This Archer review contains spoilers
Archer Season 8 Episode 1
“Oh death, where is thy sting?”
That’s the first line uttered in “No Good Deed,” the first episode of Archer: Dreamland. It’s fairly weak as far as fakeouts go. Sure, we remember the a bullet-ridden Archer laying face down in Veronica Dean’s pool but that doesn’t mean we’ll buy that the opening moments of this episode represent his funeral. Sure enough the funeral is for Woodhouse, one of the several times the show goes out of its way to honor the dearly departed George Coe in this episode.
Still, even if it doesn’t work as a fakeout, it’s the perfect introduction to Archer: Dreamland itself.
Welcome to Archer: Dreamland, where the plot is made up inside of a comatose Archer’s head and the points don’t matter! Or at least that’s what the worst version of this season could look like. Setting a show within a dream or vision for any amount of time is a dangerous idea. How invested can we be if we know that none of what we’re seeing is real?
“No Good Deed” sets those concerns to bed almost immediately. After Woodhouse’s funeral, we enter into to the comatose Archer’s unconscious…and it’s almost immediately wonderful. Archer is a hard-drinking P.I. Woodhouse was his sidekick. The art is wonderful and completely in keeping with the show’s new ‘40s film noir vibe. Plus, this thing is still unreservedly funny even after all these years.
Death has no sting? Who gives a shit. Here is Archer carving a dick into cop Cyril’s squad car.
Archer: Dreamland is the first Archer reboot that feels like it could have been the original plot of the show altogether. Everything new and every character’s new persona and assignment fits perfectly into the already crafted Archer universe but in new, exciting ways.
Archer as a private investigator is a no-brainer with an emphasis on private. Sterling Archer works best as a character when other character’s presence are thrust upon him against his will. There’s nothing more that this Archer would want to do than to be left alone but Woodhouse’s death makes that all but impossible.
Archer’s investigation first takes him to Pam and Cyril, who are both cops (of the crooked variety we come to find out). Archer thinks Cyril was responsible for Woodhouse’s death but Cyril points out, not unfairly, that Woodhouse was an 80-year-old dope fiend. Teaming up Cyril and Pam is such a masterstroke that I’m shocked the show hasn’t thought to do it yet. Cyril’s straight man-ism in contrast to…whatever it is that Pam is, makes for great comedy. Particularly when Pam can’t help but provide helpful exposition for the audience like Cyril’s wife cheated on him with Archer.
“How does that help?” Cyril asks after Pam recounts this info again.
“Mmmmmmmmmmmm humanizes you?” she offers.
Archer takes Cyril’s dope fiend comment to heart, however, and tracks down Woodhouse’s dealer, who turns out to be Krieger. After a brief confrontation with Krieger and a truly enormous goon, an unconscious Archer is taken to the club Dreamland where we are treated to a veritable cornucopia of Archer characters in new, completely appropriate, roles.
Krieger’s not just a drug dealer but also Dreamland’s bartender. Ray is the trumpet player in an all-Black band. Wyatt Cenac plays an unnamed drummer who is very timely with his rimshots. Lana is the beautiful singer at the club who deftly gets Archer to pay for an extremely expensive bottle of wine, takes one sip then ashes her cigarette in it.
But it’s Mallory Archer who may have the most best role in Archer: Dreamland and a fitting one for the outsized role she already undoubtedly plays in Sterling’s psyche. She’s the owner of Dreamland and the most powerful crime boss in the city, who happens to go by “Mother.” She promises to help Archer find Woodhouse’s murderer if he does something for her in return: spy on a deal going down for rival mob boss Len Trexler and his dipping-people-in-acid-obsessed associate Barry “Dutch” Dylan.
Normally exposition and set up can be a drag but “No Good Deed” has more fun with it than any premiere I can recall. It’s because every new wrinkle for each character in the established Archer mythology makes so much sense and its just plain entertaining. Not only that, but it’s remarkable how quickly the show is able to delve into the meat of the plot.
By episode’s end, we’ve met with all the established characters and Sterling Archer is involved in an honest-to-goodness film noir action set piece. He does infiltrate the docks to scope out the Trexler meeting. He’s not able to see who is all involved in the deal but it becomes clear that the contraband they’re smuggling are actually cargo ship loads full of Chinese women.
This is a legitimately funny action scene and more importantly an absolute showcase for two of Archer’s better characters: Pam and Barry. Barry is his useful exasperated asshole self as he solicits his goons theories as to what the clear sound of a gunshot could have been.
“Your theory is the truck backfired and your theory is fireworks,” he says to two of them.
“Well, they are Chinese,” one of them offers.
Pam despite technically being a crooked cap can’t help but help Archer when the time comes to do so. And she does so by falling through the roof of a truck directly into the gaggle of Chinese would-be prostitutes. It’s encouraging that the show realizes it doesn’t matter what this new Pam’s moral compass is or where her loyalties lie, she should just be involved in as many scenes as possible to bounce off of and frustrate other characters.
By the time Cheryl turns up in Archer’s ransacked apartment as Cheryl Van Der Tunt and politely requests that he kill her, “No Good Deed” has proven itself to be a remarkable start to what promises to be a worthwhile Dreamland venture.
Of course it’s all happening in your head, Sterling, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?