For most people, hearing about another person’s dreams can be boring and tedious. However, super-spy Sterling Archer, who has spent a fictional lifetime flouting every rule imaginable is, not surprisingly, an exception to this rule.
The seventh season of Archer ended with him shot, floating face down in a pool and the new season, dubbed Archer: Dreamland, extends the cliffhanger. Archer is in a coma in a hospital bed and the season takes audiences into Archer’s imaginative subconscious. Creator Adam Reed continues to provide the raunchy, ridiculous humor and crisp, photorealistic animation the show is known for while adding a stimulating all-new setting, a gripping plot, and a thought-provoking duality for Sterling Archer.
In Archer’s fantasy, the cast has been transported back to 1947 and each character assumes a new role. Archer is now a private detective searching for the murderer of his partner, Woodhouse, who in the regular Archer universe is his loyal, but heroin-addicted butler. In his hunt for answers, Archer crosses paths with a mob boss by the name of Mother — who is his actual mother Malory — and decides to do her a favor in return for help in his investigation. While on the job for Mother, he stumbles upon Cyril and Pam, now corrupt cops who are helping rival mobster Len Trexler (a rival spy in real life) smuggle prostitutes into the country. Some things haven’t changed, however: Archer is still lusting for Lana Kane, although now she is a sultry jazz singer.
The plot has no real bearing on the actual lives on any of the characters, but it is a captivating story nonetheless. Reed has done an excellent job of keeping the audience wondering what might happen next, with twists and turns keeping the audience on their toes. Furthermore, a wacky plot line has Cheryl — now the heiress to a vast publishing fortune, but no less insane than before — enlisting Archer to help her flee her family via a faked suicide, and leaves the viewer in constant anticipation of what crazy stunt she’ll pull next. Each episode also ends with a cliffhanger, helping viewers become even more invested in the development of the story.
The plot is bolstered by the addition of a new, deeper, more serious side to Sterling Archer — he is haunted by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from World War II, suffering from graphic flashbacks during action scenes. While Archer has always come off as cocky and incapable of true emotion, instead focusing his energy on exotic cars, alcohol, and women, there have been brief glimpses of Archer’s vulnerability. Evidence of Malory’s psychological abuse occasionally cropped up in the show and in Season 7, when Archer encounters a former prep school bully he still stammers and shakes in the bully’s presence. The PTSD Archer experiences from WWII might be acting as a metaphor for nightmarish flashbacks Archer has to his difficult childhood, revealing perhaps why he feels he has to constantly assert himself and torment his co-workers. Reed also introduces a surprising duality for quirky mad scientist Krieger, which hints that his Dreamland character may have honest intentions.
But don’t worry, Archer hasn’t gotten serious. While the first episode takes time setting up this new world inside Archer’s mind, there is still plenty of inventive, bizarre, and crude humor. Many of the funniest moments come from several running jokes that Reed employs throughout. For example, during scenes inside “Dreamland,” the club owned by Mother where Ray Gillette is now the bandleader, after any sexual innuendo the drummer plays a rimshot in the background, which is followed by Ray yelling at him in frustration. Aside from sexual comedy, Reed has an impressive ability to turn odd, cringe-worthy situations into laughable moments—like one morbid scene where Cyril is found cutting off a corpse’s finger to use as proof he has a hostage (something Archer and Cheryl were also about to do). While this grotesque moment shouldn’t be funny, the sharp-talking and sarcastic dialogue somehow makes it amusing. Of course, this being Archer, many of the the funniest lines are unprintable and the rest involve a convoluted set-up that would take half a page just to do them justice.
Archer is full of pop culture references, and many of the subtler jokes in Dreamland are parodies of the noir films and novels of the 1930s and 1940s. In one scene, Archer narrates his thought process aloud as he drives, mimicking the deadpan style of storytelling found in noir, before the shot pans to a scruffy dog seated next to him and Archer admits not knowing why he’s talking to a dog. In another episode, there is an explicit reference to the greenhouse scene between General Sternwood and Philip Marlowe, played by Humphrey Bogart, from The Big Sleep.
Of course it wouldn’t be Archer without stunning animation. The vivid colors and intricate details of the Dreamland landscape create visuals so realistic that they begin to feel fantastical. The clean, flowing lines of the art-deco architecture and majestic vintage cars work perfectly with Archer’s crisp animation style, and the outdoor scenes in particular leave viewers in awe. The show also takes advantage of the endless opportunities that animation provides—with ice cubes dropping into a drink seen from the bottom of the glass or a seamless transition from a spinning vault lock to the speeding wire hubcaps of an antique car.
Despite the triviality of this season’s plot, as it lives solely in Archer’s head, the absurd storylines, constant cliffhangers, and development of Sterling Archer’s character leaves viewers yearning for the next episode.
Archer: Dreamland premieres Wednesday, April 5 at 10 p.m. on FXX.