Sploosh: Thoughts on Discovering Archer

(total spoilers)

Sometime around a fortnight ago, Netflix recommended I watch Archer, the spy satire cartoon. I had nothing better to watch, so I watched Archer.

One hundred and twenty-six episodes later, I’m ready to talk.

At first I thought this was going to be a hymn. Just non-stop gushing with the only criticism being that because it’s largely about terrible people being terrible, I couldn’t recommend it to everyone. My thoughts are now more mixed but at its peak, Archer is very much one of my TV shows. I’d say the heart and soul of any good sitcom is a group of interesting characters who bounce off each other big time while spouting fantastic lines, and Archer has that in spades.

I’ve honestly laughed until I’ve had hiccups at these characters raging at each other. And the characters exist at a wonderful balance point of hating each other enough to rage at each other often, yet liking each other that it doesn’t go too far. They’re also terrible enough you laugh at everything bad happening to them, but loveable enough that you cheer when things go well. Some of them veer more terrible, such as the eponymous Archer and his mother Malory who are both incredibly narcissistic; some of them veer more loveable, such as love interest and deuteragonist Lana, and the outstandingly awesome Pam. Some, like Cheryl and Krieger, are just really fucking weird.

But they’re all a mix. They’re all interesting. They’re all strongly defined enough to make sense and complex enough to spring surprises. As you might guess, Pam is my favourite; her development from awful HR director to a good time thug of a girl with a heart of gold and surprising amounts of common sense is my favourite. But I love them all, even Malory, whose mix of bigotry and arrogance is at times a little too much and sometimes a lot.

Some will tell you the core dynamic is between Archer and Malory (voiced by the much missed Jessica Walter). I personally think it’s more about Archer and Lana. Archer, an exaggerated James Bond/American frat douche, is usually paired with Lana on missions and causes her endless grief with his overconfidence, unprofessional habits, and complete lack of impulse control. Given that Lana has some anger management issues, watching her get wound up is great. Yet there’s more. There’s an underlying respect, even if getting them to admit it to each other is very difficult, especially with their mutual attraction. When they are able to break through their barriers and really communicate with each other, it represents such a great step for both.

I have to say, the decision to reset them and perform their drama all over again is a little of how this is more than just a hymn.

The line “You Either Die A Hero, Or You Live Long Enough To See Yourself Become The Villain” applies to many things, but few as well as sitcoms. They rely on the underlying tensions of a few characters and those can rarely be spun out endlessly. After a certain point, either the show needs to jump to new tensions, or find a way to do them all over again, or end. After the show seemed to resolve Archer-Lana, it decided to cast things into doubt, and then stick Archer into a coma and run three dream sequence seasons. I liked the dream sequence seasons (which I think puts me in a minority), but after that, with Archer-Lana reset?

The last two seasons felt like they’d lost their purpose and joy. There were some good episodes, but not enough. Moreover, they tried to add some bigger arcs to replace some of the lost dynamics, but

a) they were running them in too few episodes to really land

b) Archer’s just not that show to me

Yeah, sitcoms need their overlying arcs to work. But it’s not the major thing they need to work. It can’t replace the constant stream of fresh thrills needed. I watched Archer to cackle like a witch on a cocaine bender, not to marvel at the power of storytelling.

So now I await season thirteen. No Malory does offer a big opportunity to change the show’s dynamic. What should writer and creator Adam Reed do? Ultimately, I think it does me no good to get too attached to what he should do or not do. But I am wondering just how much his head and heart in it. He’s clearly been straining at the show’s leash and reducing the workload.

The truth is I’m unlikely to know. But the truth is it seems likely that this will affect whether Archer can refind it’s mojo and continue in blistering form, or whether it limps its way to a conclusion. Whatever happens, its golden period will remain golden and be something I revisit a lot. Shows this good don’t come along very often and when they do, you’ve just got to milk it as much as possible.

Phrasing.

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