It’s tough to keep a show going past its third season. A lot of shows will pair main characters off, or break them up, or add a baby to the mix — anything to create new dynamics between the characters, new conflicts, new story possibilities.
The rioutously funny animated spy comedy Archer has taken a different approach to this problem: after four seasons centered around suave superspy Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) and his adventures as part of the International Secret Intelligence Service (or ISIS), the show completely changed its premise in season 5. With the U.S. Government dissolving ISIS (for reasons totally unrelated to real-life global events circa 2014), Archer and company decided to become entrepreneurs, selling the literal ton of cocaine they had accrued over the course of their previous spy adventures. Archer Vice, as the fifth season was titled, gave everyone on the show something new to do — and had Archer himself find a sudden affinity for white suits and flower-pattern shirts — while giving the show a whole new sandbox to play in and keeping its dizzying JPM (jokes per minute) count up to snuff.
Season 6 was a sort of reset to the status quo, bringing the team back to spycraft, as contractors for the CIA; Season 7 moved them to Los Angeles to open their own detective agency, and ended on a cliffhanger, with Archer’s loyal manservant Woodhouse murdered and Archer’s fate uncertain.
Since there is still a show called Archer, I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to reveal that Archer survives, but the show takes the opportunity for another Archer Vice-esque flight of fancy by setting all of season 8 in Archer’s imagination — specifically, the dream he’s having as he lies in a coma.
Archer Dreamland keeps the action in Los Angeles, but moves it back in time to the 1940s and a distinctly noir-ish feel, complete with fedoras, cigarettes, and period lingo, with the supporting characters slightly recast: Lana (Aisha Tyler), Archer’s stunningly gorgeous, hypercompetent fellow agent and baby mama, becomes a lounge singer; Cyril (Chris Parnell) and Pam (Amber Nash) are partnered, besuited detectives investigating Woodhouse’s murder; Archer’s mother Malory (Jessica Walter) is a crime boss appropriately called Mother; and Cheryl (Judy Greer) plays the role of femme fatale Charlotte Van der Tunt, an heiress who enlists Archer in a plot to help her fake her own death that quickly spirals out of control and sets the season’s plot in motion. I watched the first three episodes of the season and, though the first episode is a little slower than most as it moves all the pieces into place, I’m glad to report that Archer Dreamland’s guest star game is strong (Jeffrey Tambor, Wendell Pierce, Wyatt Cenac, and Keegan-Michael Key turn up in the first three episodes), the JPM count is right where it should be, and the adjustment to a gumshoe story provides a bounty of jokes and plotlines rich enough to carry the show through this season and beyond. Archer has always been about parodying and subverting genre tropes, and it’s clear that the creators are invigorated by changing what genre they’re subverting, even as they keep the basic personalities of the characters the same.
I guess the big question now is, where will the show go in season 9? An army field hospital? A mysterious uncharted island? A bar where everybody knows your name? Well, scratch that last one. Who would Archer shoot?