Thursday, 24 April 2014

Archer: Vice - Reboot A Mistake And Season 6

Archer will always be the same hilariously self-centered and egotistic Archer. A leopard (or tiger?) won't change his spots. But FX's animated comedy underwent a radical reboot for its fifth season, which concluded in the States yesterday (April 21).

The premiere a few months ago saw the FBI raid ISIS and force the agency to disband, only for ISIS's finest (RIP Brett) to form a cartel with the intention of selling a literal tonne of cocaine. Titled Archer: Vice, the show dispatched of the goofy espionage missions in favour of goofy long-running arcs following the gang's life of crime.

Although season four wasn't Archer's strongest run, the tried-and-tested spy format of previous seasons still had plenty of life left, so the reboot - bold and daring as it was - wasn't the most necessary of moves and could have backfired badly. Interestingly, creator Adam Reed confirmed that the comedy will 'deboot' and mostly return to its old ways next year, but let's be clear: this season wasn't bad. Sure, some things fell a little flat, but it still succeeded in drawing plenty of laughs.

This was largely down to the show retaining the essence of the characters and the banter between them. Mallory will never stop being horribly self-righteous, and it shouldn't be any other way. You can't have Archer without Lana as his foil, and you certainly can't have a psychologically sane, completely un-deranged Cheryl.

Dedicated fans no doubt stood to get the most out of the season with a boatload of pretty awesome callbacks to previous episodes, from Archer calling Charlene/Cheryl 'Carol' and Lana's 'man hands' to Krieger being a biological clone of Hitler and DANGER ZONE.
The multi-episode arcs, however, were a little more hit-or-miss. The cocaine A-plot outstayed its welcome, and was ditched towards the end in favour of arms-dealing in the fictional country of the dictator-run San Marcos. (Cyril out of all people staging a one-man coup and becoming the new dictator? Excellent.) Meanwhile, Cheryl rebranding herself as Charlene the country star meandered along with no purpose until the last few episodes, and Lana's pregnancy wasn't the most fruitful in terms of chuckles.

In truth, many of Vice's funniest moments had little to do with the bigger picture. Archer, Cyril and Ray nervously floating on a raft over a river of alligators featured the sharp, hilarious and manic dialogue you'd expect from a great Archer instalment, but the top-notch humour was unrelated to the fact that they were fleeing South America after they were arrested for drug dealing. It could have been another spy assignment gone wrong, and the scene would have still worked.

Two exceptions, though. The season ended strong as Cyril's reign as dictator was played to much laughs. And second? Duh, obviously Pam the coke addict. Her sudden considerable weight loss as a result was hilarious as well.

More broadly, season five's format felt too structured and rigid. The standalone weekly instalments of yesteryear were often so bizarre and random in the best way possible, clearly written with jokes in mind. 'Archer should totally go to Monte Carlo and somehow end up in a Grand Prix race.' 'Wouldn't it be great if Archer's idol Burt Reynolds dated his mother?' 'What if ISIS went to friggin' space?'

In contrast, Vice was limited by what it could do. The jokes had to fit the story rather than vice versa, and ultimately, despite plenty of memorable moments, this batch of episodes didn't come across as creative or imaginative as seasons past.

Then, of course, there's the nostalgia factor. The heart of Archer is its characters, but there was something strange about not seeing the ISIS offices and the lack of spy quips and fumbles. The misadventures on the road weren't quite interesting enough to distract the void left behind.

So, was the reboot a mistake? It wasn't a complete success, but to call it a 'mistake' is harsh. Would I have preferred if they stuck with ISIS this year? Sure. But I find it very difficult to condemn the reboot decision when it was an admirable risk and came with good intentions. Besides, it still ended up being a very funny season, even if it wasn't quite on par to its usual lofty standards.

The season closed with Lana's baby born and ISIS to be resurrected. Though next season will see a return to the old format, it's intriguing knowing that it won't necessarily be a straight reset, and certainly piques our interest for what the writers have planned.

Between Archer revealed as the father to Lana's daughter, ISIS on the CIA's payroll, thin Pam and the possibility of the surviving Krieger being an imposter, Archer will be back but not without a few dynamic shifts.

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