The best thing about Archer being an animated show is that anything is possible. We’ve seen the ISIS gang travel across the world, fight pirates in space, and adventure beneath the sea. It makes sense, then, that for the new season Adam Reed would create a premise in which he could continue being outrageous and stretch the limits of his illustrated imaginations.
After four seasons of spy hijinks, the writers “got bored” and created drastic change for their characters. The once respected super-spies have been operating without the consent of the government (and betrayed the government, but hey, as Sterling Archer says, “Potato, patreason”) and are turning to drug dealing to make up the financial difference. In what I can only imagine came from an actual writer’s room pitch, the new ISIS is “the A-Team meets Scarface.”
The opening of Season 5 provides perfect bookends with a hilarious staged recount of the past four seasons — told through a series of confessionals to FBI agents — and a melodramatic, high-action montage of the season to come, now aptly named Archer: Vice. The most hilarious bit to look forward to as we flip through the season is Pam’s inevitable cocaine addiction; she becomes the newly-founded cartel’s biggest threat to their own supply.
Pam’s not the only one with new hobbies; each member of ISIS has found themselves in a transformative role. Mallory is now a drug kingpin; Cyril returns to his original career, which we come to find is that of a lawyer; Cheryl/Carol sets her sights on country music stardom; Lana is getting more pregnant by the day. Archer is the only character who seems to remain the same, ever the lothario whether he’s a secret agent or a drug dealer, always on the lookout for an exotic animal to befriend. But would we have him any other way?
The upset allows for many past adversaries to return, but this time, as partners in crime. Callbacks have always been a strong element of the show, and the writers are constantly rewarding their faithful viewers. That policy is alive and well with the coming season, both in major plot points and the subtle asides that define the show’s rhythm.
The complete overhaul is really a brilliant solution to overcoming the lull that normally comes at this point in a sitcom’s run. An already established show with characters who, despite the fact that they’re drawn into creation, an audience has connected with has the challenge of keeping things fresh. Archer has played to its strengths, expanding on the already ridiculous standard they created to force viewers along for the ride.
Unlike other successful animated shows, the characters are progressing. While Archer has dabbled in serialization before, it has fully committed to that path this season, proving the talent of the writing staff beyond one-off jokes and one-liners (though don’t worry, those are still aplenty and as hilarious as ever). With the introduction of a more intricate storyline, the show has an opportunity to become more successful as the satire it was intended to be.
It’s exciting to see this standard being set, not only for animated shows, but sitcoms in general. Adam Reed has proven through this move that he can keep the show going for another five seasons and beyond without the risk of getting stale. I can’t wait to see where he takes the characters next after they’ve conquered (or completely screwed up) the drug market. Thanks to the Archer crew, the television bar has been set a little higher on every level.