It took eight seasons, but Archer has finally become the film noir it’s always wanted to be (alias: Archer: Dreamland).
The FXX cartoon started as loose riff on James Bond, as devastatingly handsome alcoholic spy Sterling Archer added flair to his missions with acidic jokes and filthy tangents. But even when Archer was rappelling off a skyscraper or dodging the KGB, the show was always steeped in Old Hollywood archetypes. Archer’s world is brimming with stiff drinks, mustache-twirling villains, grand dames and grateful heiresses, and its depraved inhabitants are always ready for some cheeky banter, screwball comedy-style.
So since the show was always at least noir-adjacent, it was probably only a matter of time before creator Adam Reed found a way to embrace the show’s obvious roots and go all the way with a more straightforward tribute to the genre. He has, after all, managed to completely upend Archer’s premise more than once mostly for the hell of it. In season five, he transformed Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) and his co-workers into hapless drug dealers in a Miami Vice pastiche; in season seven, he moved the (originally New York–based) show to Los Angeles so they could be private investigators a la Magnum P.I.
Season eight, which premieres April 5, picks up right where season seven left off: with Archer’s title character floating face down in a swimming pool after being shot. It’s a hard corner for Reed to write his way out of, so in a way, setting season eight entirely inside Archer’s comatose brain makes some kind of sense.
Launching the show into an alternate noir universe where the characters are completely different people with the same sense of humor is a tricky endeavor, and the season struggles at first. But once it settles in and allows itself to get weird after the premiere gets the setup out of the way, Archer: Dreamland becomes the hilarious ride it should’ve been from the start.
Archer: Dreamland is too straight an homage for the show to feel like itself — until it brings in a welcome shot of bizarre
The seventh season ended with a mission gone wrong, and everyone looking on in horror as Archer’s apparently lifeless body floated in a pool. The eighth opens with his dry-as-toast mother Malory (Jessica Walter) and his partner-slash-love interest Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler) visiting Archer’s bedside, where he’s now lying comatose — and dreaming up an elaborate noir fantasy.
It appears the entire eight-episode season — of which I’ve seen the first half — will take place inside Archer’s subconscious, where he’s imagining himself as a P.I. in over his head. Lana is now a vixen lounge singer who works in a club owned by Malory; the latter is now LA’s most fearsome crime boss, who goes by “Mother.” Two of Archer’s co-workers, Cyril (Chris Parnell) and Pam (Amber Nash), are cops who keep getting in his way. (Just like in reality, though, he and Pam share something like mutual respect, while his relationship with Cyril is still a literal dick-measuring contest.)
And there are plenty of sly cameos and Easter eggs for diehard Archer fans along the way. (The show's other regular characters pop up more sporadically, so revealing their roles would take away half the fun).
This all sounds neat in theory — and it is, eventually. But Dreamland Archer and his cohorts start out as such straight tributes to film noir archetypes that they rarely come up for air to make a wisecrack or break the illusion.
In the season premiere, for example, Archer is too busy playing dress-up to actually be funny. “No Good Deed” opens with Lana and Malory solemnly attending to Archer without a single joke in sight, a choice that unfortunately ends up defining the rest of the episode. Instead of being Archer as seen through a noir lens, it’s largely a 21-minute film noir movie starring people who look familiar.
And then a spoiled heiress walks through Archer’s door, throwing everything into the depraved chaos I had been craving all along.
I won’t divulge the specifics of what happens after that moment, which managed to snap me out of my boredom and inspire me to literally applaud at my screen.
But I will go so far as to say that Cheryl’s appearance — not to mention Judy Greer’s especially brilliant performance — may have saved Archer’s eighth season from itself. In the three episodes that follow, Cheryl and Archer’s storyline forces the show to remember its usual commitment to staging snappy capers, letting outsized personalities fly, and joyfully perverting everything (and everyone) it touches. In one demented fell swoop, Cheryl turns the entire show upside down, just as Dreamland promised to do in the first place.
Archer: Dreamland premieres Wednesday, April 5 at 10 pm EST on FXX.