Science & Technology Editor
The past few years have been kind to the FX Network, whose successful programming lineup has included the likes of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “The League,” “Wilfred,” and “Louie.” However, one of the most talked about series on the network has been “Archer,” the animated spy comedy created and produced by Adam Reed, who Adult Swim fans might remember from shows like “Sealab 2021” and “Frisky Dingo.”
“Archer” has gained fame and a good deal of critical acclaim over its first four seasons, with praise directed toward its blend of irreverent humor and some insightful dramatic storytelling, which serves to satirize suave secret agents in media (these people all seem to be borderline alcoholics with interpersonal issues, don’t they?). After season four came to a close, Reed promised a new, unexpected direction for the series in season five. On Jan. 13, the first episode of the season aired, and Reed unveiled his new direction.
Fair warning: spoilers for the episode follow.
The season opens with an attack on ISIS, the spy agency where Archer and his colleagues work under the not-so watchful and frequently inebriated eyes of Mallory, Archer’s mother. The group is horrified to find that their assailants are none other than the FBI, who take the ISIS staff under arrest. Turns out, Mallory was never given permission to conduct espionage missions by the U.S. government. In order to bail everyone out, she agrees to dissolve ISIS, relinquishing the show’s central setting.
However, while having one last drink at the office, they come to a realization: their drug problems have resulted in a literal, not figurative, ton of cocaine being stashed in the office over the years. With their livelihood about to be swept out from under them, they make a decision to adopt a life of crime and sell the drugs. After a raucous montage that previews the season to follow, the next chapter of the saga, “Archer Vice,” begins.
Aside from kicking off a fresh and pretty brilliant direction for the series, the season premiere showed that the “Archer” fans have come to know and love is not only intact, but better than ever. The show has had plenty of dramatic subplots here and there, but the comedy has always stayed intact and remained as a driving force. The first episode of season five begins about as dramatically as possible, but seconds later, we’re right back to Archer bickering about television references with love interest Lana while in the middle of a gunfight. All of the classic jokes are represented, including HR director Pam’s gross mannerisms, a resolution to whether the office secretary is named Cheryl or Carol (a series-long debate), and another gunshot wound for the series’ equivalent of a “Star Trek” red shirt, Brett. It’s a good thing the jokes are plentiful, as the plot was willing to get quite dark. An especially poignant moment between Archer and newly pregnant Lana should stand out to most.
Overall, the season premiered featured plenty of witty dialogue, some surprising new scenarios, and a dynamic tone—all of which viewers have come to expect from the series. However, there was something intangible about the episode, something that made it truly great. There was a distinctive feeling that everyone really showed up to play for this new vision of the series. It started with a bang and ended with an even bigger one, and you could just tell how excited the cast and crew were to reveal their new direction.
“Archer Vice” does what many shows fail to, finding ways to keep the story fresh and interesting while staying true to and building on its characters. This new imagining of the series feels completely natural somehow, and it gives a sense that the series has the wherewithal and vision to truly grow and become something bigger than a silly spy comedy. There are bright days ahead for “Archer,” and you rarely see that in a show that’s entering its fifth year.
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