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After eight seasons, to credit “Archer” for being funny, clever, or visually stimulating is like calling the latest James Bond film sexy and action-packed — it’s redundant enough to be unnecessary. Of course those elements remain a part of the franchise that, season to season, has never once eased up on amplifying its core values.
Yet given the FXX comedy’s new anthological format — last season told a standalone story in the L.A. noir “Dreamland,” and Season 9 takes place in the WWII-era tropical locale of “Danger Island” — how the series maintains its unique tat-a-tat dialogue and rambunctious action scenes needs to be acknowledged.
Season 8 was rooted in tragedy. On screen, Archer (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin) sought vengeance for the death of his partner, Woodhouse, formerly played by the late George Coe. Dedicating the season to his memory gave the beautifully realized episodes a darker tint and tone than the series had yet broached. It was still “Archer,” but more serious than before, and the original wit didn’t always vibe with the new digs.
“Danger Island” is the opposite. Drenched in sunlight and popping with color, Season 9 is bright in appearance with an attitude to match. Invigorated by the rich setting of a remote 1939 island and its inherent perils, such as quicksand, cannibals, and even dragons (or “extremely big lizards”), “Archer” transforms itself yet again, and it’s off to its best start in years.
Without spoiling any of the joy in discovering what creator Adam Reed and his cohorts have cooked up, “Archer” Season 9 is a lot like “Indiana Jones” as an ensemble comedy, or “Romancing the Stone” without so much emphasis on the romance. Given the producers’ love of the obscure, there are a number of less populist inspirations as well (like “Tales of the Gold Monkey”), and the general vibe is a clear homage to ’30s and ’40s adventure stories.
Though there’s a quick (and cute) reference to the O.G. Archer’s actual state (he remains in a coma, hanging somewhere between life and death), “Danger Island” wastes no time setting up how, exactly, this story takes place — that it’s another dream is presumed, but not explicitly stated. Archer is living on an island in the South Pacific and “working” (when he feels like it) as a pilot. He’s as hard-drinking as ever and remains a Lothario (despite the small population), but the handsome raconteur is down one eye and up one talking
parrot macaw. Lucky Yates, who typically voices Dr. Krieger, is now behind a scarlet bird named Crackers who does far more than repeat what others say. (Crackers’ dance moves will soon become the stuff of legend.)
Joining the man and his verbose pet is Pam Poovey (Amber Nash), Archer’s co-pilot and partner in crime who’s a bit taller, stronger (if you can imagine), and more loyal than her previous iterations, but still the same lovable ally you’ve come to love. After a quick fight with hotel guest Charlotte Vandertunt (Judy Greer) and hotel owner Mallory Archer (Jessica Walter), the two are hired to fly Princess Lanaluakalani (or Lana for short, voiced by Aisha Tyler) and her “business” acquaintance Siegbert Fuchs (formerly Cyril and still played by Chris Parnell) on an obviously fake mission on the other side of the island.
From there, per usual, chaos ensues, as the ensemble finds fresh conflict and camaraderie in their new environs. And boy is it fresh. Small moments stand out, like Archer explaining why Crackers can talk or Pam’s flashback to a misguided plan to open a… unique taco stand to make money. They’re particularly charged with energy, and the comedy comes off as effortless fun in a way that much of “Dreamland” did not.
But even more striking than the enlivened ambiance is the animation itself. Year after year, there are new efforts to admire, but “Danger Island’s” lush concept allows for its overall design to be consistently stunning — a major credit to the team of animators, directors, and designers, who seem as energized by the story as the writers. From capturing the hazy atmosphere of a humid tropical locale to instilling aerial sequences with depth and movement, the whole season is a treat for the eyes. (And did I mention the dancing macaw?)
“Archer” remains the same terrific spoof it’s always been, even as it shifts from a spy satire to a jokey, adventure homage. To say viewers who didn’t take to the first three or four seasons would fall for “Danger Island” would be a stretch, but those who’ve always liked the core cast and quick wits should find the new season to be a treat, through and through. After a year in the shadows, “Archer’s” not going back to basics, but it’s ready to have one helluva good time in Season 9.
“Archer: Danger Island” premieres Wednesday, April 25 at 10 p.m. ET on FXX.