalding coffee, and an unexpected detour (“Hey kids,” says Homer, “want to drive through that cactus patch?”). The Simpsons make it to the idyllic haven of Terror Lake and walk off to their new houseboat home; now a bruised Bob crawls out from beneath the vehicle, pulls himself upright, takes a step, and — a pole pops up and smacks him between the eyes: he’s stepped on a rake. Bob, as much in long-suffering pique as in pain, emits a low grumble. He turns around and is promptly smacked in the face by another rake. A wide shot from above reveals Sideshow Bob surrounded by thirteen scattered rakes. He steps on another, takes the hit, grumbling: “Mmrreurrrgrh.” Three paces straight ahead and Bob steps on another, “Mmrreurrrgrh.” A bit of Seventies porno editing: the first rake smack plays again, as if it’s a new rake, for the sequence’s fifth smack, the whole loop getting under way in repeat. A solid thirty seconds after Bob emerges from under that car, we cut at last to Marge and Homer inside the houseboat. Audible is the distant impact of the ninth rake.

“The reason there are so many,” explains producer Al Jean on the DVD commentary track for Season 5,

was . . . the show was short. I was editing . . . and I said, “How can it still be twenty freaking seconds short?” So I said, you know, “Add a couple more rakes hitting him.” That was a little longer, but it wasn’t long enough. So Sam [Simon, one of the show runners] had said, “You know, when something’s funny, and then you do it so much it’s not funny, if you keep doing it, it might get really funny.” So we just said, “Let’s just go for broke and put in as many as we possibly can.”

There were, to be sure, precedents: the beans-around-the-campfire scene in Blazing Saddles, or Monty Python’s Lancelot endlessly charging toward Swamp Castle. Still, when the Rake Scene appeared on October 7, 1993, televised comedies weren’t doing humor where the degree of repetition, the overlong extension of the joke, was the joke. That scene, though cobbled together as filler, instantly became one of the most memorable moments of what is now the longest-running sitcom on television. Moreover, it tapped into a current: something was afoot on Bob’s giant floppy clown feet. That same something has lately completed a strange journey, now shod in the fine black cordovan loafers of a superspy named Sterling Malory Archer.

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is the author of the novel Beautiful Children, which won the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His article “For Love or Money” appeared in the June 2011 issue.

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