It’s a commonly-uttered adage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Translated, the idiom suggests that a product or object is not worth changing if it serves a purpose, and does so well. Sometimes though, a change can bring benefits, like providing a winning formula with a fresh twist, as is the case with Archer’s eighth season.
Following the events of the seventh season finale, Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) has been placed in a medically-induced coma, apparently oblivious to the world around him. While his body lies dormant, Archer’s mind is more active than ever, having concocted an alternate reality set in 1940s Los Angeles – here, he is a Private Eye investigating the death of his colleague, Woodhouse.
In this world, Archer’s workmates and acquaintances play the role of strangers who help, or hinder, his attempts at retribution. Not far from his office is the Dreamland nightclub, which is used as a front for criminal activities by Mallory (Jessica Walter) – referred to as “Mother” by everybody – and employs Krieger (Lucky Yates) as a bartender and Lana (Aisha Tyler) as an exotic jazz singer.
Unlike previous seasons of Archer, in which she was a lead character, Lana makes only small, irregular appearances in Dreamland, and is rarely given the opportunity to interact with the rest of the cast; so too Ray Gillette (Adam Reed), whose contribution is so brief that he may as well not have appeared at all. As for Cyril (Chris Parnell) and Pam (Amber Nash), they have sizeable roles as L.A.P.D detectives, with the latter having additionally undergone a gender-swap to play a male.
There are plenty of other familiar faces (and voices) making appearances to the series, many of whom have not appeared in years. Such examples include Len Trexler (Jeffrey Tambor) who has morphed from being the head of an intelligence agency to a mob boss; Trinette (Maggie Wheeler), last seen mothering the wee-baby Seamus, playing a call-girl once more; and Cecil (Eugene Mirman) – the affluent brother of Cheryl (Judy Greer) – who has been given a slightly larger role, when compared to his prior appearance in the fourth season.
Aside from the return of many characters forgotten of, the most obvious idiosyncrasy of Archer’s eighth season is the visual style, which accurately reflects the fashions, vehicles and architecture of the Forties; this aesthetic is complemented by the soundtrack, which echoes the jazz music of that same period and includes an era-appropriate rearrangement of the Archer theme. Both factors allow Dreamland to carry a heavy noir vibe, which suits the show quite well.
Contributing further to this atmosphere is the plot, which deviates from the series’ spy traditions to become a murder-mystery – all eight episodes focus on Archer’s investigation into the death of Woodhouse, a conflict that is rarely diverged from. This puts Dreamland at odds with previous seasons, which would have a different assignment for each episode, but an overarching story which ties them together. More to the point, it’s an approach that the eighth season would sorely benefit from.
By lending the majority of its focus to Woodhouse’s murder, Dreamland is robbed of the opportunity to explore its 1940s setting, and play with the noir allusions that are prominent throughout. Either of these elements could have been utilised to craft imaginative, ingenious storylines that previous seasons weren’t able to by exploring, or making fun of, the issues of the time. By failing to do so, it begs the question as to why the change in approach was so necessary.
None of this is to say that Archer has lost the qualities possessed in prior seasons. The animation is impressive, with the character movements being more fluid than ever; the voice-acting continues to be top-notch, whether it be from the regular cast-members or the supports; and the show’s humour is much the same, with physical comedy and sharp one-liners to be found throughout. Hence, even those unhappy with the changes Dreamland has made can still appreciate the series.
Although it does not possess the creativity and ingenuity that one hopes for, Archer: Dreamland is nonetheless an interesting deviation that mimics the mystery stories of old whilst honouring devotees of the programme. In other words, it houses just enough attributes to keep the long-running, award-winning series fresh.