Archer: What Went Wrong?

this video is brought to you by magic spoon what's up wisecrack michael here today we're talking about one of our all-time favorite shows and how that show screwed up a bit nothing too touchy right jesus somebody a little help archer quickly became one of our most beloved shows thanks to its quickfire banter you know how bad that is for your eardrums what i said do you know drive the damn car oh wonderfully psychotic characters how does it feel to be a murderer shall we find out and die hard commitment to chaos and filth i don't have cockporn just laying around but popularity is a bit of a double-edged sword for a tv series higher ratings create more pressure for the show to run and run making it harder and harder for the writers to pump out top tier television that doesn't get boring and some shows crumble under this weight you know what you need solitude flash mob to its credit archer has been pretty fearless in its attempts to solve this problem but still something went wrong rest assured we're not going on some anti-archer tirade we respect that the show completely overhauled itself on numerous occasions in increasingly bold ways but weirdly the more archer changed the more it kind of stayed the same and usually for the worse lana introspection is the enemy of happiness so my advice is don't always work for me has it though i don't know that's the beauty no really and we'll explain why in this wisecrack edition on archer what went wrong and spoilers for archer ahead [Music] [Applause] but before we get into it i want to give a shout out to this week's sponsor the product that has fueled today's video magic spoon cereal when i was a kid i used to love eating cereal but i had to give it up because as i got older it started to make me feel awful it tasted like pure sugar and would always leave me feeling sick not exactly how you want to start your day magic spoon is a serial for us olds that aren't yet facebook commenters but also aren't hopping on the latest tick 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admission archer is essentially a workplace comedy even if it doesn't look like one at first glance whether they're stealing diamonds or selling cocaine the members of isis are always steeped in office drama there are workplaces defined by gossip grudges and petty rivalries also flex accounts it's only 630 for my goddamn flex account hr complaints and who's screwing who and if you want to have ball slappy sex with me on cyril's desk please line up and take a number you hurt the lady so just like any other workplace on tv really except with far more weapons training and far less impulse control uh pam i will end you while there is lots of high drama going on during each episode of archer assassination attempts high profile heists and countless deaths it is all treated with exactly the same casual disregard and mild irritation with which your usual workplace tv characters confront conflict as a result archer gets to function like a typical workplace comedy even if the workplace itself is atypical yeah but then i wouldn't get to hang out with everybody at work you hate everybody at work i know it's the only thing that gets me out of bed every morning setting a sitcom in an office works well for tv because of how naturally unchanging it is whether it's a traditional office like well the office or a failing bar like it's always sunny in philadelphia or a police department like brooklyn 99 the setting acts as a kind of bubble fossilizing the characters over time the same people clock in at the same time each day make the same complaints about their job and get drawn into the same arguments and flirtations with the same colleagues all of this i've heard all of this before no shut up bird it makes the fictional workplace relatable while also letting the show reset itself after each episode this repetition can also highlight just how psychologically stuck characters are for sterling this means drinking screwing and shooting himself into a state of emotional numbness every member of the team is the worst version of themselves on repeat mallory manipulates everyone around her so that she can feel in control cyril desperately tries to break free of his beta male image and lana is forever caught between her revulsion and attraction to archer their inability to break with their own patterns both provides a constant source of comedy and makes them feel real albeit hugely messed up they are continually undone by the same weaknesses just like we all are of course we do see the characters manage to diverge from their well-worn paths from time to time even if only a little archer is willfully obtuse to the point that the vast majority of his bad behavior never comes back to haunt him as a result he is highly resistant to learning any sort of lesson from anything no i don't think it's a trap although i never do and it very often is however every so often we catch a glimpse of the person hiding under sterling's tough facade like when we learn about his troubled upbringing that left him emotionally damaged and he has moments with lana and mallory which show that they do genuinely care about each other even if they never last that long just like i taught you without any help from whoever your father is yeah you were always there for me which i never really thank you for archer's character is also rounded out with revelations about his fear of alligators or his attitude towards death bit by bit these little details combined with his constant willful disregard for his own safety paint a picture of someone who isn't just your standard cartoon sitcom [ __ ] but a guy who has a thoroughly and fascinatingly messed up relationship with his own mortality oh so suddenly you don't have a death wish lana i've never had a death wish it's just that i don't believe that i personally even can die with the employees of isis it's these incremental bits of growth which give them their depth and make them more than just walking punch lines rather than random zaniness their jokes often play off their own psychology and histories pretty sure the nazis had scientists no they didn't that's why we they lost the war this kind of joke-laden character development is a prominent feature of other successful long-running comedies like it's always sunny in philadelphia this is gay marriage that's two dudes banging each other i don't know where i fit in as a gay man and it's starting to get to me but despite the changes there is still a strong element of repetition for the whole archer is marked with these slow developments pam steadily grows from the group's punching bag to one of its most formidable agents archer is continually forced to re-examine his relationships as new situations emerge like when lana reveals that she's pregnant a pregnant woman or when pam also turns out to be like the pele of casual sex well how do you think that makes me feel i don't care pam now having said that would you please come in this dirty toilet stall and have sex with me for the first few seasons archer had a firm grasp on how to drive the show forward in this way keeping the core dynamics largely intact while moving the pieces around just enough to keep things interesting and being a cartoon it felt free to play a little fast and loose with the continuity flip-flopping on certain changes rey was in and out of a wheelchair cheryl was different kinds of crazy on different days etc even the introduction of the wee baby sheamus legally but not biologically archer's son provided the perfect way for the show to flirt