Archer: Dreamland (FXX, Wednesdays, 10/9C) picks up almost where season seven left off – following a brief opening scene of Wodehouse’s funeral – with a badly wounded Archer floating in a swimming pool (talk about instant catch-up) before cutting to our hero (and I use the term loosely) in a hospital bed, in a coma, and his mother sitting by his bedside and refusing to move (but not refusing to drink – a lot).
While Malory (Jessica Walter) and Lana (Aisha Tyler) talk about his current state preventing him from knowing about Wodehouse’s death, we shift to Archer’s dream – where private investigator Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) is just discovering that his partner, Wodehouse, has been murdered.
One of the joys of Archer, in any incarnation, is that the show loves to appropriate tropes from any number of genres (spy show; Miami Vice-type show as seen from the drug dealers’ point of view; science-fiction, and so on).
It feels like it’s as good a time as any to try 40’s noir/hardboiled detective on for size.
Series creator/writer Adam Reed continues to try new things and here he’s taking PI tropes – like avenging the death of a partner; allying with a gangster to achieve that vengeance; dealing with crooked cops: being approached by a rich, beautiful woman to take on a peculiar case; falling for the hot singer at the gangster’s club (called Dreamland, by the way…), and noir conventions like moody lighting and interesting angles – to both set up a solid mystery and have a little fun playing with those tropes in unexpected ways.
In this case, Archer has to ally himself with the gangster who goes by the nom de guerre Mother; foil a case of human trafficking, and spill his guts to the requisite stranger (a moment of genuine sweetness).
Before No Good Deed has unspooled completely, Reed has tackled crooked cops, racism, human trafficking, social conventions and feminism – and that’s in the 21 minutes that fit around the commercial breaks.
As is usual for Archer (and Reed), this incarnation of the characters is both extremely fitting and kind of odd: Dr. Krieger (Lucky Yates) is the bartender at Mother’s club; Pam Poovey (Amber Nash) – referenced here only as gender-neutral Poovey – is an apparently clean cop; Cyril Figgis (Chris Parnell) is a dirty cop with a mean temper; Lana is the singer at Mother’s club, and Ray Gillette (Adam Reed) is a musician at the club.
The gorgeous dame with the peculiar case? Cheryl Tunt – whose request for Archer is beyond the pale – is Charlotte Van Der Tunt, heiress to a publishing fortune.
Archer: Dreamland – No Good Deed is the first chapter of a fast-paced comedy-adventure that looks and acts like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler on some very good acid. It’s a dream/hallucination that is scary consistent and funny as hell – when it’s not stone cold serious (a ratio of about six to one, comedy).
Thanks to last season’s cliffhanger (from which we will be left hanging for a long time), Reed has an opportunity to take yet another spin on Archer – a refreshing change that reminds us why Archer (in any incarnation) is one of the absolute best animated series ever.
Final Grade: A