[This is a review of the Archer Season 5 Premiere. There will be SPOILERS.]
Even the best shows can hit a plateau by the time they reach season 5 (see: It's Always Sunny, Supernatural). On average, the middling seasons (5 - 7) of a ten-plus season show are the best time for the writing to get lazy and the episodes phoned-in, before the show either limps toward the syndication line or somehow finds a revitalizing spark (see: It's Always Sunny, Supernatural).
Sometimes that new kick-start comes in the form of some creative shuffling (new writers, that sort of thing) and sometimes it comes from some major narrative recalibration - say, taking the characters out of their usual paradigm and putting them into a new one. And that is exactly what Archer is doing in season 5.
The Season 5 premiere episode, "White Elephant", was both a quick and effective re-introduction to the gang from the ISIS spy agency, as well as a card-shuffle that set up what looks like - from an extended preview sequence included in the episode - a pretty far-out-there season that will essentially take Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) and friends "on the road," after ISIS was shutdown by the FBI. (Apparently Mallory (Jessica Walter) never really got official sanction to open a spy agency in the first place. Wah Wah. Time to form a drug cartel.)
This change of pace from the usual spy agency sitcom setup could go either way. The series has flirted with the idea of altered status-quo in small doses (season 3's "Heart of Archness" trilogy) and has done "road trip" episodes a-plenty; but no other season has taken the concept as far, for as long, as this one seems to. The flipside, of course, is that there is now potential for so much more beyond the usual wicked sharp banter, deep-dish callback humor and hilarious quick-edits - all of which were alive and well in the season 5 premiere.
Quick flashes from the seasonal preview promise all of those usual Archer gags, with the added promise of more action and better opportunities for pop-culture references ("Suck it, Mack Davis!") and parodying. The season 2 episode "Placebo Effect" (a personal favorite) was a great example of how the show can use (for example) classic movie tropes to create a fantastic outside-the-box episode. If season 5 delivers more of that experience, consider me all in.
- CALLBACK: Poor Brett, always getting shot. Is he gone for good this time?
- CALLBACK: The entire four-season sordid history of ISIS, recapped in that hilarious quick-edit montage of the gang spilling their respective guts to the FBI.
- MOST OMG LINE: Lana telling Archer she'd rather lose her pregnancy than marry him - a twisted line which was immediately deflated by Archer.
- MOST WTF VISUAL: Pam in the FBI van "self-stimulating" to Cheryl's taser-porn monologue.
- MYSTERY: Who is the "Him" that Mallory called to get out of the FBI jam-up?
Archer now airs Monday nights @ 10 pm on FX.