The TV Room: Archer Season 6, by David Bax
Season six of Archer, which just completed its run on FX, started from an odd place. On the one hand, expectations were low because the show was coming off its worst season. I’d love to be the devil’s advocate and mount a defense of season five (aka Archer: Vice) but the truth is that it was an unfunny, repetitive drag. On the other hand, however, expectations were high because of the two-season pickup and the fact that the premise was basically reset at the end of Vice.
What’s different this season is that the agency is no longer known as Isis, for obvious and prudent reasons; they are now subcontractors for the CIA, giving Christian Slater’s Slater a larger role; and, of course, Archer and Lana now have a child together.
So, the question is whether season six was an improvement. And the answer is yes, for the most part. Season five started strong and then established a consistent downward momentum. This year, the results were more scatter shot, stumbling from one week to the next like Archer after a month long binge in Thailand. There were highlights like Archer’s trip to Pam’s hometown, an episode that was outrageously vulgar, misanthropic,violent and hilarious while also remaining true to the memory of these characters’ time together and the fact that their absurd adventures have actually brought them emotionally closer. And then there were low points, like the “stuck in an elevator” bottle episode that only served to repeatedly reinforce every comedic character flaw we already know about the Archer crew.
Surprisingly, the one element of season six that the show would have been excused for phoning in was one of its strongest attributes. So many shows have introduced babies and then shunted them to the side in the interest of convenience, hauling them back out only when the writers had an idea that could use them. The existence of Archer and Lana’s baby, though, hung over every episode. In pure story terms, it was always clear and important who was watching Abbiejean when the team were on missions. More crucially, though, we saw how Lana and especially Archer were changed by the fact of their child. Archer became less impulsive and reckless, at least by his standards and even though he often had to talk himself down to a place of rationality.
Maybe the most welcome improvement over season five was the return of a more judicious employment of the show’s many running gags. Repeated jokes are a part of the series’ fabric but Vice exhausted both established jokes and new ones. This year, Ray’s aptitude for being crippled or maimed, Cheryl’s choking fetish, and even the debate about whether or not to use “phrasing” reoccurred without wearing out their welcome. And the new runner about whether or Krieger is himself or a clone remained subtle before being satisfyingly addresses out loud in the finale.
Season seven of Archer is guaranteed, though its basic premise and quality are not. The show’s bigger budget this year paid off visually. Let’s hope next year it pays off with innovations as well, and more successful ones than Vice.