Look: As satisfying as a well executed long game might be to the loyal audience of any series that’s made it past a handful of a seasons, the very best of them will still find a way to be accessible to viewers who aren’t caught up, or who never caught on in the first place. They have to! Even in the age of one million networks running approximately one billion shows, television real estate is at a premium. If long-lived shows didn’t make themselves accessible to viewers outside their dedicated fanbase, how else could they possibly justify staying on the airwaves?
That said, according to Paste’s own Jacob Oller, Archer’s nine-season game has maybe been less well executed than it has just been plain old long. And I will be frank, when I gave up on the gorgeously animated, award-worthy series sometime around what I absolutely thought was Season Four until just now when I looked it up on Wikipedia and realized had to have been only, barely, the middle of Season Three, it was because even by then the stylish offensiveness and same-same shouty patter among a bunch of sex-crazed animated malcontents had outlived whatever subversive charm it had, for me, originally held. Season Five’s Archer Vice seemed like a smartly bizarro direction for the show to take to freshen up, but not bizarro enough to lure me back in to Sterling’s sea of alcohol-soaked smarm. The foggy neon noir of Season Eight’s 1947-set Archer: Dreamland very nearly hooked me, but by then inertia had set in and it felt easier to ignore The Crew Formerly Known as ISIS than seek them out anew. Besides, by the time I’d seen two or three of Dreamland’s different lewd and moody ad spots, I felt like I’d seen the whole thing.
Oh, Jacob! I want to say I can’t imagine what it has been like for dedicated fans to stick out Archer’s whole, indelicate run, except, see, that’s the thing: You say it’s felt long to you? I can very concretely imagine.
And yet, I don’t have unhappy memories of Archer! Subversive vulgarity isn’t my preferred mode of humor, sure, but in my very hipster youth I imprinted on H. Jon Benjamin as the schlubby, inappropriate coach on Adult Swim’s wonderfully gonzo Home Movies, and the cognitive dissonance of hearing that character’s voice come out of Sterling Archer’s mouth has never once gotten old. Aisha Tyler’s Lana is an everlasting reminder to “be the dauntless lady ball-buster you want to see in the world.” The series’ anti-humor and willingness to let long frames of animation hang in awkward silence is great. The visual style is something to dream about.
And then here is Season Nine, Archer: Danger Island, set inexplicably (if beautifully) on a Pacific Island in what appears to be the 1930s, promising to be so utterly divorced from anything resembling series continuity that it’s like, why wouldn’t a lapsed fan dip a toe or two back in?
So while Jacob is out here doing St. Clare’s good work of sticking with Archer through all its long, weird years, I’m going to sneak in the back door and try to discern from the three episodes of Archer: Danger Island provided to critics just how much I’ve missed. Is it, like I for so long suspected, an exhausting tour through all the same shticks? It is it a nostalgic romp through my memory’s greatest hits? Is it at all comprehensible? Let’s find out together!
N.B.: For “purity” purposes, I did not seek out any supplementary information about this season’s origins or what has transpired since I fell off Sterling’s 1970-El Camino 001 back in Season Three. When I say I snuck in, I mean it.
Live Notes, No Context
The opening scene is all confusion, so that seems right.
Archer lost an eye!?
Is Pam… giant??
No clue what their roles are here? Is this an alternate universe, or is it collective amnesia? Wasn’t there a baby at some point? Where is the baby?
Just as lushly stylized as ever, but with JUNGLE and SPARKLING OCEAN.
Ray is French and Lana is… a Princess? I literally have no idea if this is a con on Cheryl, or on me.
Archer makes Andes expedition and Krauts references in the same breath, so still unclear if this is a period piece referencing things from seasons I missed, or a legit alternate universe period piece, or some kind of shared fever dream.
“But maybe you really are immortal! That… that’d explain a lot.” Yes, Archer, I think it actually would!!
Ah, this is nice, the forgotten joy of the show going the extra league beyond “everyone on television is always quipping unrealistically throughout every possible situation” to “everyone is quipping unrealistically and FAILING, trying to get bits in at the least opportune times and then utterly failing.” Nice that this could feel fresh for me, rather than geriatric.
“Mmm, that’s a real Catch-22” / “Yeah I don’t think that’s a thing yet.” Okay, so it IS a period piece?
Archer and Pam (Amber Nash) are bros! Nice.
Oof, Malory (Jessica Walter), still as irredeemable as ever. NOT great sex-work positivity (not that that’s the show’s deal, but jeez).
“Will Germany help get the French out?” / “I think I can safely say they soon won’t be a problem.” Okay DEFINITELY a period piece, and also Fuchs/Cyil (Chris Parnell) is Nazi scum.
Colonialism is real bad!
The Background I Avoided:
Huh! OK. So a standalone period piece, playing with the characters we all know in a context neither they nor we have any experience with. It’s just the Archer team entertaining themselves. I’m not mad!
The Analysis: Exhausting? Nostalgic? Comprehensible in the Least?
I mean, kind of a bit of everything? It is remarkable that not one “Danger ZOOOONE” gag seemed to exist in the first three episodes of a whole season titled Danger Island, but maybe it’s too anachronistic. Or maybe they’re just saving it for the finale. I definitely like Archer and Pam now being equal partners with some real rapport; this is a better role for her. And for him. They’re both better for the development. Cyril as a Nazi turns the Nice Guy ickiness his character has always had up to its strongest, least well-hidden potential, which is refreshingly gross. Lucky Yates taking on the role of Crackers the Very Snarky Parrot is a joy, and can we please retcon him all the way back through the pilot, replacing creepy Krieger entirely? Awesome, thanks.
Overall—coming back in after five and half seasons away? Not terrible! Very little surprised me, but the things that I could recognize intellectually as being formally tired and possibly irritating, I kind of enjoyed. It was kind of like taking a vacation back to a really nice place you used to live in so long you got sick of it: All the shine, none of the shadow.
My vote for all the lapsed fans like me out there: Give Archer: Danger Island a shot. If nothing else, you can watch waiting for the very real possibility that one of the characters will fall into a volcano out of sheer greedy idiocy. I’m sure the art designers will make that really pop.
Archer: Danger Island premieres tonight at 10p.m. on FXX.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic whose writing has appeared on Forever Young Adult, Screener, and Birth.Movies.Death. She’ll go ten rounds fighting for teens and intelligently executed genre fare to be taken seriously by pop culture. She can be found @AlexisKG.