[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Archer” Season 9, Episode 1, “Danger Island: Strange Pilot.”]
Welcome to “Danger Island,” where the dangers aren’t that dangerous and the parrots are also macaws. OK, only one of those is actually true (unless you’re not afraid of quicksand, snakes, cannibals, and dragons), but the welcome is quite sincere. The first episode of “Archer” Season 9 hit all the right marks, building a new world quickly and filling it with vivacious colors and equally bright humor.
A stark contrast to what we saw in “Dreamland,” the new season is set on a sun-drenched island in the South Pacific where Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) is an independent airline pilot working for a company sponsored by his mother, Malory (Jessica Walter), who also owns the hotel he sleeps in. It’s there where Episode 1 picks up, as Archer’s latest rendezvous gets him and his mother in trouble with a well-off client. The recently married Charlotte Vandertunt (Judy Greer) slept with Archer after her husband abandoned her for some illegal gambling, but now the rich patron is pissed at Archer, Mrs. Archer, and both their businesses.
Stranded on the island, Charlotte loses her one shot to get home when Princess Lanaluakalani (Aisha Tyler) hires the sole remaining pilot to fly her around in the island in search of… well, it doesn’t matter. Whatever Princess Lana and her German lackey Siegbert Fuchs (who looks a lot like Cyril and whose name sounds a lot like “fucks”) say they’re there for isn’t true — that much is clear. And now that they’ve had to bail on the plane ride, we’re going to find out really quickly what their true intentions are.
Until then, let’s focus on what matters: the updates to “Archer.” For the second year in a row, Adam Reed has given his series a near-total redesign. There’s a new time period (1939), a new setting, new characters, and they all have new objectives. So how do all these new choices blend with what’s always worked well on “Archer”? Let’s sum them up.
- Pam is a muscular giant and Archer’s co-pilot and sidekick. This is a natural development for Pam, who’s morphed from a gossip-y HR lady to a tough-as-nails operative, and for the duo’s budding relationship. No, Pam and Archer don’t belong together romantically (no matter how good the sex is), but they make for one helluva platonic pair. Pinning them together here is a smart move to further develop a successful dynamic.
- Archer is single again (and smitten for Lana). The challenge of wooing Lana is almost always funnier than when he’s with her. “Danger Island” resets their relationship, and it should be fun to watch them flirt and fight in a fresh setting.
- The new credits and altered theme song are to die for. Seriously. That opening is so incredibly good, from the subtle changes in the shadowy figures being introduced to the way the title emerges from “Danger Island” — like a volcano going off.
- Oh, and so is the rest of the animation… just wow. There’s more on that here.
- Archer Airlines is a clever way to take advantage of what this animation can do. It adds more dimensions to the visuals, more possibilities to the narrative, and it keeps the characters contained to a small space, which usually brings quite a bit of fun.
- Ray’s French. Ray is French. Need I say more?
- “Next time on ‘Archer: Danger Island'” reverses the cliffhanger. Ever since “Arrested Development” toyed with the “next time on” structure, TV writers have found fun ways to take advantage of a long-utilized final tease. At the end of the premiere, Reed throws in one more joke instead of leaving audiences on the edge of their seats. Why? Because the humor is a higher priority than the suspense. No one really thought Archer would die in a plane crash at the start of a brand new adventure, so throwing in one more joke (“Stupid bird!”) is more than worth it.
- Are we forgetting anything… oh, yeah. Crackers! Yes, he talks, but he does so much more: Crackers drinking! Crackers in a blanket! Crackers dancing! The bright red macaw adds a dash of color to every scene and proves to be an adorable piece of eye candy, aesthetics aside. (Seriously, his dancing is so good.) Lucky Yates’ new character is already an indelible aspect of the show.
So aside from setting up an insanely fun and gorgeous new season, why should TV fans, not just “Archer” fans, be tuning in for “Danger Island”? That answer comes right at the start (boom, phrasing) of the episode. As we see the sleeping face of Sterling Archer, Pam chimes in from off-screen, “He looks so peaceful, doesn’t he? Sometimes I wonder if he’s dreaming… but then I remember I don’t give a shit.”
A thinly veiled wink at audiences who are still wondering what happens to Archer in “real-life,” the moment is a clever (and incredibly quick) nod to how this season even exists: It’s all part of Archer’s dream, as he hovers between life and death in a coma. Fans will pick up on that in an instant, but non-fans should also appreciate what that heads up signals: “Archer: Danger Island” isn’t a morbid exploration of purgatory. It’s not what it was last year, nor is it trying to be something bigger than it wants to be.
It’s not “Lost,” nor is it aspiring to be any more pompous than its prestige TV brethren. “Archer” may not be first in mind when discussing the golden age of television, but it’s a long-running cable series that’s earned consistent raves and built a passionate fanbase. It’s also an Emmy winner, and not one of those minor one-and-done winners that nabbed one honor and never played the game again. “Archer” won Best Animated Program in 2016 and has been nominated in the category four years running.
But even as a worthy member of TV’s prestige party, the new season isn’t trying to be a politically charged commentary on current affairs. It doesn’t want you to think about anything else while you’re watching, and it’s not building itself up for the heck of it. “Archer: Danger Island” is doing the opposite. It’s here to have fun, and “Archer” is very, very good at having fun. We all need that in our lives, so kick back and bathe in the golden sunlight of your TV vacation. “Danger Island” is here to entertain you.
“Archer: Danger Island” (Season 9) airs new episodes Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FXX.