By Jim Sabataso
Adam Reed is not one to rest on his laurels. Most showrunners, at eight seasons into a successful and beloved series, would be content to repeat the winning formula until the returns diminished entirely. Not so with Reed. The creator of the FX animated comedy “Archer” has fought off mid-series doldrums and his own creative boredom by aggressively meddling with the core concept of the series.
What started out as an animated workplace comedy at a spy agency is now barely recognizable. Starting in season five, “Archer” abandoned that concept, putting the gang on the other side of the law as the world’s least competent drug cartel. One season and some very convoluted plot twists later, they found themselves as equally inept CIA contractors. By season seven, the gang was in Los Angeles running a private detective agency and solving crimes for Hollywood starlets.
Along the way, Reed, who serves as the show’s primary writer with the occasional assist, has kept things fresh while never compromising the show’s unique voice — or the voice of its fantastic cast of characters.
Last season’s cliffhanger, which ended with a gut-shot Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) floating facedown in a pool à la “Sunset Boulevard,” seemed like it could go in a number of directions. My money was on Robo-Archer, given Archer’s fear of robots and the show’s proclivity for resurrecting characters as cyborgs.
However, the early promotional clips depicting characters in a 1940s Hollywood noir setting, combined with the season’s subtitle of “Dreamland,” suggested this season might be a dream or fantasy taking place in the head of a dying Archer. And that’s more or less what it is.
Season eight, which premiered April 5, quickly reveals that Archer has survived, but is now hospitalized in a coma. From there, we step inside Archer’s mind, where he is indeed in the midst of a noir-tinged dream.
Here Archer is a private detective, whose partner Woodhouse has just been killed. (RIP, George Coe, the voice of Archer’s butler Woodhouse, who passed away during season seven.) In rampage mode, Archer is determined to avenge Woodhouse’s death, which leads him into the heart of L.A.’s seedy world of organized crime — a world populated by familiar faces.
Chris Parnell’s Cyril appears as a dirty cop with a grudge against Archer. Pam (Amber Nash) plays Cyril’s partner, a good cop, who very quickly gets caught up in Archer’s story. This is good news because Archer-Pam is one of the show’s best character pairings.
The film noir style is a perfect fit for a show like “Archer,” which prizes witty repartee, snappy dialogue, and a good trope. A conversation between Archer and his mother Mallory (Jessica Walter), who here plays a club owner and crime boss named Mother, is a gleeful display of noir wordplay and double entendres that becomes so dense it collapses on itself.
The Dreamland club is also where we find Krieger (Lucky Yates), Ray (Adam Reed), and Lana (Aisha Tyler), who play a bartender, jazz musician, and chanteuse respectively.
By episode’s end, the entire core group is entirely in place when Cheryl/Carol (Judy Greer) arrives in Archer’s office to fill the requisite role of femme fatale.
At just one episode in, it’s impossible to tell where this season will go. Admittedly, the premiere is somewhat light on the jokes by “Archer” standards, as it works to establish the new status quo. I’m a sucker for a good noir story so I’m more than game to see where this all goes, especially given this outstanding cast of voice actors and Reed’s strong writing.
The strength of “Archer” has always been in its characters and how they interact. The context doesn’t matter; just put these people in a room and set them spinning.
In some ways, “Archer” has evolved into a anthology series that uses the same actors in new roles. “Dreamland” is obviously the most deliberate execution of this, since it abandons previous continuity altogether.
And while Reed absolutely stretches the limits of “Archer” this season, he does so in a way that totally works. Yes, it’s all a dream and the stakes don’t matter, but who cares? Compared to Reed’s previous reboots, “Dreamland” looks like it could be the best yet.
CHECK IT OUT
“Archer” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FXX.