‘Archer’: Spy comedy is broken. Here’s how to fix it.

06.09.16 3 years ago

Archer is approaching the danger zone.

The FX animated spy comedy just concluded its seventh season, but with viewers left wondering  [SPOILER ALERT] whether the show”s protagonist is dead or alive, it might be best to just let him go forward into the goodnight.

I”m a huge fan of the series. I”ve seen most episodes more times than I should admit. I – inexplicably – have two copies of the guidebook How to Archer as well as an Archer apron (bet you didn't know they even sold those). The only thing I quote more often than Archer is Blazing Saddles, and that”s a toss up. But the show has lost its way and the ratings show it. The average total viewership for this most recent season was a scant 781,000 viewers, with the high coming at the season premiere at an underwhelming 1.06 million. By way of comparison, in Season 4, the high-water mark of the series and the last season before Archer: Vice, Archer averaged nearly double that amount, with 1.38 million viewers. And no episode ever dipped below 1.15 million viewers.

What was once one of the best comedies on TV has gone away from what made it hilarious, clever and unique among animated offerings. With it teetering on the brink, we have some ideas on how to bring it back. But first, where did it go wrong?

Archer started going haywire at the beginning of the fifth season, a.k.a. Archer: Vice. When Sterling and the gang find themselves in possession of massive quantities of cocaine, they become substandard drug dealers. A clever idea, perhaps, although there are probably other drugs that would seem more fitting for the times. The premise itself upset the natural order of things. No longer was Sterling reporting into his mother. No longer was the team saving the world from high profile criminals, terrorists and evildoers. Instead, they'd become bumbling oafs more times than not. And then there was Cherlene”s whole singing career that was more of an intrusion than anything else. The high point of the season was when they take on the Yakuza, if only for the appearance of George Takei, but everything other than that seemed to drift out of control.

Archer works best when every episode is self-contained, or at most, a two-parter. Sure, they”ve had through-lines (e.g., Who is Sterling”s father?) that work well too, but when the show essentially becomes serialized (Archer: Vice, Season 7) it gets bogged down and lost, especially if that storyline isn't all that interesting. It seems to be hard for producers to find the right balance between comedy and drama in these scenarios, and the show suffers as a result.

For anyone familiar with the original website Jump The Shark, when any TV show added a baby, it was the beginning of that program's end. With the addition of Abbiejean, sadly, Archer seemingly was not immune to this theory. Baby A.J. has not only added nothing to the show, but she”s led to predictable and mediocre episodes like “Sitting” (Season 6/Episode 6), where Sterling has to babysit his child while fighting off ne'er-do-wells. The one saving grace of her addition came two episodes later when Sterling, Lana and A.J. went to visit Lana”s parents. But here the child is just a device to get them to the Kanes, something that could have just as easily been accomplished had there been no child at all.

This is nothing against Judy Greer, the voice of Cheryl, but her character is a one-note joke. Initially her masochistic tendencies were weird, but intriguing. It was something we”d not seen on TV before as far as I can recall, but by the hundredth time she makes a comment about her kinky preferences, the comedy is past stale. We know little about her and she never does anything integral to an episode, so it”s hard to say what value she really delivers.

Ok. So now that I”ve identified what I believe to be the problems with Archer, here”s what I”d do to fix it…

Krieger is easily the most underused character on the show. I realize that it wasn”t until Season 5 that Lucky Yates, the voice behind the mad scientist, was upped to being a series regular, but there”s a seemingly endless supply of material that can be mined for comedy. Whether it's his genetic experiments or his anime girlfriend, there”s a lot to explore. As for Pam, she”s the only person who can kick Sterling”s ass, and by the transitive property, she can certainly kick anyone else”s ass too. That farm girl is tough, so use her out in the field and don't put her out to pasture.

In an interview with HitFix prior to the start of Season 7, EP Adam Reed said that he didn”t view Sterling being a P.I. as being much different than being a secret agent. Reed said, “The format doesn”t change a whole lot whether you”re spying on a North Korean or you”re spying on a cheating husband.” From a show structure standpoint, that statement may be true. But the stakes matter a heck of a lot less when you”re tracking down that cheating husband as opposed to a despot. When that happens, what makes Sterling such a great character goes away too.

Sure the CIA was part of the reason for the demise of ISIS. But that hasn”t stopped Slater and his CIA friends from tapping into the skills of Sterling and Lana to get them out of a jam. So why not bring the two parties together in a real working relationship. They already have the skills, plus the conflict of Archer going off half-cocked (phrasing) in an organization filled with bureaucracy might just get the show back on track.  

Yes. That ISIS. Sterling is always up for a new challenge. He”s taken on terrorists of all shapes and sizes, so why not take on the worst of the worst? He”s got the motivation (they want their name back, oh, and world peace). He”s got the skill set. So why not do a two-part episode where he takes down the terrorists, ultimately reclaiming the name ISIS for the agency. Reed has said he wanted to stay away from geo-political issues, but why not embrace it and kick some tail. It”s what made Archer great initially, so why not bring it back?

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