A lot of successful shows are reluctant to mess with a formula that works. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Just keep coasting along until the audience gets bored, and people snark about how your earlier seasons were so much better. (Looking at you, The Simpsons. Among many others.)
Archer isn’t like most shows. The ribald animated comedy from U.S. cable network FX, kicking off its fifth season Monday on Teletoon in Canada, has seen its ratings grow steadily over the past four years. It could have kept soldiering on with the same formula – following the exploits of a spy organization’s dysfunctional, borderline psychopathic employees – but the show’s creators have essentially rebooted the series for its fifth year. And damn if it isn’t a breath of fresh air.
“It’s a really well-constructed twist,” says H. Jon Benjamin, who voices the skilled but astoundingly vain super-spy Sterling Archer.
“None of the main characters Archer [has] always focused on [will] change. But there’s a change in scenario. There’s a very big shift in what they do.”
The voice cast – including Jessica Walter (Arrested Development), Aisha Tyler (Whose Line Is It Anyway?), Chris Parnell (Saturday Night Live) and Benjamin (Bob’s Burgers) – were under strict orders for months to keep quiet about Archer’s new direction.
But the show’s creators have recently begun talking publicly about the changes, so we’re going to go ahead and drop a few huge spoiler bombs. (Fans of the show may want to stop reading right here. Seriously.)
In Monday’s season opener, the offices of the International Secret Intelligence Service are raided by the FBI, and the entire staff charged with treason – it seems ISIS boss Malory Archer (Walter) didn’t actually have government authorization to run a spy agency.
After cutting a deal with the feds, the ISIS gang are released, but no longer have a job to return to. So they do the only logical thing: they start a drug cartel, using a literal tonne of cocaine seized in one of their many exploits.
No, it’s not a front or a cover. They’re going to try to fund their retirements through the sale of copious quantities of drugs. What could possibly go wrong?
“The progression of the season is going to kind of follow their adventures,” says Benjamin. “Even though it’s an entirely different world, it’s very similar.”
After watching the first two episodes of the new season, I can say it’s more than similar: it’s better. By the end of Season 4, Archer creator and writer Adam Reed seemed stuck in a rut, and the last half of last season had some of the show’s weakest episodes.
But now, Archer – which has technically been retitled Archer Vice, a conspicuous nod to seminal ’80s cop drama Miami Vice – feels rejuvenated. The comedic possibilities of spies turned drug dealers are limitless, and a fantastic preview montage in the season opener hints at some of the madness ahead, including Lana Kane (Tyler) coping with her pregnancy.
“I feel like the thing that you can rely on is that this group of people has become very tight-knit, and that presents lots of benefits and lots of challenges,” says Tyler. “And I think that will be even more on display this season.”