Archer the TV show is a lot like Sterling Archer the man: charming, more interested in cracking needlessly obscure jokes than in having deep, emotional conversations, and aggressively resistant to change. The show blew up its own premise two years ago for the energetic departure of Archer Vice, before returning to the spy-caper well for a sixth season full of self-referential jokes about how people mostly just want more of the same (give-or-take a toast-hurling robot or two). But through it all, Archer’s core character dynamics—the engine that powers all its CGI action sequences, government assassinations, and drug deals gone wrong—have stayed essentially the same. That’s fine, for the most part—you don’t want your engine suddenly mutating, like some kind of radioactive, corpse-eating pig—but it does suggest a reason why the show has suddenly switched premises (and coasts) yet again: You’ve gotta do something to keep from getting bored.

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“The Figgis Agency” is a strange blend of the old and the new. Take the dialogue: seven years in, the show’s love of callbacks has become almost ritualized, to the point that when Cheryl responds to a loud noise with a cry of “Earballs!”, it’s less a joke, and more an ingrained verbal tic. The episode’s big introductory scene, meanwhile, has the members of the newly established Figgis Agency bouncing off of each other and bickering just like always, as though Mallory’s office back at ISIS wasn’t suddenly an entire continent away. Hearing Cyril vacillate between cockiness—and yet another bit of off-screen competence, qualifying for the P.I. license that allows the company to operate—and self-loathing, or Pam treat the world like a big dumb party, is reassuring, but it’s not exactly fresh. Even the episode’s big action sequence, which sees Archer, Lana, and Ray (who’s mobile again, because restoring Ray to normal at the start of a season is just part of the Archer checklist now) infiltrate an upscale California home to steal confidential materials, wouldn’t be out of place slotted into any other season of the show.

So, with all that being said, why is “The Figgis Agency” still so fun? Part of it’s simple: this is still the best voice cast on television, and hearing them bounce jokes off of each other, even ones the show has used so often that the repetition itself has become part of the comedy, remains a delight. But there’s also a whiff of new energy floating around, embodied in Archer’s enthusiasm once he and his team are back in the field. Sterling’s always treated spy work as a game, but there’s something genuinely touching about his glee at being back at what he does best (and his mother’s unheard acknowledgement that he’s a pretty kick-ass spy). Add in the unexpected sweetness of that kiss he gives Lana (before getting robo-Ray to whisk her out of danger), and it seems like getting out from under the CIA’s thumb has produced something we haven’t really seen before: an Archer who might actually be happy.

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Like its star, there are hints that Archer the show might be changing, too, loosening up in its unexpected old age. Between Ray’s rapidly spinning robot legs, and Archer’s bouncing fall down the Los Angeles hills, there’s a cartoonish, slapstick energy to the show’s action tonight that brings back memories of Ray’s brutal tumble through the submarine, a physical comedy highlight of the sixth season finale. Archer has always been a sort of Bugs Bunny figure, swanning his way through every possible danger. It’s interesting to see the show lean into that a little more, and get a little more daring with its animation in the process.

Meanwhile, there’s the episode’s opening scene, which, sadly, is the only time “The Figgis Agency” really steers into the noir potential of this new Archer P.I. vibe. J.K. Simmons and Keegan-Michael Key are both great as the homicide cops trading banter over Archer’s Sunset Boulevard-referencing corpse, but it’s the bigger implications of that “six months earlier” (and the mysterious “Longwater” disc) that are the most exciting for the series’ long-term goals. Outside of the drug-running plot in Vice—which was more of an excuse for isolated vignettes than an interconnected tale—Archer’s never dallied with long-form storytelling or mystery before. But Longwater’s not going away—at least, not according to the first four episodes FX released as early screeners—and it’s going to be fascinating to see if the show can handle this mutation in its storytelling, without losing track of the stable engine that makes it so much fun to come back to year after year.

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Stray observations

  • Welcome to Archer season 7! I’m your new reviewer, and Archer is pretty much my favorite show on TV, as evidenced by the fact that I’ve written an embarrassing number of my AVQ&A responses about the show.
  • Speaking of: I’m an on-the-record Pam-and-Archer shipper, but if this is the way the show’s going to handle Archer and Lana—the usual arguing with just a hint of added affection—I’m totally on board.
  • I’m also a huge fan of Adam Reed and Matt Thompson’s last show, Frisky Dingo, which Archer usually references a couple of times a season. You’ll know that’s happened when I start screaming about it down here in Stray Observations.
  • “Say what you will about cyborgs: Sure can run good.” Archer’s really softened on that whole “rise of the machines” thing, huh?
  • Kudos to the animators for making the divorce attorney, Alan Shapiro, resemble a grosser version of his voice actor, Patton Oswalt. (Who’ll get more to do than just shouting and throwing grenades at people next week.)
  • I’m 99 percent sure that’s Ona Grauer—a.k.a. the actress who plays Katya—as the fake Veronica Deane that tricks Archer and company into stealing the disc. Either that’s a massive red herring, or the show’s not really done with the spy stuff quite yet.
  • Move over, Milton: Furlock Bones is the hot new kid in town.
  • Obscure reference alert: Lana says Archer’s “bleeding like a Russian princess,” referencing the Romanov family’s long, unfortunate history with hemophilia.
  • Line of the episode: Ray and Lana, calling back the “gay porn name” runner from the opening scene: “Mine would be Lance Biggerstaff.” “I’m picturing a gay wizard.” Honey, Ray always is.

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