Some animated sitcoms are content to drift on past glories (Family Guy and The Simpsons), but not Archer.
Now in its eighth season, the adult-oriented spy comedy isn’t afraid to hit “reset” when needed.
After four seasons under the International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS), season five was rebranded Archer Vice (a necessary reboot considering the controversy around the ISIS name), a Miami Vice-inspired parody of the drug industry. Season six went back to the spy formula, with the CIA replacing ISIS. Season seven moved to LA and a private detective agency (The Figgis Agency), directly linking to season eight’s Archer Dreamland.
Feeding off the season seven finale, the opening of Dreamland sees present-day Archer in a coma. While other shows would exploit the “it was all a dream” cliché, Archer uses it for a series-long 1940’s crime noir setting. It works brilliantly, changing the main characters to suit the period while maintaining their established personalities.
Touchingly, the new series is dedicated to George Coe, who voiced Archer’s loyal butler Woodhouse. Woodhouse’s present-day death is translated to Archer’s (H. Jon Benjamin) noir dreamworld and become the crux of the series, as Archer tries to find Woodhouse’s killer.
The majority of the Archer crew appear in Dreamland; detective Figgis (Chris Parnell) is still put upon and emasculated; Poovey (Amber Nash) is deliberately gender-neutral and still a badass (Poovey almost always wears a suit and is seen with a moustache in flash forward scenes); Malory Archer is the crime boss and nightclub owner known as Mother (Jessica Walter); Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler) is a nightclub singer with a secret; Charlotte Vandertunt (Judy Greer) is a crazy “femme fatale”; Krieger (Lucky Yates) is a German scientist/bartender known for making cyborg humans and animals and Dutch Dylan (voiced by Dave Willis, known as Barry/other Barry in the present-day Archer-verse) is rebuilt by Krieger. There’s guest appearances from Jeffrey Tambor as Len Trexler (Tambor and Walter co-starred in Arrested Development) and Eugene Mirman (who co-stars with Benjamin in Bob’s Burgers) as Cecil Vandertunt.
Dreamland is probably the darkest and bloodiest Archer (at times verging into genuine horror), with the cyborged Dutch Dylan wreaking havoc towards the show’s finale. There’s also some touching moments involving Poovey and a gang of Chinese prostitutes she adopts and Krieger’s surprising backstory. Dreamland – like Archer in general – is at its strongest when the main characters are together, bickering and bouncing off each other. This takes a while to get going, but the interplay increases in later episodes.
If you’re new to Archer, Dreamland is probably not the place to start, though seasoned fans will love it.
With two seasons left, will Archer reset again or continue with Dreamland? We’ll see next year.