'Archer' Aims at Noir Dreamland

The crisis: ants. The injunction: this is how you get them. This was the type of humor that formed the bedrock of FX’s “Archer” for four solid seasons. It was a comedy of inside jokes that became funny over time through repetition, like the recurring exclamation “that’s how you get ants!” and Archer’s constant references to the Kenny Loggins song and pop culture artifact “Danger Zone” (a tune hummed continuously while writing this article). They might not have been funny the first or second time, but damn it they were funny the 5th, 10th, and 42nd iterations. However, after four great seasons, it seemed like the showrunners felt the idiosyncratic set of jokes and character quirks had become, frankly, repetitive. Someone decided it was time for a change.

To beat this extreme form of sitcom malaise the show went through a series of reboots including the fifth season’s bloated “Archer Vice” (where the international spy agency turns to international drug smuggling), a return to form and espionage in season six, the well received “Magnum P.I.” L.A. detective parody of season seven, and finally season eight: “Archer Dreamland.”

Picking up with the season seven cliffhanger, the season eight premiere finds ex-spy, ex-drug trafficker, and potentially ex-detective Sterling Archer in a coma. His mind serves as the stage for this latest reboot—a parody of 1940’s noir film. The only catch is, at least for this episode, the parody was noticeably absent, leaving viewers with a strange alternate world or fan video where a mediocre noir film finds all its characters replaced with those of an animated FX show.

While there are still jokes, they are fewer and farther between than in previous seasons. Part of this is definitely a consequence of the explication needed to ‘recast’ all the old characters in their new reboot roles. Hopefully, as the season goes on, the show will be able to return more to the comedy, because I definitely don’t watch “Archer” for the drama. That’s not to say the show is without pathos as there have been some uniquely despairing moments in past seasons (particularly in the later ‘Barry’s revenge’ story arcs), but normal plot and dialogue have never been the staples of the show. This episode sees Archer grapple with some shell-shocked WWII flashbacks and engage in slow dialogue that’s a far cry from repartee. It’s a change of pace for the series, but in comparison to previous seasons “Dreamland” just feels out of place.

However, to give the devil’s advocate his due, the archetypal ellipses and amnesias of the noir genre may actually prove an interesting device for the hopeless reasoning of Archer’s comatose mind as he hunts for the killer of his trusty manservant (and heroin addict) Woodhouse. If there is additional redemption to be found in the noir format, it’s in the fact that the plots of post-war Hollywood noir were never really ‘good’ to begin with. They generally gravitated towards the stylings of pulp and mystery, which for a show that’s seen Archer’s team of spies and their bureaucratic colleagues go to space and battle with pirates (not at the same time) may prove an appropriate turn.

For what it’s worth, the premiere does succeed in reconceiving of several noir tropes to humorous results—not to spoil the punchline but the “Archer” excuse for the classic gumshoe voiceover is particularly good. It will take a while yet for the characters in this world to build the same rapport they had in previous incarnations of the “Archer” universe (if they do at all), but going into this season with meager expectations might not be the worst policy. Hopefully, it can only get better.

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