TV I’m Watching: Archer

By Shamus
on Oct 8, 2017
Filed under:
Television

I love Archer. Having said that, I think this show has gone on about four seasons too long. Usually fans express this sort of thing in terms of “jumping the shark” or “the writers are out of ideas”. In the case of Archer, I think it’s clear the writers have tons of ideas. The problem isn’t a lack of creativity, the problem is that the Network doesn’t want to let a still-popular show come to an end so the writers can explore those new ideas.

Archer was devised as a riff on James Bond tropes. He’s a high-functioning alcoholic who is also rude, arrogant, selfish, womanizing, and idiotic. He’s a bully and a liar. But the worst thing about Archer is that he’s also really good at being a super-spy. Most of the comedy in the show comes from the banter between Archer and his long-suffering coworkers.

The show exists in this strange alternate world that blends present and past. The world still runs on 60s style tape-drive computers with monochrome CRTs, but they also have modern smartphones. The actual technology level of the world is “whatever technology the scene calls for”.

The thing is, I think they told all the James Bond jokes they had to tell. By the end of season 4, they were done. The James Bond tropes had been mocked. The 60s spy motif had been fully explored. In an ideal world, the show creators would then move on and make another show. They could pick a fresh genre (like 80s cop shows or detective shows) and give us a new premise with a fresh cast of characters. Instead they took the existing show and tried to jam it into those other genres.


`Skytanic` is my favorite episode, if you`re curious.

`Skytanic` is my favorite episode, if you`re curious.

The result wasn’t horrible or anything, but it was lacking some of the magic that made the early seasons so good. The goofy superspy world didn’t lend itself to those other styles of storytelling and the existing cast of characters weren’t designed to fit into the required stereotypes. It’s like trying to make a movie where the washed-up actorsTo be clear, I’m talking about the characters in the movie, not the actors who played them. from Galaxy Quest have some sort of Shaun of the Dead type zombie adventure. Sure, you can do that, but it’s not going to work as well as either Galaxy Quest or Shaun of the Dead.

In season five the show changed to “Archer Vice”. I thought it might be some pastel-soaked satire of Miami Vice and the various cops vs. drug dealer shows of the 80s. But instead it was a story about (spoiler) this former agency of super-spies as they try to become drug dealers. It wasn’t lampooning any particular style or genre of show. It was just a really strange, almost surreal story. It still worked in the sense that we got to hear our favorite characters do their usual shtick, but an entire dimension of the show was just gone.

Season six was mostly a return to the established status quo, although the original vibe of the show was still missing. They were running a spy agency again, but most episodes weren’t about what the agency was up to. Instead they were personal problems and side-adventures.

Season seven turned them into a detective agency. Again, I liked it and it made me laugh, but your typical Detective shows aren’t notable for mad scientist inventors (Krieger) and fussy accountants (Cyril) so once again the show wasn’t really playing around with story tropes. It was just doing the same character riffs.

Season eight hasn’t hit Netflix yetAt least, not in the U.S. but I know it takes the form of a film noir thing where Archer is a gumshoe. Again, that’s a great idea for a show, but it would be better if you began with a premise and a cast of characters designed to go with it.

I know it sounds like I’m being really negative. The truth is, I love this show and I’ve watched every season at least twice. Even the ones that I’ve been complaining about. It’s not that I dislike the new seasons or I’m mad that they exist. It’s just that I can’t help but look at them and think of the even better show we could be getting if these creative people were allowed to wipe the slate clean and make something new. Yes, I love Archer, Ray, Mallory, Krieger, and Lana. But I could come to love new characters, too.

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Footnotes:

[1] To be clear, I’m talking about the characters in the movie, not the actors who played them.

[2] At least, not in the U.S.


2020242 comments. (Insert played-out "meaning of life, the universe and everything" joke here.)

From the Archives:

  1. Liam O'Hagan says:

    Tell the truth; it’s just because of wee baby Shamus isn’t it… :-)

  2. GTB says:

    I love Archer too, and I agree it should have ended a while ago.

    It’s long past time for a Krieger show.

    I imagine something like Bill Nye except with more murder and mind control.

  3. jumbalia says:

    Some of the new series also seem to really suffer from having to have some sort of conclusion and tie up story threads. You can watch nearly all the early episodes as self contained while newer ones require stacking episodes together to get some sort of story arc.

  4. Viruzzo says:

    Completely agree on both the appreciation and the exhaustion.

    Sadly season eight (it got on Netflix in Italy a looong time ago) is not at all an improvement, despite the “reboot”; again, better than a lot of other stuff currently on TV, but attachment plays a large parte in the (at least my) enjoyment of it.

  5. Steve C says:

    Archer was so good that it had plenty of room to fall and still be good. If something is 10x better than everything else, it can degrade to 10% of its previous glory and still be one of the best things out there.

    BTW Shamus did you ever see the Raptor episode? Many fans miss that one.

  6. Parkhorse says:

    From a panel I went to with some of the creators, the tentative plan is to do ten seasons. That’s… word of mouth at a convention panel, rather than anything truly “official,” but it’s not the worst pointer in the world.

