Fresh on TV: ‘ARCHER’ – Season 8 premieres tonight on FXX

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Connor Bynum // Critic

ARCHER – Season 8 (Ep. 1-4)

Very few TV animated comedies out there can get away with drastically altering their structure, while maintaining the same cast as well as signature brand of humor. Ever since the show’s fifth season, the show runners made a bold move to distance themselves from the ISIS branding as to avoid any connection with the (very) real world terrorist organization. In keeping with this concept, the latest season of ARCHER has been subtitled ARCHER: DREAMLAND and shifts its style to pay homage to the classic detective noir films of the 1940s. Here is a brief spoiler-free review of what you can expect from the first four of the eight episodes:

Following the events in the finale for Season 7, Sterling Archer (H. John Benjamin) is left in a coma where he and the whole gang are transported into an alternate reality set in 1940s New York. In both the real world and in Dreamland, Woodhouse (the late George Coe) has died. After being absent for all of last season, it is nice to finally have some closure on the character. At the start of DREAMLAND, it is established that Archer and Woodhouse had worked as partners in a detective agency until Woodhouse was mysteriously murdered. Given the lifetime of abuse he’s inflicted on the poor guy, it is a pleasant surprise to see Archer so strongly taken back by this news as he vows to find out who is responsible for his death. (At least he is in Dreamland. No word yet on how he’ll take the news if and when he wakes up).

The rest of the cast is all here and accounted for. Cyril Figgis (Chris Parnell) is now a crooked cop trying to appease the mob without losing his head. He is accompanied by Pam Poovey (Amber Nash) as his partner while being inexplicably/hilariously portrayed as an androgynous man who is only referred to as Poovey. Cheryl Tunt (Judy Greer) is still able to shock viewers with new levels of crazy. A standout moment for her involves an insanely dark use of a dead body that only gets better as it goes along. Where things currently stand, Cyril, Poovey, and Cheryl are certainly given much more attention than the rest of the cast who feel surprisingly underused up to this point. Lana Kayne (Aisha Tyler) works as a singer in a jazzy night club sharing the season’s subtitle of Dreamland. Lana unfortunately is given very little to work with outside of an uncomfortable sequence when she tries her hand at standup comedy. Ray Gillette (Adam Reed) joins her as the lead trumpet player in her band whose main reoccurring gag is a hit and miss distaste for well timed rim shots (Phrasing?). Malory (Jessica Walter) also returns, but this time as the club’s owner with no relation to Sterling. However, she insists that everyone to only refer to her as, “Mother”.

ARCHER — “No Good Deed” — Season 8, Episode 1 (Airs April 5, 10:00 pm e/p). CR: FXX

As with tradition for every new season, DREAMLAND brings back a handful of familiar faces. Among them are Len Trexler (Jeffrey Tambor) as the notorious mob boss and Cecil Tunt (Eugine Mirman) as Cheryl’s (still) eccentric older brother. Barry Dillon (Dave Willis) also returns this season working under Trexler’s wing as a nice callback to Season 1. Rounding it all off is Dr. Kreiger (Lucky Yates) who also works for Trexler and plays a hand in once again turning poor Barry into everyone’s favorite cyborg. Any remaining returning characters are yet to be seen.

Fans of classic detective noir movies and TV shows will find plenty to love in DREAMLAND. Nearly every scene is just dripping with loving influence from classic 1940s detective dramas and the attention to detail shows a clear admiration for the genre. However, fans who did not much care for the similar change of pace in Season 5 (or ARCHER: VICE) may be turned off by this departure. Other notable touches include frequent flashbacks showcasing Archer’s often very dark memories of serving in World War II. These instances mostly work well, but can sometimes feel even more out of place than the overall DREAMLAND narrative as they can get very dark even by Archer standards. Additionally, the opening theme song has been altered to fit more with the 1940s motif, but frankly does not really carry over as well as other changes.

Finally, the structure of Season 8 so far is much more focused on continuity between episodes than previous outings. Because of this, the episodes I have seen so far have a hard time standing out individually and flow much smoother when watched all at once. Unfortunately, asking audiences to wait until it’s all over to binge the whole thing really isn’t a feasible option. After watching the first four episodes in ARCHER: DREAMLAND, I can honestly say that fans of the show will have plenty to love here. That being said, this would probably be the worst time for newcomers to the series to jump in. Fortunately for them, all seven previous seasons are now available for streaming on Netflix.

Grade: B

ARCHER – Season 8 – premieres Wednesday, April 5 at 10 PM ET/PT on FXX.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.