FX’s ARCHER is back! Well, it will be back on Monday, January 13th at 10 p.m. EST. But having already viewed the first five episodes of the fifth season, it’s easy to get excited. This is definitely one of the most creative, funny animated series for adults out there. The high quality of the first few years has been maintained, even as the show makes a bold effort to reinvent itself before it has the slightest chance to grow stale.
***As usual, spoilers will be light, but present. Because of the nature of this season, this review may be a little more revealing than most, and those who wish to be completely surprised should reading stop now.***
As one may have surmised from the artwork advertising season five, the season has been subtitled ARHCER VICE. While previous posters have little to do with the story, the most recent ones actually do herald a change. This time, it’s not just a marketing technique. By the end of week one, viewers will know what I’m talking about.
The premiere, “White Elephant,” begins with a normal day at ISIS – if a normal day for the spy organization involves roses and dancing to sweet music. But then, that tranquil scene is shattered when ISIS is attacked by the FBI. All of the employees are quickly arrested for treason.
Why? Well, I don’t want to give away everything. True to ARCHER fashion, though, the showdown is large and violent, while also still giving us some good gags. After all, Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) and his friends face peril every day, so a few bullets don’t necessarily ruin their moods completely.
From there, “White Elephant” sets up the rest of this year’s very large arc. This season will not be business-as-usual, with a bunch of stand-alone spy missions. Instead, the cast embarks towards a much larger goal, which will play out well past the two and a half hours released to reviewers. ARCHER will never be the same.
Believe it or not, though, a major story twist doesn’t change ARCHER all that much. As much as I like the new stuff, the plot has always been secondary to the characters. Fans enjoy watching Archer, Lana (Aisha Tyler), Ray (Adam Reed), and sometimes Cyril (Chris Parnell) going toe to toe with villains. But even better are the workplace dynamics, which includes those back at the office, such as Malory (Jessica Walter), Pam (Amber Nash), Cheryl / Carol (Judy Greer), and Dr. Krieger (Lucky Yates, deservedly promoted to main character this season). Those relationships, sometimes good, sometimes bad, always close-knit, are the major draw.
“White Elephant” removes these people from the familiar setting, but keeps them together, as it must. Sure, they may split up for little bits of time into small groups, but primarily, they stay close to one another. This makes sense, as they aren’t good people and their skills are limited, so who else would want to be around these flawed individuals? Still, it makes for very entertaining television.
Now, there are some changes that do affect the group as a whole. One of the players develops an addiction to an illegal substance. Another starts a career as a country music singer. A third is pregnant. A fourth matures just enough to put someone else first, mostly. A fifth takes control of the mind of one of his co-workers. A sixth reveals a past career that becomes relevant again, though it’s not the first time the job has been mentioned, just the first time anyone paid attention. All of these are threads that extend through multiple installments, which makes for some fresh plot.
The characters in ARCHER don’t exist in a bubble, and events and people from past seasons do return, sometimes in unexpected ways, sometimes just in passing mentions. This really gives the feeling of authenticity to the proceedings. Even though ARCHER is animated, it’s a developed world that feels sort of real, even as it goes over the top.
In short, “White Elephant” is a terrific episode, and judging by the first five installments, it’s going to be another hilarious year.