When describing Archer, it seems impossible not to include the word “spies”. After all, the show follows Sterling Archer (Code name: Duchess), the self-proclaimed “World’s Most Dangerous Spy”, and the rest of the personnel of ISIS, Archer’s mother’s spy agency. For four seasons, we have watched Archer and the people he works with perform various tasks in various countries for various rewards, and while they were often terrible at their jobs, we never really questioned it. This is a cartoon comedy. It may be incredibly smart and well-crafted, but there doesn’t need to be an explanation for why ISIS can still exist despite all the mishaps that happen because of the idiocy of its employees. Archer would still be successful if it continued to rely on its original premise, as long as the writing continued to be creative and hilarious, and as long as the characters stayed consistent with who they’ve each become.
Adam Reed, the series’ creator, wasn’t content with simply having a successful show. He wasn’t even content with having a successful show that is also one of the most simultaneously outrageous and ingenious shows on television. Adam Reed decided that he was sick of the show taking place at a spy agency, so he blew the entire premise up.
Television shows, and especially half-hour sitcoms, usually have a status-quo. Viewers rely on certain things about their favourite show to always be true, and know that even if something threatens to change, at least one thing will stay the same. For Archer, the status-quo was that no matter how badly a mission went, the characters would always have ISIS to return to. Last week, on Archer’s 5th season premiere, instead of the typical ISIS hijinx usually seen on the show, viewers got to see the spy agency get shut down, leaving is employees jobless. As it turns out, ISIS was never actually actually certified, and has now been shutdown by the FBI. All those mistakes made on missions makes so much sense after finding out the truth. And ISIS doesn’t get shutdown just to have some deus ex machina fix everything for them — it gets shutdown permanently.
This week we see the start of the fallout from the major change of ISIS being shutdown, which can also be referred to as “Archer Vice”. Instead of the spy show we know and love, Archer has now become a show about drug dealers. More specifically, it is about the formal ISIS team trying to unload the pounds of cocaine that Malory happens to have on her. The montage at the end of the season premiere last week seemed to show us exactly what we can expect from the major turn of events, but that could have turned out to be a dream sequence, or even just a joke that wouldn’t be mentioned in weeks to come. However, as I mentioned before, Adam Reed has said that he’s done with spies, and this week we saw that the twist was here to stay.
In this week’s episode, we saw Archer, Lana, and Pam try to execute a drug deal, and did not do a great job. It was similar to the countless missions we’ve seen the characters perform on the show before, the difference is that here they’re doing something obviously illegal, so there’s an added danger factor. Though the show has a different premise, the characters have remained consistent, which means that there isn’t a big change in the tone of the show. The characters may now be cocaine dealers, but they are still terrible at their jobs, which is important for the continued comedy of the show. The episode was not as funny as Archer normally is, but I chalk that up to the writers trying to deal with the shift in a way that can make the show sustainable for seasons to come. The show may no longer be about spies, but it doesn’t really matter too much, as the show has always been more about its characters than its premise. I’m excited to see the show really figure out the full potential of its new premise, which includes all the wacky things that can happen while the team lives together in Cheryl’s (Carol’s?) mansion.