Adam Reed has never worked on a project for as long as he’s shepherded his animated spy comedy Archer.
Reed’s first show, Sealab 2021, was a part of Adult Swim’s original block of programming in 2001. It ran for 52 quarter-hour episodes. His next effort was Frisky Dingo, also for Adult swim. That ran for 25 11-minute episodes.
Archer has now run for eight seasons on FX with two more to come. It’s featured 93 20-minute episodes, making it the longest running show Reed has ever been involved with by a factor of two.
In a TV landscape where season and episode orders are shrinking, Archer has resisted the urge to call it quits. It’s not hard to see why. This is a show that’s clearly a blast to write and animate, and features one of the most talented voice acting casts on television.
Still, every season since season four has run the risk of running out of creative steam. And every time it almost does, Reed swoops in at the last minute with a fresh idea to keep this thing going.
Season five became Archer Vice, which turned the show’s spies into drug-runners. Season seven didn’t get a fun subtitle but moved the action to Hollywood and had its characters open up a private investigation agency. Season eight went full-on reboot, adopted the title Archer: Dreamland and became a 1940s film noir.
Each one of these “reboots” has injected the show with just enough life to keep moving, stay relevant, and above all – stay funny. Now for Archer Season 9, the show is going full-on reboot once more with Archer: Danger Island.
This time, however, the magic, luck, and energy may have finally run out. Archer: Danger Island looks like Archer and sounds like Archer but there is an undeniable sense of its spirit missing. Based on the three episodes (of eight total) screened for critics, Danger Island represents one reboot too many. It’s Archer’s genetic code, replicated one too many times.
Unlike Dreamland, Archer: Danger Island doesn’t bother with any real-world grounding device. As far as we know the “real” Sterling Archer is still in a coma in “present day”* Los Angeles. Instead Danger Island begins with a new Sterling Archer. This Archer is a semi-functioning alcoholic seaplane pilot living in his mother’s hotel on the (sadly fictional) South Pacific island of Mitimotu in 1939.
*Granted, “present day” is usually hard to nail down on Archer.
Archer spends his days getting drunk, having sex with other men’s wives, and bickering with his co-pilot Pam Poovey. Yes, Pam is around and she’s closer with Archer than ever, thank God. One of the best parts of Archer’s continual reinventions is that it’s freed up Pam from her role as the spy agency’s (once regrettably called ISIS) human resources director to join in the adventures more directly. Archer, Pam, and Mallory all retain their names and personalities from previous iterations of the show. The rest of the cast is where Danger Island starts to get a bit wacky.
Aside from Cheryl (Judy Greer), who retains her Charlotte van der Tunt persona and sexually uninhibited lifestyle from Dreamland, the rest of the cast all get new names and back stories. Lana (Aisha Tyler) is now Princess Lanaluakalani. Princess Lana is one of the Island’s native inhabitants and is desperate to drive out the French colonizers, represented by Capitaine Reynaud (formerly Ray, played by Reed). To do so she brings in Cyril Figgis’ new persona and flat out Nazi Siegbert Fuchs (Chris Parnell).
Then, of course, there’s Krieger. Krieger is now a parrot (a scarlet macaw to be more precise) named Crackers. He likes to join in on Archer and Pam’s adventures and they don’t seem too perturbed by his ability to speak perfect, fluent English. He is, after all, a parrot.
Some of Danger Island’s “re-casting” of its major roles is disappointing. Cyril, in particular, has all but disappeared leaving Chris Parnell to experiment with what level of exaggerated German accent is funny, rather than occupying the lived-in, always welcome character of Cyril Figgis. This version of Charlotte Van Der Tunt is also somewhat of a downgrade, where Princess Lana is a lateral move at best.
Beyond just the characters too, the season’s central plot and themes are too scattered and aimless for about one and a half episodes. By the time the season’s third episode ends, the show has introduced it’s central narrative and the new character have begun to acclimate into their new roles. Two-to-three episodes to establish the correct tone is just too long for a season that features only eight episodes.
Still, despite Danger Island’s flaws, it’s hard to fault the effort and its willingness to change. Reed and the rest of the cast and crew are clearly attached to the Archer “brand.” Instead of letting it get stale, they’ve always experimented and that should be appreciated. This time around, Reed has settled on a concept for the reboot that is too far at odds with the show’s central tone.
Archer has always been a highly verbal show. Even in its moments of animated action, the real action is taking place between the characters’ frantic dialogue. At times, Archer: Danger Island is able to approximate the radio play-style madness of its earlier seasons. More often than not, it lets itself get lost in the lush Pacific environment.
Normally a stunningly beautiful animated Island would not be considered a drawback for a TV show. Something upon this one though makes it clear that Archer is destined to end where it began: in a coldly corporate, ugly gray office building.
The experimentation has been fun but it’s probably time to get back to spying. Krieger can remain a parrot though. He’s kind of nice that way.