Four episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
The eighth season of Archer picks up where the seventh left off, with the titular character’s bullet-riddled body floating in a Los Angeles swimming pool. It begins without humor, in the midst of death. Woodhouse is eulogized and buried, while Archer lies in a coma and a voiceover recites Bible verses. Lana and Mallory wait next to Archer’s comatose body for him to wake up, wondering what he might be dreaming about.
This is the framing device for Archer: Dreamland, the eighth season of the animated action comedy. Like several of its preceding seasons, this new installment drops us into a long form exploration of a theme. The fifth season gave us the team as drug dealers (Archer Vice), the sixth made them spies again, and the seventh turned them into Hollywood private detectives. Now, the entire season appears to be Archer’s dreams as he lies in his hospital bed, rebooting the characters and conflicts of his life into a sprawling noir narrative set in late 1940s Los Angeles.
This new season goes much farther than any previous retooling we’ve seen in Archer, and it works. In fact, it might be the most successful longform narrative Archer has done since “Heart of Archness” in season 3, the three episode arc in which Archer became a pirate king with some major Apocalypse Now vibes.
The new narrative makes for some very exciting possibilities, too, essentially starting from the ground up. Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) is a middle class private detective who served in Normandy and has a penchant for bourbon. Woodhouse is his dead partner, not his butler, as this Archer does not have the means for a butler. Instead, he’s both mourning Woodhouse and trying to solve his murder, which seems to tie into all the other plotlines.
Malory, meanwhile, isn’t Archer’s mother, but a nightclub owner named Mother. The nightclub she owns is named Dreamland, where she employs Lana (Aisha Tyler), Ray (Archer creator Adam Reed), and Krieger (Lucky Yates). Finally, Cyril (Chris Parnell) and Pam (Amber Nash) are LAPD cops and partners, with Pam reimagined as Poovey, a male detective.
Not everything has changed, though. Archer’s wit and arrogance carry him through most interactions, while Cheryl (Judy Greer) is still a masochistic heiress and Cyril once again a jealous rival to Archer. Jeffrey Tambor resumes his guest role as Len Trexler, once again an antagonist to the majority of the cast, with Barry (Dave Willis) back again as a conniving manipulator who may end up being a cyborg.
All of this adds up into a very effective and funny new season. The noir setting makes for a host of new jokes and the dialogue isn’t only as sharp as usual, it’s sharper. This works, as Archer’s quips and riffs work perfectly when coming out of the mouth of a late ‘40s hardboiled private eye. In some ways, the private eye Archer of Dreamland may be the best Phillip Marlowe adaptation we’ve had recently. The character himself is less self-aware than Jonathan Ames in Bored to Death or Harry Lockhart in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, but the show and its writers are extraordinarily self-aware, creating layer-after-layer of meta humor, with references to a multitude of noir works and Archer’s previous seven seasons.
From The Big Sleep to Chinatown to L.A. Confidential, it’s all here. The fourth episode, “Ladyfingers,” centers around Archer and company attempting to “defraud an old man out of a million dollars using a severed human finger.” The antics involving said severed finger are on par with the severed toe plot in The Big Lebowski, with just as much humor and meta-fictional noir riffs. Chinatown and other classic noir works come into play as well when it’s repeatedly mentioned that Charlotte (or Cheryl) comes from a quasi-incestuous family, with the response always being “how quasi?” It’s nice seeing that Archer has phased out “phrasing” but still has room for new recurring jokes.
Of course, this season doesn’t settle for just referencing the entire noir genre. The opening eulogy for Woodhouse contains lines from Corinthians and Job. Archer compares a character to Granville Sharp, the famous abolitionist. And while Archer himself might have become a private eye, he still has his Bond-like qualities, including the complete inability to maintain a ruse or do any genuine spying. As Lana points out to him, he’s a private eye “doing it with a fresh new take on the word ‘private.’”
While it all works so far – and specifically hits its stride in the fourth episode – the biggest complaint would probably be that some characters and opportunities are underused. Why isn’t there more Aisha Tyler as Lana Kane, and why aren’t she and Archer sharing more scenes? And is too much humor lost by removing the mother-son dynamic between Archer and Malory? Part of the trouble is that the narrative could be too busy. Sure, the storyline about Krieger’s past as a Jewish scientist posing as a Nazi is intriguing and compelling, but it lacks jokes and doesn’t move the story in a way that focusing on Lana and Malory wouldn’t. Of course, the fact that we’re talking about story and narrative at all means that Archer has come a long way since its beginning.
This season largely succeeds due to its attention to details. The animation is great as always, the voice acting skilled, and the guest stars are magnificent. Not only are Jeffrey Tambor and Keegan Michael-Key back, but Wyatt Cenac (of The Daily Show) and Wendell Pierce (of The Wire) round out the roster, improving the already excellent third episode, “Jane Doe.”
Unlike the last several seasons, this is also the first new outing in a while that could entertain and please someone who isn’t already on the Archer bandwagon. The longform quality prevents one from just tuning into a random episode, but fans of noir and neo-noir would do well to check this out, even those who aren’t historically fans of the show. If you’re looking for entertainment and good laughs from an intelligent cartoon, this new season of Archer will not disappoint.
In Archer: Dreamland - the eight season - both the show and story stay fresh and funny by taking us to a 1940's noir setting.