“Archer” gets off to a faltering start

“The Figgis Agency” fails to firmly set new stylistic direction


"Archer's" latest attempt at reinvention is gets off to a rocky start in the season's first episode.

“Archer” used to be a brilliant show about a freelance secret agency for the better part of its first four seasons, before starting to grow stale with recycled storylines and overly-troped characters.

The fifth season, “Archer Vice,” successfully rejuvenated the series by upending it and turning the cast into would-be cocaine smugglers. Unfortunately, that momentum dissipated rather quickly with season six, which saw Archer and his team mostly return to business as usual as CIA contractors.

“The Figgis Agency,” the season seven premiere, ostensibly sets the show in yet another new paradigm, presumably hoping to restore that lost momentum. Unlike “Vice,” however, which immediately introduced fresh storylines and dramatically altered characters to sharply contrast with earlier seasons, “The Figgis Agency” mostly just feels like the same old show.

The episode opens strongly, as a waiter floating limply in a celebrity’s swimming pool is revealed to be none other than Archer himself. That scene’s mounting intrigue then gets instantly cut off as the action moves back several months. The cast, freshly blacklisted by the CIA, has established a private investigation agency in Hollywood.

As the only character with a law degree (“and a bachelors in criminal justice!”), perpetual punching bag Cyril Figgis is made the official head of the agency. Far from his one-time behavior as a crazed drug lord in “Archer Vice,” Cyril is mostly as whiny as ever, offering little resistance to Archer’s obvious insubordination. This feels like a missed opportunity, and hopefully later episodes will place Cyril into a more assertive role. His best moments tend to come when he is given actual responsibility, allowing his ineptitude to manifest with more consequence.

A similar lack of dimensionality plagues most of the other supporting characters. Cheryl reveals that she doesn’t know how to do basic research, Pam cheekily expresses her desire to serve as the team’s “occasional muscle” and Malory Archer drunkenly professes backhanded admiration for her son’s work. Seven seasons in, these characters shouldn’t still boil down to such basic tropes, particularly when we’ve previously seen them step into more significant and complex roles on numerous occasions.

The plot treads well-worn territory as Archer, Lana and Ray attempt to commit a heist. The show’s continuity feels somewhat tenuous: the status of Lana and Archer’s relationship is only barely established near the end of the episode, and their daughter doesn’t even get a mention. Ray apparently has superspeed thanks to his cyborg legs, but this comes off more confusing than amusing due to the offhanded, “Looney Tunes”-esque manner in which it is revealed. That brand of comedy has never been the show’s forte.

Similarly, a lengthy physical gag in which Archer falls down a mountain happens twice in the span of about five minutes, and it gets no funnier through repetition. Knowing references to the source materials for the show’s new stylistic direction are few, and the episode itself isn’t nearly as stylized as “Archer Vice.” The whip-smart jokes of earlier seasons are mostly absent, aside from one wink to the show’s recurring “phrasing” gag.

While some vaguely mysterious complications to the heist plot and a twist ending build some suspense looking forward, nothing else about “The Figgis Agency” bodes particularly well for the rest of the season.

“Archer” creator Adam Reed’s short-lived cult-hit Adult Swim series “Frisky Dingo” established his penchant for genre-bending, as the show’s second season seamlessly transitioned from a superhero comedy into an absurdist political satire. “Archer Vice” demonstrated that Reed could accomplish the same with “Archer,” at least once. It remains highly uncertain if season seven will do the same after an altogether below-average start.

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