As Archer creator Adam Reed discovered during his show's fifth season, it's difficult to take the concept of a series, draw a big x through it, start from scratch and hope your audience is on board with the changes.
It was during the show's fifth season that Reed decided to move his team of super secret agents and spies of the top tier agency ISIS (not the terrorist organization) from New York City to Miami where they found themselves caught up in the illegal drug trade. The season saw quite a few changes, with Cheryl becoming a country singing sensation and Pam becoming addicted to cocaine.
The biggest issue the show faced in its fifth season, however, was that its main characters — Sterling Archer and Lana Kane — become totally different people. Sure, they were just as witty as before, and Archer's vices (which include women, alcohol and drugs) were still key to his character, but their morals had changed. In essence, they had become the very evil they spent four years trying to do away with.
The season hobbled along until it finally ended. Reed and his team of writers decided that they would return Archer and the ISIS crew to New York City for the sixth season, albeit under a different name for the organization.
Now, just one season later, Archer is heading out west to become a private investigator, with Reed once again changing everything about the series to keep it feeling fresh.
Except this time, making the decision to change everything has worked to his advantage.
Archer P.I., as many have taken to calling it, feels like the rejuvenation the series needed, and while this piece won't act as a review, I do want to stress the importance of why this needed to happen now and why I believe it works as well as it does.
Most devout television consumers know that a series can usually coast along pretty smoothly for about four seasons. Between the fifth and seventh seasons, shows tend to drop in quality. It's not the writers fault, either. It's hard to carry any serialized show for that long without a dip in quality of narrative arcs, especially when there's a demand for new episodes week after week. Look at shows like Dexter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer or even How I Met Your Mother.
Feels like the rejuvenation the series needed
While sitcoms can sometimes manage five or six good seasons before the jokes get repetitive and the scenarios get more ludicrous, even they fall victim to the curse. The only show I can think of that hasn't, quite frankly, is It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. A big part of that, however, is that the show started with absurd jokes in absurd scenarios and kept pushing the boundaries of what it could get away with.
As great as Archer is, and I'm a massive fan of the series, it wasn't immune to the curse, and by the fifth season, had begun to lose some of the magic it carried through its first four seasons. It was one of the reasons Reed decided to move the team to Miami in the first place. He said that if he was bored with Archer and the gang getting into the same situations and riffing on the same jokes, he could only imagine how the audience felt.
Making the decision to change everything has worked to his advantage
Now in its seventh season, the show desperately needed to find a new angle, and it's done so magnificently with the private investigator hook. Archer has talked about being obsessed with the idea of becoming a private investigator since the pilot episode, and has become well known to fans for his love of Tom Selleck in Magnum, P.I. The jump from an undercover spy to a private investigator doesn't only make sense, but it feels like the natural progression that the show was bound to go in, anyway.
After spending enough time getting to know Archer and the rest of the crew, the shift in story this late into the series doesn't seem jarring or even groundbreaking, but it is immensely refreshing.
This may have been the perfect time to remove Archer from the New York City setting and have him start over again, because it feels like the show is starting over again. It's like beginning a new series, but already knowing and loving the characters involved. And, perhaps best of all, it forgives the fifth season for its discrepancies and even learns from where that went wrong.
It's important to stress that the only reason this new season of Archer works is because it feels like an extended fantasy of the character that we've already loved for six seasons.
There's no big change to Archer's "moral compass" and it doesn't seem inexplicable that the rest of the team would be on board with starting this new venture. Unlike the fifth season, which didn't spend nearly enough time on the debate over becoming an international drug cartel as it should have, this new season feels like everyone finally giving into Archer's last whim and allowing him this chance at playing out a dream.
In many ways, Archer P.I. gives fans a chance to live this mustached dream with the main character and, in that way, it feels like Reed and his writers are finally acknowledging that they want the same thing as the audience.
Essentially, the newest season of Archer feels like fan fiction in the best way possible.
With the new direction that the show is heading in, and the success it's going to find with its legion of fans, Archer has set itself up for another two or three years of prime storytelling at the very least.
Reed isn't afraid to take chances, as we've seen through two different seasons now, and I wouldn't be surprised if he yanked the characters out of this scenario in a couple of years and threw them somewhere else. Hell, he may even return them to New York City again.
But for now, Archer has never been more enjoyable, and after a couple of seasons of mediocre television, it's a relief to be able to say that.
Oh, and best of all? "Phrasing" is definitely back.