In season five, “Archer” veered away from its tried and true formula of portraying the exploits of a bumbling spy agency made up of mad scientists, chronic alcoholics and sex maniacs, shutting down the agency in the pilot episode. Upon discovering a massive stash of cocaine hidden within their headquarters, the characters became inept drug dealers for the majority of last season, even leading to the show’s rebranding as “Archer Vice.”
At first, it was encouraging to see the show’s creators trying radical new ideas. But ultimately, episodes became unfunny. Thus, season six premieres with a new premise: the old one. Rehired by the government as a legitimate spy agency, the cast returns to their old headquarters, “remodeled” to look exactly as the building did in past seasons. The question is: will going back to basics help the show regain its humor?
For now, at least, it seems it can. This season’s premiere, “The Holdout,” features Sterling hiding from his newly established responsibilities as a father — while encountering a Japanese holdout from World War II on an island in the Pacific.
This first episode is classic “Archer.” Sterling is unable to emotionally cope with his environment, so he runs away. He is shown the error of his ways when he meets someone who makes him realize the proper course of action — and along the way, a lot of stuff blows up and he gets stabbed a few times. The formula manages to feel just as fresh now as it did seasons ago.
The season’s second episode, “Three to Tango,” showcases further emotional drama when Conway Stern makes a reappearance. Malory forces Sterling to conduct an extraction mission to rescue Stern — and since he literally stabbed Sterling in the back (and Sterling reminds the audience of this repeatedly) during his last appearance, Sterling feels like he’s been...well, you know. This episode explores the theme of past mistakes coming back to haunt transgressors. With multiple villains throughout the show’s history returning as cyborgs, mutants, et cetera, this is a quintessential “Archer” theme.
In the new season, the writers are dusting off their old recipes — and so far, this has proven to be a great idea. The show seems more aware of itself, and the jokes land more effectively as a result.
Season six is already emotionally heavier than its predecessor, with tension between characters becoming more central to the plot. This is good news for “Archer” fans, because the ridiculousness of the show’s characters and the situations they find themselves in — coupled with a quasi-reality (albeit, dysfunctionality) of the way they react to outrageous situations — has always been one of the show’s strengths. This aspect was lost in season five, with “Archer Vice” seeming more silly than outrageous.
“Archer” is an aging show, entering a danger zone in terms of creativity. It remains to be seen if the creators can keep up the good work — but so far, the new approach provides hope for the future. The new season will be an exciting one to watch.