By John Thomas Columnist
When Archer took on the new moniker of “Archer: Vice” at the beginning of this, its fifth season, I was a tad apprehensive of creator Adam Reed’s claim that the entire premise of the show was shifting. In broad strokes, I stand by my initial worries. It’s still a fantastically funny comedy, but “Archer” is a show whose plot has never felt procedural, and its serialization has almost always been dependent, in a kind of pseudo-soap opera way, on the character’s relationships. It’s opposed to, say, “South Park,” which is almost always driven forward by surreal situations and connected by its expansive mythology. That being said, when you look at the minutiae of the show, its slightly altered premise begins to make sense.
As a drug hound, Archer is able to be Archer without the pretexts of morality and competence that have haunted him from the beginning of the series. This freedom is what allows Archer to be more moral and competent than before. By stepping away from the power that ISIS bestowed upon him, he’s given a moment of self-awareness in this episode where he declares that he believes their current cocaine smuggling operation is in fact more moral than their time with the spy agency ever was. No one has died, yet; they’re not deposing a communist government for an even more despotic alternative; and really, as Cyril notes, cocaine smuggling is “a victimless crime.” Obviously they all have their heads stuck up their asses, just like before, but this time their asses aren’t just asses but in fact viewfinders that allow them to see the folly of their old ways even as they participate in another morally dubious venture.
That being said, I haven’t found the series’ new running jokes that have accompanied this change to be nearly as funny as some of my favorites. Pam’s cocaine habit is at most a one-note bit. No matter how ridiculous a way she’s found to ingest it, I haven’t really even chuckled at the joke since the first episode in which it was introduced. I also haven’t found Cheryl’s transition to Charlene, country star, nearly as satisfying as I thought I would. It seems that she’s lost some of her demonic edge this season. Sure, she’s still incredibly needy, self-serving and masochistic, but the bar has been set so high for her in previous seasons and this whole country-singer storyline feels like it actually detracts from the whole gimmick.
While I haven’t necessarily been a fan of some of the new directions they’ve forced some of the cast down, Archer himself is still pound for pound the funniest character on television. His diegetic analysis of “phrasing,” a running gag that went on for years, had me in stitches, and his trademark misplaced bravado never fails to put a smile on my face. Archer is still worth watching on a weekly basis, even if its new edifice isn’t as intriguing as the old.