FX’s Archer has been one of the few animated shows on TV to make it to the fifth season. When a show has lasted as long as Archer, it has no doubt built a loyal fanbase that will continue to watch the show. However, when a show is on for numerous years, there is the fear from producers that the material will become stale and the fans will slowly become less interested. On the flipside of the argument, if the show is changed too much, it can end up alienating fans and make them stop watching. Archer took a substantial risk when the creators decided to change the core concept of the show, but it looks like the gamble will pay off. By finding the balance of old and new, the newly rebranded Archer: Vice has found a way to keep the old fans happy while attracting new ones.
For those who are unfamiliar with Archer, the premise is pretty simple. The title character, Sterling Archer, works for an international espionage agency called ISIS. Archer is not so subtly inspired by James Bond, but the absurdity is cranked up. Archer is more than a capable agent (he is arguably ISIS’s best agent), but his womanizing and alcoholism is set to hilariously exaggerated levels. He also has a severely dysfunctional relationship with his mother, who happens to run ISIS, along with his various co-workers who he treats like absolute garbage. The humour is very dialogue heavy, as the various other agents and office workers are constantly going head-to-head with Archer while he nonchalantly goes on dangerous missions. The dialogue is loaded with a lot of sarcasm, as well as bits of pop culture references, giving Archer a sense that he could exist in our world.
What differentiates Sterling Archer from James Bond, is that Archer is not always successful in his missions and he lacks Bond’s set of high tech gadgets. Bond has always completed his missions successfully, while Archer on a few occasions completely failed in trying to accomplish his mission. This inconsistency of accomplishing missions keeps the show fresh, as the viewer may not know how it is going to end until the credits start rolling. Also, the lack of gadgets allows Archer to come up with some exaggerated ideas on how to get out of a situation which adds to the ridiculousness of the show.
SLIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD
Since the characters are established but the creators of the show wanted to change up the concept, the creators got rid of the whole spy angle and set Archer and company on the path of drug dealing. Without giving away how everything comes to be (just watch the season 5 premiere and see), ISIS is no longer around, but the characters are still present and they have about $60 million worth of cocaine that needs to be sold. So, while the changeup may seem like it is out of place, it is not that much a change up from the original outline. The characters and their personalities are still the same, as well as their job titles with the exception being Cheryl/Carol, who now wants to be the number one country star in America. Although instead of trying to complete missions of espionage, the group is trying to complete drug deals in order to sell off their entire stash since their assets were eliminated. The drug deals are still attempted with the same lack of finesse and teamwork that the viewer has come to expect. The premiere even gives clips from upcoming episodes in order to give the observer a taste of the ridiculous antics of what longtime fans expect from the series. Of course, Archer is more than excited with his new line of work, as he says in the second episode of the season five, “…The point is, we are highly trained covert operatives with an extremely dangerous set of skills. And since the government has unjustly accused us of treason, we are now forced to transfer those skills from espionage to criminal activity. Kinda like the A-Team. But we sell drugs”. Clearly the show has not lost its ability to mix in pop culture into the dialogue, all while making sure that the characters sound like their usual selves.
The characters behave like their usual deviant selves, but there is also a lot more emphasis on the team. The first couple seasons of Archer portrayed some of the characters as throwaway people, simply there for someone for Archer to bounce insults off of. As the show has come into its own, it has expanded the importance of Pam, Cheryl/Carol, Ray and fan favorite Dr. Krieger (who they consistently make him more twisted but somehow lovable). Some characters have grown in importance, such as having Cheryl/Carol being a multimillionaire so the Archers have some kind of cushion to operate on. Also, the return of some enemies or characters from previous episodes serves as a reward to longtime fans, since they can see a familiar character in this new situation for Archer and company.
While Archer may only be three episodes into its latest season, it appears that the creators have found the ideal way to make a show fresh without alienating longtime fans. The crazy antics, sarcastic dialogue and eccentric characters are all there, but the fundamental goal has changed. Even with the end goal changing, the show still feels familiar enough that it is not too jarring. If anything, the sudden change of the cast to being drug dealers accentuates the ridiculousness that viewers have come to expect.