I just watched the first episode of the fifth season of Archer. It was fucking brilliant.
Kind of weird that we seem to have doubled back to a time when a cartoon's the best show on television again, what with it being so damned long since The Simpsons was on its pedestal and everyone was still pretending that South Park wasn't inconsistent as shit.
You'd think that a cartoon could be so endlessly inventive is by-the-by, but with Adam Reed's espionage caper you sit down for nineteen-odd minutes each week and you know that you have no idea what is going to happen.
Sure that might be a given for Family Guy (what's that? Peter had a picnic with Pol Pot or something? That sounds about right) or South Park (what's that? Cartman trolls Will Smith into coming to the town to wear the corpse of Chef for charity or something? About right again, maybe) but with Archer the show is so strictly tied to the values of the live-action sitcom that it doesn't allow itself to go too crazy.
Don't get me wrong, this is a show where Krieger - a deranged scientist who is probably one of the Boys from Brazil - created a sexy anime hologram to be his concubine and titular-character Sterling Archer's main nemesis is a fucking cyborg who was living in outer space at one point, but it's so amazingly grounded to a real, emotional core that it never feels unnecessary. That's probably one of the luxuries of making a show about a crazily wealthy and irresponsible rogue spy agency: travelling into space to fight the KGB might genuinely be a thing they have to do that week.
For those not so well-versed in the show, a summary: the brain-child of Adult Swim alum Adam Reed, Archer stars Sterling Archer as a handsome, ludicrously-talented secret agent and psychopath. In the show's second ever episode, Sterling teaches Cyril - a pen-pushing accountant with a massive cock - that once a prostitute is dead, she's no longer 'a prostitute'. She's just a hooker. That comes just after they make reference to the literary device Chekhov's gun. Light and shade, indeed.
The jokes are so fast, dense, smart and dark that you'll watch each episode three times and pick up five jokes you missed each time.
So amazing is the production process of the show (cue boos from the back) that I almost don't want to spoil the magic. But I will.
One of the best things about Archer is the layered, razor-sharp dialogue. One of the other things about Archer is that, in the recording process, none of the actors are ever in the same room at the same time. With half the cast of Arrested Development sitting neatly in their credit sequence, the show boasts a pretty hefty amount of talent - that can make it pretty hard to get them in one room at a given time.
Reed had the brilliant idea of saving on costs by travelling to each actor, shuttling them to a nearby studio and having them record all of their lines at once, getting an editor to cut them together later. What results is a the cartoon sitcom equivalent of DJ Shadow's cut-and-paste masterpiece LP, Endtroducing...
Barely a week goes by without my recommending the show to someone. Yet to hear a bad word about it from anyone I've suggested it to, it's one of those shows with something for everyone - presuming that 'everyone' thinks that referring to a particularly-promiscuous secretary as 'the Pele of anal' is fucking hilarious.
[Warning: Some spoilers]
In season five, Adam Reed does something amazing. At the height of its popularity, he's gone and turned the show on its head. After four solid, brilliant seasons of television, he's killed off the original premise. Imagine if James Burrows, Glen and Les Charles decided to fuck the bar in Cheers off and just have them do other stuff instead. It's pretty much completely uncharted territory.
This could be a spectacular mistake from the creator but you're inclined to go with him on this one. Season four was brilliant but threatened to re-tread old ground at times. In removing ISIS and espionage from the equation, possibly setting up the idea of Sterling power-boating his way around the Caribbean to sell a literal fuck-load of weapons-grade cocaine, he's created a clean slate.
Reed's relying on the strength of the characters to see him through and this is a man who knows his characters. There have been sixty-two episodes so far, with show itself sitting pretty at an impressive 8.9/10 rating on IMDB, and Reed has written sixty-two of them. Sure he shared the writing or story credits a handful of times over the run but this is a show that strikes as a singular vision.
If this guy believes the characters are good enough to sustain such a magnanimous rug-pull then I'm with him, 100%. You should too.
Follow Sam on Twitter, @SamDiss