Season 5 of FX's hit show Archer came out on Netflix yesterday. Now is as good a time as any to appreciate the leap that creator Adam Reed took when he decided to throw out his successful format for a new, bold style he called Archer Vice. If you haven't been introduced, here's a solid introduction:
A constant barrage of previews and interviews of the cast came out that alerted Archer fans that this season would be something new. At the time, people everywhere got excited. They found new reason to be interested in a show that had started the slow decent into mediocrity that plagues almost every comedy show on TV at some point (see South Park and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia for exceptions to that rule). A show that had once been full of snappy one-liners had started to sag slightly in Season 4. Episodes like Fugue and Riffs and Live and Let Dine were bright spots, but The Wind Cries Mary, Once Bitten, and Un Chien Tangerine were evidence of declining quality.
The inconvenient fact is that unless a comedy show is topical (and even then it's a struggle), there is only so much a writing staff can do in terms of new ideas. After a few seasons, maybe it's 3, maybe as many as 6, the show simply cannot go on in its original format.
As an exercise in catharsis, let's go through a list of shows that were great and the season they lost their touch: The Simpsons-season 8 (a success matched only by the spectacular failure of the next 13 seasons), The Office-season 5, King of the Hill-season 4, Friends-season 4, How I Met Your Mother-season 4 (although it still had its moments), and of course The Big Bang Theory-season 0. There are many others, but the point is clear: longevity is tough for comedy shows.
That's why Adam Reed's decision to switch up Archer, despite what you might have thought of season 5, should be strongly encouraged. Without this experiment, fans would have likely been treated to a sultry, been-there-done-that experience that would further signal that the best years of Archer were behind it.
Now season 6 is wrapping up and Archer has clearly returned to its A game. The new C.I.A. slant has provided some interesting plot opportunities (Christian Slater's voice work is excellent), and it looks like Archer has another two seasons left in it. The infusion of new material from Archer Vice not only added depth to the show, it provided a much needed respite from business as usual at I.S.I.S.
So here is a long-overdue thank you to Adam Reed. You move was bold, and the result has undoubtedly given Archer new life. Hopefully, other shows will take the hint and try drastically new formats; instead of weakly clinging to a tired, worn-out premise until they go quietly into that goodnight.