Archer

⭐⭐⭐⭐ based on 3 reviews.

tl;dr: A brilliant parody of spy movies with an excellent oddball cast that has, in later seasons, successfully reinvented itself on multiple occasions. A genuine cult classic.

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Animated Sitcoms

Season Six

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

How did I forget this absolute gem? Archer is one of those shows which just shouldn't be as good as it is. The principle ought to lend itself to a lacklustre, episode churning filler programme: animated spy parody with just enough humour to hook the lowest common denominator. The Big Bang Theory of the action genre, if you will. For some reason, though, the team decided to go full tilt on the parody, crank up the adult humour to the point of obscenity (though never really going full gross-out, which I thoroughly applaud) and embrace geek culture harder than a Joss Whedon online-only franchise. It was a bold move but has resulted in a very deserved cult status and an extremely loyal fan base.

But then they tried to switch things up completely in season five with Archer: Vice. It was a fascinating switch, again very antithetical for a now profitable American comedy, turning the premise of the show on its head and really forging forward with a whole new outlook. Fan opinions were, shall we say, mixed. At the start there was uproar, though like many I personally persevered and placed faith in the showrunners. Still, I feel like that initial kick-back was sufficient for them to do a second 180 turn into season six.

So here we are, back with ISIS, back in the spy industry and back to the same old stories. Barry's back, Archer's an employee again, they've all been to rehab and the days of drug smuggling are just glossed over with no real implications. Really, you could jump from season four to six without really missing a beat, and apart from the odd meta reference your only confusion would be having missed Lana's pregnancy. I'll admit to having enjoyed Vice quite a lot by the end of its run but I'm still glad to see ISIS return. Somehow, the spy genre is just so much more lucrative for parody.

That said, season six is firm proof that, for the show to continue, shaking up the plot will need to happen. The first four seasons worked so well because they leaned so hard on tropes from classic franchises like James Bond and Mission: Impossible but that well has slightly dried up. The big plots have been done and the result is that there isn't much left for them to play with in season six. It's still a very enjoyable ride and the humour is back on point but there aren't many truly, genuinely stand-out episodes. For the most part the show skates by on old plot lines (a la Barry the Cyborg) and the slight shakeup that having a baby in the cast was bound to provide (though what exactly has happened to Woodhouse?). That works well enough and has both appeased fans of the first four seasons whilst proving that the fifth really wasn't all that bad.

As a result, I'm a huge fan of how season six ends. Yes, it was great getting back to the spy-based roots of Archer, but I'm seriously pumped for where they're going to go next now that ISIS is, once again, toast. There are a lot more action genres out there ripe for parody and the core group of characters are just so well developed and hilarious together that I doubt any are beyond the show's scope. Hopefully there are several more seasons left for the taking!

Season Seven

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

Well I wanted them to shake up the settings, plot and genre again after a slightly lukewarm season six and the Archer team have once again delivered. Season seven sees the team leave the espionage business behind (again) to pursue more grounded, yet legal (mostly), work in L.A. as private investigators. For the most part it leaves the show open to tread fan favourite paths, without needing quite so strong of a character shake-up as Archer: Vice did, but still leaves plenty of wiggle room.

As with most previous seasons, the main areas of character development are focused on Archer and Lana's on-going will-they-won't-they personal life. Whilst it looked like season six was a turning point for Archer in particular, season seven doubles down on the (understandably) shaky grounds of trust the relationship is founded on. Largely this takes the form of sticking Hollywood starlet Veronica Deane in the crew's path repeatedly, providing a clear temptation for Archer himself and a point of jealousy for Lana. Honestly, I feel like the show handles this part well, keeping their interactions fluid and funny without overly leaning on it to move the plot forward. There's much less of AJ herself, which is fine, and it leaves the rest of the cast open to less serious side plots. I will say that the increased cast, including two brilliant cops and a host of Hollywood elite stereotypes, leaves almost too little time for the normal diversions. Having spent several seasons really fleshing out the side characters to more than 2-D punchlines, season seven appears to largely reduce them back to these rolls, with Pam and Cheryl particularly badly hit. It's a shame but, overall, not a huge hindrance.

Possibly the biggest let down of the series was the complete lack of pay-off to the "big mystery". Clues are dropped from the very first episode that Deane and friends are involved in something a lot more sinister, with files and papers alluding to a particular scheme which never really appears. It is wrapped up in the two-part finale but I didn't even realise that the reveal was happening until Archer explicitly mentions it. The finale did a good job of resolving several subplots whilst setting up one hell of a closing shot/cliff hanger, but it definitely feels like they dropped a couple of balls near the end of the season. Perhaps the number of episodes was suddenly cut, which would explain quite a lot, or maybe (in true Archer fashion) the whole point was to be pointless, but it results in the series feeling slightly rushed.

Still, a small gripe that allows for the show to lead itself, once again, in a very different direction. I'm pumped for the concept of Archer: Noir and very much looking forward to seeing how they cope with the characters being the versions of themselves that Archer sees. I feel like there is a huge amount of comic potential there and, possibly, an interesting way of having Archer himself go through a series of character strengthening self-realisations. I'm not sure if season eight is going to be the last but it does present a very nice way of tying off the series as a whole. Whatever happens, I'm certain I'll be watching it very soon!

Danger Island

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

The premise of Danger Island was a solid one, but it never quite lives up to the atmosphere and intelligence of Noir/Dreamland. That said, it's still more enjoyable than Vice, with better individual moments overall, which makes for an entertaining season. They definitely had a whole lot of fun making it and came up with some great ideas, though it almost felt like they'd had to cut the plot in half. I definitely feel they could have had more fun with the "getting to the temple" bit and allowed Cyril's Nazi Commander character to more slowly lose everything and go insane; what they actually did almost felt jarring and too abrupt.

Also, the sudden twist into talking about The Hobbit whilst making Lord of the Rings references... I don't know if they just got confused, if they realised their timelines didn't fit and ran with it (though elsewhere they'd used this quite cleverly), or if it was a swing'n'miss on the whole coma thing that we have going on, but it just didn't work. I'm exactly the target audience for those jokes and none of them landed; honestly, the Temple of Doom stuff was way more clever, and I'm not an Indy kind of guy!

Issues aside, parrot Krieger was god damn excellent! I am sad to say goodbye to the bird that no one can explain. Actually, I thought all of the recasting was well done and fit nicely into the theme, whilst giving each character some more nuance. If Noir was Archer's ideas of an idealist version of the cast, then Danger Island may well be his brain going into preservation mode, but what it created was comedy genius at times.

That said, unlike Noir I definitely feel like they did everything they would want to with this setting, so I'm glad they're shaking things up again moving forward. Space is a very interesting choice and I am so on board with Malory as an AI!

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