  7. gresman says:

    From what I am able to extrapolate from descriptions I should check it out. I do enjoy James Bond movies. Okay the older ones. I am no friend of the Daniel Craig movies. Maybe I should check it out. Archer I mean. Furthermore I get a No one lives forever vibe.

    By the way: Shamus if you have not played NOLF you should. It is quite a funny and enjoyable s Bond riff. With nice stealth and action.

    But it is caught in eternal legal limbo. Makes me sad. NOLF is even better than .

  8. Nixorbo says:

    As someone who loves Venture Brothers, I am slightly ashamed to admit that Archer is on my ever-expanding list of things I would enjoy if I ever got around to watching but there are only so many hours in my day, man.

    • Amstrad says:

      As good as Venture Bros is, I think it also somewhat falls into the trap that Archer has of overextending the basic concept to incorporate ideas much further afield. Venture Bros has handled it much better from the sounds of it however.

      • FelBlood says:

        The thing about the Venture Brothers is that they started out making fun of late 80s and early 90s adventure cartoons, which often suffered from the exact same problem.

        There were a lot of gags even in the first season poking fun at the fact that robots, spacecraft and early 90’s cartoon villains are just an everyday part of these kids’ childhood, and that is probably messing them up somehow.

        By the time the show ran out of ways to point out that Doctor Rusty Venture is an unfit parent for dragging his kids along on his dangerous “adventures,” they had a huge cast and setting to mine for other jokes.

  9. ElementalAlchemist says:

    In season five the show changed to “Archer Vice”. […] It was just a really strange, almost surreal story.

    Yeah season 5 generally does not tend to evoke a positive reaction in the fanbase. And the seasons since have had a mixed response at best. There have been some individually good moments and episodes scattered throughout the last few seasons, but I think most people would agree it has never been as consistently good as the early seasons. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it has jumped the shark, but the decisions of the show’s creator, Adam Reed, have certainly frustrated a lot of people.

    Skytanic is my favorite episode, if you’re curious

    You, sir, are a man of distinction and taste.

  10. Thomas says:

    Archer is one of those shows where after a while I get attached enough to the characters that I want to see them grow into good people and have nice things happen to them. Which isn’t very entertaining. So after a point it becomes a frustrating no-win.

    But unlike other shows like that, I can return after a bit of a break to the new season and enjoy it again.

    This is to Archer’s credit. Suits is also stuck in a no-win situation like that, but when I return to Suits it’s immediately infuriating.

  11. King Marth says:

    Archer rubbed me the wrong way, though amusingly from the episodes I saw I got much more of a “this guy is horribly incompetent in addition to all these other flaws and somehow is still Bond, probably nepotism” vibe, which had me hate it more. Might be worth another chance, people seem to love it.

    Rick and Morty is the flip side of that for me, I really enjoy it but there are aspects of the framing (e.g. the mid-line belching) that those same friends who enjoy Archer can’t get past.

    • Agammamon says:

      Season 1 is good right from the start, season 2 is awesome – mainly because there’s a change there where you see all the other characters have something going on to show that they’re *all* badasses – but season 3 drops that to Flanderize the characters and it sort of drifts downhill from there. It *has* gone on longer than it should have.

      That’ll do Pigly, that’ll do.

      *BLAM*

    • ngthagg says:

      It took me a couple of tries to get into Archer, but it came highly recommended, so I came back. I found the jokes very forced at the start, but once the characters are established the humor comes more naturally.

    • BlueHorus says:

      I had a similar problem with Archer. A lot of the humour is based around the fact that Archer and his mother are awful, awful people, who are mean to their co-workers – and that’s just not funny to me. The re-occuring joke about the colleague Archer’s always shooting, the way he treated his butler, just about everything that happens to Cyril Figgis…no thanks.
      And almost all of the problems the agency had could be traced back to Archer or his mother’s horribleness.

      Archer is really funny when it’s absurd or ridiculous (it often is), and it can also be surprisingly affecting when it wants to. It’s inventive and random (in a good way) and you never really know what’s coming next: all of which are good.
      Just a shame the main character’s such an asshole, really. And his mother. I even like the later seasons more becaues of this – it’s the same absurdity (and they try different stuff out), but Archer’s less of a douche and more horrible things happen to him and Mallory.

      • FelBlood says:

        The thing about Archer as a character is that there’s nothing that could happen to him that would be as much comeuppance as just having to wake up tomorrow and still hate himself.

        All the swagger and vice and self-delusion, that make him unbearable to be around, are just a cover for the insecurity, shame and self-loathing that being raised by Mallory comes with.

        At first I was really put off by all the impotence jokes at Archer’s expense, but then I connected some dots to his backstory and a lot of things clicked into place.

  12. General Karthos says:

    I’ve always postulated the “Rule of 5”. Which is to say that shows can stay good, and maintain their initial level of quality for up to five seasons. For some shows, it takes some time for them to build up to their potential level, but even if it takes a season or two to get going, after season 5, it will have peaked at some point, and start to go downhill. This rule does not necessarily apply to Soap Operas and may not apply to sitcoms. But it seems to apply to most everything else.

