It’s Time to Put Archer Out of His Misery

FX / Archer

I have something to confess: in high school, I thought Archer was peak comedy.

I know, I know. It’s embarrassing as hell. I mean, we’re talking about a show that truly thinks a joke is when you have enough characters yell over each other simultaneously. That’s it. That’s the joke.

It’s basically just a bunch of random yelling until someone says “Danger Zone,” and we’re all thinking back to the juvenile days of our 2010 youth where that was actually funny.

I don’t know what it is about Archer that tends to leave such a bad taste in my mouth nowadays. I was a big fan of the show for its first four seasons like more or less everybody else. Its slick animation, interesting characters, and crazy-fun premise hooked me from the start.

Most of all, its dialogue just felt so refreshing. It felt like I had just spent fifteen hours watching Lord of the Rings (what is that, like two movies’ worth?) and then immediately got to put in Pulp Fiction.

The characters didn’t monologue, they spoke like real people. They interrupted each other, took cheap shots, and all in all were such shitty human beings it felt like I was watching a real group of coworkers who somewhat detest each other.

The first four seasons had back-to-back critical acclaim, and it’s not hard to see why. The cancer story arc, in which the titular character battles the Irish mob and his own chemotherapy, was ruthlessly funny and potent, as was the episode where Archer and the gang have to hide the dead Italian prime minister’s corpse.

Meanwhile, the smallest moments of character development, such as the egotistical and self-obsessed character Archer giving up his oxygen tank so that his ex-lover and long-term romantic interest Lana – revealed ten seconds earlier to be pregnant – can live gives us just enough heart fuel to continue watching for another season.

The show’s big antagonist is an indestructible, psychotic cyborg named Robot Barry, while their season openers and finales take place in (at various points) remote Pacific islands, clear parodies of Central Asian dictatorships, outer space, and the deep sea (where eco-terrorists from show creator Adam Reed’s previous series Sealab 2021 threaten to bomb the Eastern Seaboard).

Basically, it’s a batshit crazy show, with very few rules (doesn’t even have an actual time setting), which is why the early years were so beloved. However, something changed with the arrival of season five, titled Archer: Vice, which featured a change of pace.

Here, the main characters – barred from their spy agency by the CIA – went on to form a drug cartel. Hijinks ensue, including fan-favorite character Pam becoming a cocaine addict and it being revealed that breakout character Dr. Krieger is actually a South American clone of Adolf Hitler.

Yes, all this while the former spy agency is trying to move kilos of coke. The only show in history the history of animation to pull this kind of crap off.

Nonetheless, while I found Archer: Vice to be a fun change of pace from the usual spy stories, especially because it was far more international and less structured (for Pete’s sake, we got one of the main characters, Carol/Cheryl, who literally became a country singer named Cherlene), others didn’t agree.

Critical reception dipped for the first time with Archer: Vice, and fan reactions were polarized enough that the network F.X. pushed Archer to return to a more traditional setting with its sixth season, and they began to work directly for the CIA.

As a side note, this change was welcome, if only because post-2014 having your spy agency be named ISIS definitely feels more than a little strange while some group of psychos is on the rampage in the Middle East.

Season six featured them working for the CIA, ending with their blacklisting from spy-work after a botched final mission, while season seven then had them moving to Los Angeles to open a classic 1970s private investigator firm.

These seasons aren’t terrible per se, they’re just painfully mediocre. The most exciting developments in both seasons are the reigniting of the Archer-Lana relationship – in a particularly graphic way – and a positively hilarious episode featuring creepy clown robbers.

Season seven then ends with Archer getting shot, which isn’t too big a deal normally (as he himself says, he’s been shot over fifty times). However, the numerous time he’s shot, straight to the heart by smooth thespian seductress Veronica Dean, leave him lying lifeless in the pool.

Which brings us to the modern era of Archer, and really where the ship has begun to derail. Season eight revealed that our hero Sterling Archer was still in a coma from the events of the previous season’s cliffhanger ending.

The show, now known as Archer: Dreamland, had meanwhile moved to a 1940s noir-esque aesthetic, similar to the old detective stories of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Detective Archer tries to figure out who murdered his old butler Woodhouse – voiced by the now-deceased legend George Coe) – and meets a smattering of other characters in the process.

Seasons nine and ten, respectively titled Archer: Pacific Island and Archer: 1999, also featured time skips and dreams from the still-comatose Sterling Archer. The plots are zany, ridiculous, and funny, even if we’re left missing the original versions of the characters we’ve come to know by now.

Season ten, however, notably ends with Archer waking up in a hospital bed after three years of being in a coma. This leads us into season eleven, which is very much a return to normality for the show, returning even to New York City after five seasons being away.

This is also the first season where show creator Adam Reed is stepping away from being the primary showrunner and head writer. So while the show is going back to the basics, it’s also very much lost its original spark and inspiration.

Which is all to say that maybe it’s time to let old dogs lie. Archer has had a great run; eleven seasons is pretty damn good. But at this point, there’s no more to do with the premise. Changing the whole format has been done, doing the original New York spy story has been done.

Nobody wants to see Archer become the next Family Guy or – god forbid – The Simpsons. But Archer is very much at risk of this fate, if FX keeps renewing it forever, even after its creator and main writer has left the scene.

RIP Sterling Archer – I hope one day you’ll be allowed that peace.

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