Mild spoilers follow
Superspies. Drug dealers. CIA operatives. Private investigators, and now ‘Dreamland’. It goes without saying that one of the many reasons that Archer has been so successful over the past eight years is the way that the show continuously reinvents and redefines itself. This trend only seems to endure further as we enter the penultimate season of Archer; this time with the animated comedy adopting a 1940’s noir setting, soaked in an art deco style that only exemplifies the humorous stylings of the H. Jon Benjamin-led show.
This time around, the show takes its motif from the titular ‘Dreamland’, as the throwback setting of this instalment manifests in Sterling Archer’s comatose mind as he lay in a hospital bed following the aftermath of the previous season’s finale: a somewhat out-of-left-field concept given the usual, mostly true-to-life nature of the show. That being said, it is a gamble that absolutely pays off as the cast of ‘Archer’ feel right at home some 70 odd years before their contemporary counterparts. It’s a narrative choice that not only allows for a fresh take on the series storylines but also provides characters we know and love with a different coat of paint, thrusting them into new and interesting roles reshaping the known meta.
In the season premiere, we join Archer (once more a private eye, only this time in the 1940’s) in the wake of Woodhouse, his in-dream partner’s death. It is this event that sets up the rest of the episode, as well as seemingly the rest of the season, as Archer attempts to discover just who killed his partner. Juxtaposing these events in the dream, meanwhile, we are given a glimpse into the real world, where Woodhouse has in fact passed away; second-hand information only overheard by a sleeping Archer. This provides us with an interesting possible framework for the season moving forward, as now I find myself wondering just what else from the real world could affect the ‘Dreamland’ moving forward? Are we in line for an Inception-like awakening in the finale perhaps? I, personally, definitely hope so.
With the death of Woodhouse pushing the episode forward, we are reintroduced to the rest of the key cast, starting with Pam and Cyril, who, in Archer’s comatose dream are a pair of dim-witted cops. Lana, Krieger and Ray all work at the ‘Dreamland’ bar and club as a singer, barman and musician respectively. While the club itself is owned by Malory Archer, who in this dream, is a mob boss who goes by the codename (you guessed it) ‘Mother’. Rounding out the regulars is Cheryl, who we do not meet until the very end, teasing the second episode with a simple request of Archer; “I want you to kill me”.
The premiere episode is chock full of action and laughs, and it is clear that the writers love the narrative challenges and comedic opportunities of setting Archer in the 1940’s, with film noir tropes being lovingly adhered to and joked about in equal amounts. If one thing is for certain, it is that no matter the era or location, the creative team behind Archer have a style of storytelling that continues to hold up, even eight years after the first episode aired. The writing is as quick and on the nose as ever, one-liners are just as prevalent and jokes for long time fans are gratuitous in their number. Above all, it is great to have Archer back on the small screen, and the rejuvenation of characters and their roles in the meta gives us a fresh take on what was already a ‘Sterling’ show. In terms of a season opener, this is an episode that is fundamentaly ‘Archer’ to its core, and that is a beautiful thing.
Episode Score: 9.5
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