    Many shows last for a long time. “Smallville” lasted ten seasons, “Supernatural” is going into… what… season 13 this week? Most crime procedurals last for a very long time.

    That’s not to say that a show can’t have good or even great episodes past season 5, but the quality of the episodes, isn’t quite the same as it was, and the show loses some of what made it special, whether it was dramatic tension, comedic moments/exchanges, a well-told story, or just reliably entertaining and enjoyable television.

    In the ideal universe, all the good shows would run five seasons, and then their creators would move on to something new.

  13. Attercap says:

    Yeah, it’s a shame that the creators weren’t able to get their post-apocalyptic show Cassius and Clay off the ground. Their writing is solid, and I agree that a new set of characters in a new genre is just what the writers need.

    It only ran one season and it’s not on Netflix (yet?), but have you watched Moonbeam City? Very similar style of humor and art (though heavily influenced by Patrick Nagel’s style) that parodied cop shows and the 80’s.

  14. MichaelG says:

    Are you going to review “Rick and Morty”? I thought the new season wasn’t nearly as creative as the first two.

  15. They could pick a fresh genre (like 80s cop shows or detective shows) and give us a new premise with a fresh cast of characters.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxqqAXjAQk4

  16. Redrock says:

    I actually loved season 8. I’am a sucker for hard-boiled noir stuff, so for me it was a no-brainer. They actually take a chance to really play around with the characters and shake up the status quo, which works wonders.

    Personally, I think I actually like Season 7 way less than Season 5 which tends to get the worst reviews. Season 5 gave us a great ironic country album by “Cherlene” (actually Jessy Lynn Martens and seriously, check it out), and the whole premise of the gang being so amazingly bad at being drug dealers was extremely funny. Season 7’s whole arc felt kinda weak to me, especially the business with Archer’s crush on that older actress and a new falling out with Lana. And the whole android thing just didn’t work for me.

    Now, if I were to choose a favorite season, I think I would go with Season 3. The characters are well-established by then and more complex, Heart of Archness is bloody fantastic from start to finish, and it has Burt Freaking Reynolds. Although, once again, all of Archer is pretty great.

    • Somniorum says:

      Yeah, I really enjoyed season 8 – particularly how they mess with the characters (or, some of them). Archer is actually *not* a complete asshole this time around, which helps things a lot for me, I think. What they do with Krieger I thought was astounding, in particular. Shame that they do so little with Ray, though… he kind of just exists and not much else.

  17. Cinebeast says:

    I just watched the first seven~ episodes a couple weeks ago at a friend’s house, actually. I’d heard good things about it, but I never really sought it out. I liked what I saw, though, for the most part. The comedy is very cruel — a lot like Always Sunny in Philadelphia, I guess.

    I’ll probably watch more when I have a chance, though.

  18. Daemian Lucifer says:

    but I know it takes the form of a film noir thing where Archer is a gumshoe.

    The funniest thing about that season hits you whenever you remember that its all in archers head,and all these characters are acting like archer thinks they would be acting.

  19. Darren says:

    This is a very good take. I’d like to add that another problem is that they ditched the few bits of on-going continuity that they fostered for the bulk of those four seasons, specifically the mystery of Archer’s father.

    Dreamland was…different. I imagine it works a lot better when you can watch it in rapid succession, so I’ll be curious to read your analysis of it.

    On the positive side, the show has exactly two (short) seasons left in its contract, so with any luck they’ll stick the landing.

  20. No One says:

    I’ve liked every show Adam Reed has made going back to SeaLab 2021. Haven’t kept up with Archer after season 3, but I look forward to diving in again.

  21. MrBtongue says:

    I agree that it’s gone on too long, but with each season they get higher and higher concept and I’m kind of interested to see where the show ends up if it keeps going.

    If they’re willing to do the “it’s all a dream” thing, who knows what they could do. It kind of reminds me of the crazier episodes of News Radio. They should just take this group of voice actors and put them in as many situations as possible. They could play with roles too – try a setup where Aisha Tyler is the asshole and H. Jon Benjamin is the long-suffering straight man, or something like that.

    Also, have more Pam. The more Pam an episode has, usually the better it is.

  22. Fade2Gray says:

    I should probably give this a chance some time. The premise sounds great, but I’m usually a little gun-shy with animated shows. I always expect them to get loud and obnoxious and insulting.

    • Zagzag says:

      It is definitely those things. If that kind of humour doesn’t appeal to you then Archer might not be for you. It’s still probably worth checking an episode or two out if you have access to it, in case it surprises you, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who has expressed your sentiments.

    • FelBlood says:

      Is machine gun fire too loud for you?

      It’s not like Spongebob or Ren and Stimpy obnoxious, it’s the other kind.

      This show constantly takes shots at pretty much everyone, so you are likely to be insulted at some point.

  23. Kavonde says:

    Archer (along with Dragonball Z Abridged, Sword Art Online Abridged, Doraleous and Associates, and Sealab 2021) is in my regular “background noise while I mindlessly grind away at an MMO or grand strategy game” rotation. I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to the whole series all the way through, though I’ve only actually seen each season (maybe) twice. The banter is so good that the visuals are largely optional.

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