Archer Season 6 brings back the best parts of its spy parody roots - while still letting us laugh at the stuff that was stale.
Television was once a medium where nothing was supposed to change. Fictional worlds always maintained a status quo, and audiences could expect the same kinds of stories every single week. Obviously, Netflix and DVD re-releases changed that - but I can't help but remember that period when it comes to Archer. Season 5 - otherwise known as Archer Vice - changed so many details that creator Adam Reed could easily have designed a completely different show. Not all fans cared for it, and Season 6 promptly brought back the original spy parody as though nothing happened.
Don't get me wrong - I'm glad Archer is dealing with outlandish espionage humor once again. It's far better suited to Archer's particular brand of political comedy, and simply more fun to watch unfold. But for the first few episodes, that was also Archer's greatest weakness - things were so similar that it felt like we watching reruns.
But the more things stay the same, the more they change. As much as Archer returns to past glories, it also takes the series in solid new directions. ISIS rebranded itself as a CIA freelance wing, letting the crew do its usual antics while putting a spotlight on real-world political issues. Archer and Lana's relationship finally moved beyond making each other jealous over sexual exploits. And even though Archer is a spy with the mentality of an alcoholic twelve-year old, he still proved capable of growing up a little - at least just enough to be a slightly better parent than his mother was.
If Archer Season 6 has a single recurring theme, it's literally revisiting the show's roots... and yes, I mean literally. The premiere opens as Archer escapes his problems with drunken escapades. The finale directly parodies outlandish science fiction stories. Katya returns to seduce Archer, again. Barry returns to kill Archer, again. Ray cripples and mutilates himself, repeatedly. And let's have a show of hands for everyone who thought "Three to Tango" was a retread of "Diversity Hire". (Sorry, Conway Stern.)
If you were dropped into the show at a random point, you'd probably think this was Archer Season 3 or 4 - not Season 6. Reed knows it too: The office renovations in "The Holdout" are a metaphor for the entire concept, recreating the original right down to the things nobody liked. After flashing a gorgeous-looking hologram facility at us, it feels like a giant middle finger at the viewers who thought Archer Vice was terrible. And for a while that was a significant drawback of Season 6 - everything feels so similar to what we've already seen that you could've watched earlier episodes on Netflix instead.
Thankfully, Archer still finds managed to make its episodes fresh and exciting. After six years, the writing and performances have been refined to near-perfection, to the point that characters leave us laughing with a single word. Archer is also a master of self-referential humor - eclipsed only by Arrested Development - which means simply covering old ground is itself part of the joke. But as the season progresses a more subversive element comes into play - the characters start changing.
Babies do that to people.