[Warning: Very mild spoilers for the Season 7 premiere of “Archer” below.]
Television’s general quest to make everything more serialized — which, by the way, I’m all for — saw two big shifts for “Archer,” FX’s consistently unpredictable and delightfully inventive satirization of everything related to James Bond, virility and double entendres. Season 6 first found our hero as a father, a title surprisingly bestowed upon Archer by Lana in the Season 5 finale. While a few episodes of the following season did directly relate to raising a newborn child (“Sitting,” Episode 6, is a particular highlight), the couple’s newfound responsibility more directly influenced Archer’s state of mind (thanks to regular reminders from Lana) over “Archer” post-“Vice.” For the first time, Archer’s borderline masochistic courage was curbed (or at least put into question) as the papa had to consider how his reckless actions could affect others, opening up a dialogue about the seemingly invincible animated character’s mortality.
And that, when you think about it, is a pretty outrageous question. Not only has Archer already survived death literally dozens of times, but the idea that a show’s main character could be offed on a series that a) needs him, b) is mostly light and fluffy fun, and c) has shown no signs of slowing down, meaning an ending better not be in sight, is one that demands not to be taken literally. Because how could Adam Reed actually kill Archer without killing “Archer,” in every sense of the word?
Well, it looks like we’re going to get our answer in Season 7. Last year, I noted the possibility during my Season 6 wrap-up, stating my slight frustration that we never got an answer to Lana and Archer’s mortality debate before hopefully forecasting the conversation “appears to be the jumping off point for Season 7. Now that the gang has been blacklisted from espionage, Lana will have to push Archer toward a safer profession.” And she does. The first episode of the new season finds Archer & Co. working in Hollywood as private investigators, a profession Lana rationalizes as being “safer” than their earlier work without abandoning the skills and experience they’ve all gained in their previous professions.
But that’s far from the most shocking event in the season premiere. In the opening scene — one that’s already been released online and highly publicized via the show’s social media pages — an ominous bit of foreshadowing lays out a film noir plot set to play out in flashback throughout the upcoming season. Through four episodes (the number provided in advance for critics to review), we’ve yet to get back to the unsettling focal point of that initial scene, but events are certainly in motion to get us there. Whether that’s before the season finale or not doesn’t really matter as long as the episode quality remains as high as what’s seen here.
Despite the foreboding nature of the season’s introduction, what comes next is just as funny as in the past. There’s a little bit of unease hovering over the first episode as you wait to find out if your biggest question will be answered right away, but then things settle back into a familiar pace in an unfamiliar setting once it’s clear answers aren’t right around the corner. Such a serialized leap has been largely suited to the series since about Season 3, when it started to shift more strongly toward a serialized format (via extended plots like “Heart of Archness” and “Space Race”).
Nevertheless, Season 7 marks a significant step forward in that direction. The opening hour is virtually a two-part episode without the “to be continued” qualifier, and the following two episodes rely slightly more than usual on relevant actions from previous episodes, even if they’re more in line with the one-off nature of most midseason entries in the series.
Early on, the move to Hollywood is paying big dividends for “Archer.” Adam Reed seems to relish opportunities to experiment, and the fresh start gives him plenty. New art and music accompanies the act breaks, a bevy of voice talent has been brought in to add an air of celebrity to the proceedings, and a restructuring of the group’s power dynamic seems aimed to pay benefits down the line.
In short, “Archer” appears set for another stellar year — as if there was any doubt — but how it will answer a question I expected to be phased out over the course of the series will determine the ultimate fan reaction to Season 7. At this point, all we can do is wait…and applaud the bravery in asking it.
“Archer” Season 7 premieres Thursday, March 31 at 10pm on FX.