With its trip to Dreamland and comedic descent into noir tropes and detective fiction, it seemed as though there was no end to the reinvention of Archer. Once the season 7 cliffhanger put the superspy into a coma, the result was a fun season that distanced itself from the usual trappings of the series and found life in a new situation that nevertheless still drew from its characters' shared history with one another. Archer: Danger Island attempts to continue that winning formula but stalls out halfway between the Archer fans know and adventure serials this new iteration is riffing on.
The new season eschews Dreamland’s efforts to frame its new setting with a glimpse at Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) and his time in the hospital. Distancing this new storyline from the original series, or even from Dreamland’s departure into gumshoe fiction, is curious at first, but feels more telling as the season sails slowly toward an uncertain goal on a flimsy plot, with a premise that struggles to present the characters with meaningful context despite the show’s trademark bawdy humor being of full display.
Though the show’s dialogue is still sharp and the writers’ knack for circuitous conversation remains apparent, it’s not enough to make Archer’s turn as an eyepatch-wearing seaplane pilot on an island in the late-‘30s South Pacific into anything nearly as fun or propulsive as what was seen in Dreamland. Some of that may be perceived as a lack of trying, as Danger Island brings mostly superficial alterations to its characters. For starters, Pam (Amber Nash) is now a hulking brute and Archer’s co-pilot, while Cyril (Chris Parnell) is an ineffectual Nazi who has, in true adventure serial fashion, come to the island for nefarious purposes. Those purposes have island princess Lana (Aisha Tyler) seeing dollar signs and aligning her interests with his for the time being.
Meanwhile, Cheryl (Judy Greer) and Malory (Jessica Walter) remain, like Archer, ostensibly unchanged, which is somewhat disappointing given the extent to which the writers have reconfigured Krieger (Lucky Yates). Krieger is now a talking bird — a macaw, actually — named Crackers. Instead of just repeating words or short phrases, Crackers is an anthropomorphized character, a bird who is capable of carrying on conversations with those around him. Krieger’s transformation into Crackers, and the bird’s ability to talk doesn’t go unnoticed, as characters repeatedly bring it up only to be dismissed by Archer who says something along the lines of, “Let’s not make a big thing out of it.”
Though Crackers is good for a laugh every now and again, the joke about him talking mostly feels forced. The same is true of most situations the characters find themselves in that, over the first four episodes of the season, largely occur without giving the story an appropriate sense of forward momentum. Archer tools around in his rusty seaplane and Pam winds up on a short, but surprisingly bloody jungle adventure with Princess Lanaluakalani (Lana) and Siegbert Fuchs (Cyril). But they all end up right where they began. For a season titled Danger Island, the characters of Archer seem to spend most of their time hanging out in a bar.
Part of the season’s aimlessness seems grounded in the material its drawing from. So far, Archer has drawn from various places like James Bond, Miami Vice, Magnum P.I., and broader sources like noir films (e.g. The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, etc.). Danger Island attempts to do something similar, recreating Archer in the manner of old school adventure serials — the kind of stuff that inspired Indiana Jones. But the season is never distinct enough in either its references or its locale to give its jokes, story, or slightly reinvented characters the context necessary to make the trip to the South Pacific land as well as Dreamland did. Though it's understandable why creator Adam Reed and his writers didn’t just do a straight riff on Indiana Jones, that franchise might have made for a more distinct framework for the season’s storytelling ambitions.
Funny as some of the one liners and non sequiturs are, Danger Island feels remarkably light and inessential in the grand scheme of things. Part of that may be deliberate; it is just a dream after all. But at the same time, there’s no reason the series couldn’t have given this latest excursion from the norm a storyline that would make it feel a little more substantial.
Archer: Danger Island continues next Wednesday with ‘Disheartening Situation’ @10pm FXX.