Archer 5×01 ‘White Elephant’: Archer Vice!

Archer

Quick: name a long-running series that completely blew up its central premise in one of its later seasons and did it without damaging the integrity of the entire show. It’s tough to do. Most TV series have broad enough premises to stay mostly the same throughout (family comedies, crime dramas), or work along a very defined or predetermined dramatic arc (like, say, Breaking Bad). When a reboot happens, it can signal a writers’ room struggling to find engaging material in the original concept. Archer is different in many ways – pop culture parody and character-driven animated comedy are resilient TV formulas –  but only time will tell if its creator Adam Reed can successfully wipe the slate mostly clean in the show’s fifth year. Based on the season premiere however, I’m happy to say the seeds have been sown for an ambitious and indeed epic run. Let’s discuss further, after the jump.

Rather than a return to form (and more of Archer’s nemesis Barry Dylan), Reed and his team have dedicated an entire season to a reboot known as Archer Vice, an obvious homage to the ‘80s cop drama Miami Vice. Forced to abandon the espionage game by the U.S. government, the ISIS gang now embarks on a life of crime as they attempt to sell a “literal” ton of cocaine and retire with as much as $60 million.

I’m glad they’ve decided to change things up, even if it’s only for a season, and the new crime angle jives well with the idea of these characters being terrible people with a nebulous-at-best sense of morality. It says a lot about Archer’s characters and their development over the years that a transition to the drug underworld from international espionage doesn’t seem like a bridge too far. This transition is made only more seamless through a lengthy recap of ISIS’s many many criminal acts as the group confesses everything to the FBI. Taking away their (sometimes limited) ISIS resources and comfort zone, while leaving the questionable ethics, could make for some great comedy and elevate the already fairly strong action the series has presented thus far.

Archer

Source: FX

I do half-heartedly take issue with the notion that ISIS has been operating outside of U.S. authority all these years. I’m sure we could easily look back at previous seasons and find contradictory evidence – surely the U.S. would have discovered the rogue ISIS when Malory sent out a burn notice on Archer in season 1’s “Job Offer.” Of course, Malory is not a reliable source of information at all. And in razing ISIS to the ground, the writers do poke fun at the ambiguity surrounding the agency’s activities and loyalties. I’m more than willing to give it a pass.

Perhaps my favorite bit of this very strong season opener was Archer’s vision of his future in the criminal underworld, which presumably also serves as a sort of “This season on Archer Vice…” montage. The wonderfully out-of-context absurdity provided a lot of laughs, including Carol/Cheryl realizing her dream of becoming a nationally loved country singer, and I can’t wait for that context to be filled in as the season progresses.

Some final thoughts:

  • Malory is clearly very well-connected, despite her apparent choice to not seek or gain authority from the U.S. government to conduct espionage activities. She threatens to call “him” – probably the president – back if the head FBI agent doesn’t add Sterling’s FBI agent hostage-taking to the immunity deal. If Archer was a drama, I would complain about the inconsistency of her being powerrful enough to avoid federal prison but not powerful enough to run a legitimate extragovernmental spy agency, but…nah.
  • Poor Brett! “He died doing what he loved – getting shot.” A hilarious end to that side character.
  • Krieger: I’ll be your doctor.
    Lana: Well, if I want Hitler’s DNA spliced into him, I’ll give you a call.
    Krieger: Yeah, I’m around.
  • A+++ for Amber Nash’s reading of the line “I believe there was talk of throwing a bone in me?” (which is as filthy as it sounds)
  • This is the perfect opportunity for me to relate my personal Archer story. Several years ago, before the beginning of the second season, I attended a Paleyfest event in Los Angeles featuring an episode airing and a Q&A session and meet-and-greet with most of the cast. I was able to meet Chris Parnell (Cyril), which was excellent, but also had to stand politely for a while hoping for an autograph from Adam Reed, who was chatting with a friend. My favorite part of the event was meeting H. Jon Benjamin, my favorite voice actor from his days as Coach McGuirk and Jason from Home Movies. I had the proud distinction of telling him about the special feature on the Season 1 DVD, wherein they replaced Archer with a velociraptor for the entire pilot, without changing any dialogue or the characters acknowledging this fact in any way. So, that was a thing.
J.P. Laub

is a pop culture connoisseur, politics wonk, sometimes gamer and consummate nerd. To give you some idea, he is an avid reader of Wikipedia entries about fictional and theoretical faster-than-light drives. Seriously, he once saw a random Dune reference on a website and spent 45 minutes reading about the Holtzmann effect and related entries.

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