Two Thumbs Up. Phrasing - Archer Season 7 (TV Review)

Archer, Sterling Archer. Sterling Malory Archer. The Kenny Loggins of international espionage returns to British screens, once again under the Netflix banner. A decision which works in Archer’s favour, like other Netflix comedy series such as Bojack Horseman, Arrested Development, It’s Always Sunny… etc., they get funnier the more you watch them in binge mode.

This, the seventh season, is also the third series where the rise of a real life cabal of terrorists have forced the creators to find something for the characters to do other than work for a spy organisation called Isis. After the disappointing Archer Vice (where the show was at its shouty, obnoxious worst) and the middling flirtation with the CIA, Archer has fled to a city almost as crazy as his entourage of sociopaths. Los Angeles.

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Becoming a Private Investigation firm called The Figgis Agency – which causes Archer just as much aggravation as you think it would do – the crew find their reputation as former spies immediately puts them to work. The series opens Sunset Boulevard style with a dead body in a pool. Archer’s body. The police are looking over the scene and apparently they’ve got someone in the frame already, also wanted on another murder. The series then takes us on a rollercoaster ride through LA that brings the gang back to their surreal, psychotic best.

This series seems to be fixing the problems that have been growing in the programme like cholesterol in the arteries. Namely, escalation. The characters have been getting louder, not funnier; the reliance on catchphrases and repetitious jokes have made the series stale and monotonous; and accumulation of recurring ideas like Lana’s big hands and Ray constantly getting paralysed have left little room for originality. Also, the series was once about a group of delusional buffoons whose awful moral compass was constantly pointing them to their own little circle of hell. Recent episodes have made it look like Adam Reed was attempting to turn his creation into some sort of spy show.

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All of those things are addressed in Season 7. There are barely any screaming contests, meaning that when they do occur, they are funnier. The reduced episode count has cut the padding. Old jokes have been dropped for new ones and the writing team have remembered what it’s like to be creative again. When you see the laughs they can get just out of the swivel of a rotating chair you’ll know their back to their best. They’ve stopped trying to make it an action series and remembered that the fight scenes have to be as funny as they are thrilling. Look out for Krieger’s karate moves when he’s wearing a jumpsuit. Most importantly though, they’ve stopped doing “do you guys do phrasing?” and just gone back to good old “Phrasing!”

They’ve also put the brakes on trying to develop the characters. They’ve finally realised that they work best when they are absurd caricatures, rather than walking emotional baggage. Some shows work best with a two-dimensional cast. Although the new main thread of the series means that Ms Archer, Pam and Ray (what the hell happened to Ray anyway? He was a kick ass homosexual field agent, now he’s slipping further into reductive gay stereotype) get less to do than I’d like. One bad consequence of halting their progression is that they don’t have their own episodes anymore, some of which were the highlights of previous seasons. Italian Prime Minister anyone?

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They have been chewed out by the main storyline which sees Archer fall in love with an ageing movie siren, Veronica Dean, who has all the sex appeal of Monica Bellucci crossed with Cristina Hendricks. It does take up way too much of the series with two two-part episodes, the first of which definitely doesn’t need forty minutes to run its course. Although, it does give us the inspired pairing of J.K. Simmons and Keegan-Michael Key as a buddy cop duo. And how has Patton Oswalt taken so long to be part of the cast? His turn as Veronica’s divorce lawyer gives him the single greatest cock block in history.

So Archer gets a new setting, and this time, it works. It works because the series has returned to its roots. It uses its increased budget for laughs not explosions. It finds itself in a well-defined, nailed down place and uses it to great satirical effect (though it’s more of an L.A. parody than a Hollywood one, taking down corrupt police and race relations). And it finds the best humour in remembering that the former Isis agents are bastard pricks who can get away with anything and are played by one of the greatest ensembles in voice acting history.

4/5

Dir: Adam Reed

Scr: Adam Reed

Cast: H. Jon Benjamin, Judy Greer, Amber Nash, Chris Parnell, Aisha Tyler, Jessica Walter, Adam Reed, Lucky Yates, Christian Slater, Patton Oswalt, Keegan-Michael Key, J.K. Simmons

Prd: Neal Holman, Eric Sims

Music: J.C. Richardson

Country: USA

Year: 2016

Runtime: 22 minutes