So season eight of Archer — premiering Wednesday night on FXX — is all in the title character’s head. As the subtitle of Archer: Dreamland suggests, the sudden new incarnation of the dashing adventurer is the reverie of a man in a coma. (See last season for details.) Based on the first few new episodes, the cartoon series from creator Adam Reed is off to a dreamy start, in Los Angeles circa 1947.
Reed swipes the plot of the Dashiell Hammett/John Huston thriller The Maltese Falcon (1941) in setting up the new scenario: Archer as a private eye, searching for the killer of his business partner, Woodhouse. (Fans know that Archer’s trusty butler — originally voiced by the late George Coe and now by Tom Kane — died around the same time Archer went into his coma.) In The Maltese Falcon, it should be noted — because you just know Reed noted it — private eye Sam Spade’s dead partner is named Archer (Miles Archer, but nevertheless…).
As Archer ferrets out clues while tooling around in a roomy roadster, we meet the show’s re-conceived regulars. For example, Archer’s eternal love Lana (voiced by Aisha Tyler) has become a lush lounge singer; a new client is the arrogantly wealthy heiress Charlotte Vandertunt (Judy Greer), and Jessica Walter is a crime boss known only, and inevitably, as Mother. Jeffrey Tambor returns as a special guest voice for the gangster version of Len Trexler.
Over the course of the series, Archer has morphed from James Bond wannabe to a Miami Vice drug runner, so donning a fedora and playing a gumshoe is an easily accepted development, and this season of Archer has a great look: This cartoon version of film noir features richly dark blues, greens, and black, and the pacing has the hypnotic pull of a dream turning into a nightmare.
Of course, this being Archer, it’s also loaded with lots of double- and single-entendres, and energetic vulgarity. (Sometimes you may get the feeling Reed engineered the entire season just so he could use the old slang term “private dick” indiscriminately.) I continue to laugh hardest when Archer tries and fails to make a clever wisecrack, and here, the period language only increases the amusement. (Charlotte: “I shall do nothing of the sort.” Archer: “Of course you… shalln’t!”) Reed has said this 1940s setting will last for this season only, so you can go into it knowing that you’re watching the equivalent of a comic detective novel that will pay off with a clear ending. Or at least as clear an ending as Archer ever allows its garrulously foolish characters.
Archer airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FXX.