The ever popular action-spy-office-whatever comedy returns for yet another season; one that again opts to change the show’s setting altogether. Given the show’s relatively niche premise, and its ever-falling viewership, it’s quite impressive that it has made it this far. It has even managed to be renewed through till a tenth season. Not that I’m complaining, given that I’m a huge fan of the series. Over the past few seasons, however, the creative fatigue has become clear, with the show’s creator, Adam Reed, being quite vocal that he’d like to move onto something different. It is no surprise then, that Reed uses season seven’s cliff-hanger to completely renew Archer’s central premise, going even further than past efforts like Vice.
Season eight puts Archer in a coma, using his subconscious as an excuse to weave a season-long detective noir. As a tribute to the passing of George Coe, voice of Archer’s long-suffering butler Woodhouse, the series deals with a P.I. version of Archer attempting to solve the mystery of Woodhouse’s death in 1950s LA. Opting for a shorter eight episode long season allows the telling of coherent season-long story, with tight pacing. The series fully commits to the theme and setting; gone are the hallmark anachronisms, and deliberately sliding timescale.
In fact, in many ways the series feels distinct from the rest of Archer. While many of the characters share the same characteristics of their non-coma counterparts, they could have easily been replaced with new ones. The season feels like a proof-of-concept for an entirely different show. Actually, this proves to be a strength for a season, as Reed deftly combines the grasp the viewer has with characters’ personalities with new, and deeper, backstories to build a robustly real world. This allows for subtle alterations to their behaviour, and prevents the fatigue that would be expected after eight seasons. As a result, one of the minor issues that had popped up around season five is also resolved. From that season onwards, the show had frequently resorted to just making the characters incompetent in order to generate laughs, something that is no longer necessary.
The refresh of setting also does much for the show’s wit. In particular, the banter between characters feels a lot sharper and more tightly paced than it has been in recent seasons. The pacing in general is one of the highlights of this season. Momentum is never lost, and at no point did there seem to be any filler. Unlike previous seasons, every character and incident has some role to play in the overall arc.
In that sense, the show really undergoes a tonal shift. While it is certainly still a comedy, it now very much feels akin to something like Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, or a more humorous version of The Long Goodbye. Accordingly, if you’re just hoping for more of the same old Archer, you may be disappointed. However, for me this is a welcome change given how long the show has been going, and thematically I enjoyed this season far more than any that have come before. Visually, the series also gets much darker than anything it has covered before, and the show actually becomes quite serious at points.
That’s not to say there aren’t elements to find fault with, of course. Most glaringly, perhaps, are Archer’s recurring WW2 flashbacks, that seem like they’re building to some crescendo, whereas in reality they’re just sort of there. This decision is particularly strange and egregious given how well Dr. Krieger’s flashbacks are developed and integrated into the plot. Additionally, the resolution to the central mystery is both predictable and unsatisfying. Although, it is worth nothing that this is, perhaps, a conscious choice. Echoing Coe’s passing, it is a reminder that death is often random and unsatisfying, and that in truth things in life don’t have proper endings. In that sense, it is very much in the keeping with the spirit of noir.
On the whole, the season is an excellent renewal for Archer, even if it does so by moving away from some of the staples of the series. There’s a lot to enjoy here, particularly for fans of detective stories or noir. However, long-standing fans may find that it’s not quite what they expect or wanted out of Archer.