BY BRIAN GODAR
Archer returned for its highly anticipated fifth season this January, but it’s more of a reboot than a continuation. It even has a new name: Archer Vice. Before this season began, Adam Reed, the show’s creator, executive producer, and sole writer, let slip that he had gotten bored with writing about bungling spies, Cold War espionage, and covert missions, and would rather focus on something flashier: one literal ton of pure Colombian cocaine.
That’s right, Archer breaks bad. It wasn’t a huge stretch of the imagination, as drug dealing fits right in with Archer’s boozing, partying, prostituting, and general morally ambiguous lifestyle. The new season brought a new decade of style to the show, as well.
The first four seasons are purposefully anachronistic in terms of technology, pop culture references, and even whether or not the Soviet Union is still intact (the episode set in Turkmenistan opens up a few questions on this front), but the clothing, hair, and visuals are all classic 1960s. With the move to Miami in season five, they upgrade their style by a couple decades, bringing the show to Miami’s seedy 1980s heyday, complete with the Miami Vice clothing styles.
The season 5 premiere, “White Elephant,” briefly reintroduces us to the Archer gang before blowing the doors off of the old paradigm. After a short scene parading all of the main characters in front of the screen, the FBI bursts into ISIS headquarters and arrests the entire agency for treason and illegally practicing espionage. After some wheeling and dealing, the ISIS agents are released under the condition that they never participate in covert affairs again. This leaves Archer with one final burning question:
What do you do with one literal ton of cocaine that you happen to have lying around? As the montage of things to come plays out in Archer’s head, the answer becomes clear: become a drug cartel and sell that stuff.
Episode two, “A Kiss While Dying,” opens up with a scene we saw in Archer’s episode one montage, seemingly confirming that all the insane things we saw are actually going to happen. Malory sets up a drug deal, and the former ISIS agents head to Miami to sell some of their cocaine. We then get a blast from the past, as Malory’s contact for the drug deal is none other than Ron Perlman’s Ramon Limon, the former Cuban spy from all the way back in season one. He’s not the only returning character, as Charles and Rudy, the two gay hitmen from the same episode, have become BFFs with Ramon. The deal goes bad when the hitmen apparently betray Ramon, and steal both the cocaine and the money. From here on out, it’s a standard Archer plot, with Archer being too trusting of his obviously-into-him gay friend, and the gang only realizing at the very end that an entire bloody, deadly shootout had been faked, and that they had stolen back useless Monopoly money. This scene is underscored with Cheryl/Carol’s frenetic country music singing, which adds to the tone and pace of the final shootout and shows us Archer at its best: ridiculous situations whizzing past us at a feverish pace.
Archer Vice is a huge departure from the original series, and it will take a while for it to feel natural. The first two episodes are good, but it is still too early to tell if this new direction will work out as well as the original concept did. Some people are upset at the perceived lack of an office dynamic in Archer Vice, as the scenes set in the ISIS headquarters often provided unique humor that you don’t get from mission-focused episodes. We will have to see what Reed chooses to do, but if the first two episodes are any indication, I don’t think we have anything to worry about. Archer Vice has already proven to be as entertaining as Archer was, and Reed doesn’t seem to be running out of ideas any time soon. With the ISIS agents turning into criminals, Reed can bring back old enemies as new allies, or he can make them competitors to our rag-tag gang of drug dealers. His options are wide open, and I think changing the fundamental ethos of the series has actually given Reed more room to flex his creative muscles. While it’s not the same as classic Archer, I am looking forward to seeing in what direction Archer Vice takes us.