Archer has always been a show that revolves around its perennially perfect cast delivering glorious gags and dialogues to die for. While its episode plots are often inventive and perfectly suitable in terms of delivering the crew into any number of scenarios so as to see them react in the funniest ways possible, the overarching season narratives, such as they are, have been largely irrelevant. Or I should say: they have been at best unimportant, and at worse completely forgettable. I can vaguely recall some details about the earlier, ISIS seasons, but dammed if I can think of any Whys or Hows about the CIA stuff that came later.
Not that Archer, or any other comedy show really, should be obliged to provide a season-long narrative through line, but it always feels quite nice in a way when it does. One of the otherwise overall weaker seasons of this show, Archer: Vice stands almost alone in that regard: it dared to tell a self-contained story with relatively well-defined boundaries and goals. The ex-ISIS crew, coming into a large stash of illicit coke, become drug cartel; something something outlaw country; something something South American escalation. Sure it was a bit of a mess, but it felt distinct, and the bigger story felt like an actual story rather than just a backdrop.
Four episodes in and Archer: Dreamland is proving to be a very satisfying synthesis of the superior gags of the earlier seasons and the narrative cohesion of Archer: Vice. Mix in that noir aesthetic and baby, you got a stew going.
Episode 4 — ‘Archer Dreamland: Ladyfingers’
Four episodes in and each episode of Dreamland has picked up exactly where the last one left off. In this case, the heiress VanderTunt has been kidnapped after trying to fake her own death. Well, sort of kidnapped. She’s in Mother’s Dreamland office, being loomed over by the colossal, dinosaur-sounding bouncer, with Mother trying to get through to the patriarch VanderTunt in order to extract a ransom and press her advantage against rival mob boss, Len Trexler. Cheryl, as ever, remains an absolute deranged treat. Brought to life by the inimitable Judy Greer (who embodies Cheryl’s madness so perfectly that if I ever met the actress in person, I’d probably be terrified on hearing that voice) she cycles through terror, arousal, and boredom as powerful forces swirl around her.
And while we’re on the subject of (Vander)Tunts: Cecil!
Last seen a few seasons ago in the two-part ‘Sea Tunt’, Cecil has morphed, in Archer’s wonderful noir-tinged mind, from a slightly odd, wealthy philanthropist into a much more Cheryl-style unhinged character. Eugene Mirman really shows off his delivery chops in ‘Ladyfingers’ as his line readings are pure gold throughout the episode.
Of course Cecil is there to help propel the plot along too. Archer may be running errands for Mother at the moment, but it’s all in the service of ultimately figuring out who iced his partner. If that means serving as a go-between so be it. Even if that might occasionally involve getting ahold of a deceased lady’s finger in order to pass it off as belonging to ostensible kidnapping victim Cheryl. Sterling Archer, low on patience, perpetually drunk and/or hungover, and narcissistic to a fault, is a great choice for the put-upon P.I. noir hero. Where usually those tough guys would meet their circumstances with a wry remark and a stoic acceptance, Archer gets mad, frustrated, and monologues to stray dogs and hitch-hiking bums. The contrast works great, because while he’s kicking against things in his own particular Sterling Archer way, he’s still got his sights on the real prize: figuring just who the hell killed Woodhouse. He genuinely seems to care about getting to the bottom of things, and that gives him the strength to power through the tide of shit that a hero in his position and in his conceptual universe must face. Intimidating mob bosses, dangerous dames, and crooked cops are all a part of it. That’s just how it goes.
I’m not gonna go into how much I’m enjoying Pam and Cyril as the crooked cop duo. Suffice it to say that their characters have been recontexualised perfectly for this noir universe. Pam — sweet, buffoonish, earnest, gross, and tough as nails — contrasts perfectly with Cyril’s sniveling and barely repressed insecure rage. Archer: Dreamland is doing an absolutely stellar job with transporting these characters we know so well into another dimension. It’s holding onto what makes them who they are, and it’s morphing them into slightly different versions of that, exaggerating some aspects and shrinking others. Any fears that the season would be powered mostly by the novelty of seeing these people in a new setting can be put to bed now. They’re sewed in seamlessly, and their foibles are helping to drive an increasingly intricate-yet-grounded plot.
Which of course leads us to the Krieger of it all.
Dr Algernop Krieger, mad scientist and probable clone of Adolf Hitler, has long been my favourite character on Archer. That’s partly because I’m a sucker for mad scientists and partly due to Lucky Yates’ inspired and divine delivery; but also because there’s always been an undercurrent of pathos to what could otherwise be a one-note comic relief character. The writers have snuck this emotional connection in gently over the seasons. Krieger is a man of great (and, granted, very strange) passions. He is often existentially challenged by thoughts of his place in the world, his origin, his purpose. And despite that, most of the time he manages to sublimate those anxieties into impressive (again, though, often very disturbing) projects. Krieger is as compelling a character as he is a funny one. And here, in Archer: Dreamland, this is now more true than ever, because: holy friggin’ shit Dr Krieger originally worked for the Nazis on a grand robotic supermen project, but actually then it turns out that he is secretly a Jewish genius called Aaron Leibowitz who has deliberately been sabotaging the grand robotic supermen project, thus wasting colossal amounts of the Nazi’s precious war resources! Also he didn’t sabotage all of it: the dogs (and cat) work!
I mean, holy shit, talk about a gut-punch. Like the original works of noir, Archer: Dreamland lives in the shadow of war. Not just in the aesthetic and the world it’s set in; Archer’s flashbacks have been hinting at something larger for his character. Dreamland’s Krieger’s connections to that horror have now been revealed, and they have grounded the character in ways we couldn’t have previously imagined. The episode managed to weave this grand revelation into its narrative expertly. I like it when Archer relaxes and just tells a story. It wears it well.