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‘Archer: Danger Island’ Review

As the ninth season of the cult animated series Archer winds down, we review the season’s accomplishments thus far. (Spoilers for Archer Seasons 1-9 ahead!)

 

When Archer debuted in 2009 on FX, the surly, titular character made waves on cable TV – becoming an instant classic. Its widespread popularity was also bolstered by the streaming service Netflix, where it found an even greater audience in the ensuing years. After a series of evolutions (with steep departures like Archer Vice) our favorite alcoholic spy returns with his most recent iteration Archer: Danger Island – a pulpy, retro adventure set on a mysterious Pacific Island in the 1930s. So, six episodes in – how is the show’s ninth seasonIn short: quite impressive.

 

The evolution of Archer started way back in season five, when the series graduated from an adventure-of-the-week spy comedy to an arc-driven spoof of Miami Vice – aptly titled Archer ViceWhile Season 6 (somewhat) reverted back to its former components of espionage and counter-intelligence, the Season 7 finale “Deadly Velvet” brought the biggest game-changer yet – a near fatal shooting that puts Sterling Archer into an indefinite coma. As a result, we’ve spent two seasons in his dreamscape – first with Archer: Dreamland and now with Archer: Danger IslandWhile these dream seasons strip away tangible stakes for the characters, they also provide rich new environments where the spirit of Archer can live on in different time periods (and with different eclectic stylings). And while Dreamland struggled with such creative liberties, Danger Island seems to have cracked the code.

 

“Last season, we loved it, but things got pretty dark, pretty fast” producer Matt Thompson said at last year’s Comic-Con, referring to Season 8’s violent and brutal noir tone. “Adam Reed has been talking about doing something fun and just having a blast this season.” And that they did: Nazis, dogfights, wartime paranoia, mystic artifacts, talking parrots, and a swashbuckling pilot duo, Danger Island hearkens back to 1930s adventure serials – some of the most seminal properties in modern Hollywood storytelling. It’s a welcome return to form after the abnormally dour Dreamland.

 

In some sense, Danger Island also functions as an apology for Dreamland – which is unfortunate, because I thought Dreamland’s noir detective premise had potential, even if it was poorly executed. Plus, Dreamland’s darker turns were more of an accident than a creative decision. Archer creator/showrunner Adam Reed explained to IndieWire that “I’d had this major reconstructive shoulder surgery… I basically typed that season with one hand while watching the clock to see when I could have another painkiller. That season is quite dark because I was in a super dark place mentally and physically.”

 

Thankfully, Reed’s newfound health and happiness shines through in every frame of Danger Island (of which he is the sole writer). The animation is more stunning than ever before. The richness of the colors, textures, and details breathe a freshness into the frame – an oceanic bliss that transports you to Danger Island itself. It’s staggering to see how far the animation has come in just eight years (from a style that was barely superior to early South Park seasons). There’s a quixotic passion and romanticism about the revamped characters and their setting. More than ever before, you want to leap through the screen and join the misfit crew in their larger-than-life adventures.

 

While Danger Island might fail to measure up to the laser-sharp dialogue and wit of Archer’s early run – it cultivates a paradoxical maturity with the new gags and humor. Reed approaches their delivery in a more precise and confident fashion, and the result is a distinctly fresh tone. Narratively, Danger Island has a clear trajectory – but it’s in no rush to get there. There’s some basic common threads like Fuchs’ search for a mysterious idol, Archer’s failing charter air service, Archer’s greedy and overbearing mother running a hotel, a recently-divorced city socialite turned prostitute, and a talking parrot that serves as the island’s guide. Yet it never takes its own ambitions too seriously, and won’t hesitate to slow down the plot for some ante-upping, fourth-wall-breaking gags. (At one point, Archer’s parter Pam Poovey notes their predicament is a Catch-22. Archer responds by saying: “I don’t think that’s a thing yet.”)

 

Ultimately, everything you need from a good season of Archer is here to be found. The character relationships and vulgar idiosyncrasies are recalibrated for the 1930s, but are still just as hilarious, insane, and strangely heartfelt as they are in “reality.” The stories are constructed for maximum dramatic impact, and purpose to use every character in a meaningful and innovative way. Its leisure pace is oddly endearing, and its lunacy – like the prehistoric lizards and human cannibals – strike a deliciously campy and magically realistic balance. The show does lose some points for its occasional lack of narrative clarity and over-reliance on cringe-inducing humor that brushes shoulders with its more genuine moments – but when it flies, it soars, and it’s a ride you’re in no rush to get off of. Danger Island isn’t the pinnacle of the Archer series, but it’s a breezy, charismatic and worthy rendition of our favorite characters – and unlike some of the other experimental seasons, a pleasure and not a chore.

 

4 / 5  Stars

 

Archer: Danger Island airs every Wednesday at 10 PM on FXX.

 

Adam Barnard is freelance writer currently living in Orange, California.

 
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