with the idea of daddy sterling without having to actually commit to it before giving him a child of his own a few seasons later sterling archer mimi i'd like you to meet your daughter abba jean this flirtation is pretty standard the unwillingness to commit to any permanent changes often see sitcoms locked in never ending will they or won't they scenarios because these offer more flexibility for example if two characters actually couple up the show has to find a new funny direction to take them in so shows like archer will largely flirt with consequences rather than actually see them play out health scares like archer's cancer battle will pop up and then quickly go away okay so remember when you had cancer um vaguely while office romances like his ongoing connection to lana tend to find themselves endlessly in limbo and here's where things can start to go wrong at a certain point no matter how great the show this can become stale as much as we like the comforting familiarity we eventually get bored archer is pretty explicitly aware of this problem with characters cracking meta jokes about their fear of things becoming too repetitive most notably through the beloved phrasing jokes are we not saying phrasing anymore guys we really need to talk about getting phrasing back in the rotation while other shows have tried to fend off the sense of staleness by introducing new love interest or job changes archer went all in and decided to shift settings entirely with archer vice the show threw out the retro spy thriller template and went off on a cocaine-fueled jungle bender since the government has unjustly accused us of treason we are now forced to transfer those skills from espionage to criminal activity kind of like the a-team but we sell drugs although it proved to be something of a mixed bag the new setting allowed for the characters to evolve in all kinds of bizarre new directions like pam's transformation into an uncontrollable coke fiend and so from season 5 on archer basically began an ongoing cycle of radical change in reset the crew returns to being spies for a while and then gets busted by the us government forcing them to shift gears again with the coma seasons though is where things start to really go wrong archer puts its faith completely in genre hopping delving into archer's unconscious mind as a way to transplant the show to a different era entirely and hey is it all that different from the genre hopping the show is already done from hardboiled noir to zany space adventures each new season saw the characters reimagined to fit their new setting on paper this actually seems very smart what better way to counter sitcom boredom than by making each new season as different as possible but what actually happens when archer goes into a coma and the characters we know and love go from 1940s la to outer space nothing great to be honest the coma seasons basically detach all the characters from any sort of continuity because these characters are just figments of archer's imagination who look and act like his colleagues watching how each character fits into the new setup provides lots of room for creativity and humor both in how they change and how they stay the same some characters are reimagined as monsters animals and robots while cyril remains a nebbish dork no matter the context but everything that happens is also essentially inconsequential because for three whole seasons we know it will all be erased when archer wakes up this doesn't inherently make for bad television in fact such an approach can really work the sopranos famously used frequent dream sequences and even a pair of comatose episodes in which tony imagined himself in a completely different life much like our catatonic spy but these episodes worked because while nothing tony saw was real they offered us a deeper look into his psyche and added to our understanding of his journey through the real world the moral of that story basically if you're going to set a narrative so that it's literally inside the protagonist's head you need to have something to say about what's going on in there don't get us wrong archer's dreamy seasons do achieve this at times keeping certain aspects of the show in place while everything else shifts around underscores some of the show's essential truths for example no matter the time period or circumstance archer finds himself irresistibly drawn to lana in these moments the show tells us who the characters really are by showing us the parts of themselves they just can't seem to get away from and at times the more out their settings even provide interesting ways to develop them like when cheryl has sex with a literal doomsday device you may have some unhealthy associations with sex and death but again it's archer's own psyche and not cheryl's so who cares what's more these insights are unfortunately few and far between for the most part the change of scenery just makes it easier for the show to retell old jokes resetting every character to a generic model which can be jammed into the new story allows them to repackage old gags like krieger's creepiness and cyril's surprising it also sees the show tend towards a degree of flanderization with most of its cast flanderization is the process in which a character becomes increasingly defined by a single trait like how in the simpsons ned flanders went from a gentle nature do-gooder who happened to be religious to a full-blown religious zealot everyone is beautiful yes but jesus said that pretty much the same thing darn it the bible said the devil would be attractive similarly pam's years of hard-won status and self-confidence are suddenly snapped back so that she can return to being the go-to gross out punchline becoming a literal monster during the gang's season in space by extracting them from any larger narrative the show quickly reduces its characters to little more than a series of exaggerated quirks and overused catchphrases archer and all of his friends are left basically catatonic still alive but frozen in place the truth is that rather than solving the boredom which can seep in as a sitcom runs on for multiple seasons archer's wild genre jumping acted as a way of cheating or disguising the very problems it was trying to escape it frees the show from having to keep its characters in motion interesting avenues like archer's parenthood or his attempts to be a faithful partner are abandoned so that the show doesn't have to figure out what the hell to do with him in this new context while the setting and genre might change the interior lives of the characters remain totally static rather than solving the problem of sitcom stasis the coma seasons basically just dress it up in a different costume and hope the viewer won't notice that nothing has actually changed but rest assured it's not all doom and gloom from the series somewhat counter-intuitively the show has managed to fight this stasis by well taking a gigantic leap back to how things used to be what happens is season 11 sees archer awake from his coma and ready to resume his role at isis the spy agency which is somehow back in operation working out of the same old building with the same old staff as if nothing ever happened almost as if miraculously saving us from the minor failures of the previous three seasons this kind of hard reset might seem like an admission of defeat like the band who realizes none of its new material is working so agrees to just play the hits from now on but it's already done a much better job at keeping the show fresh than the coma seasons ever did while the surface details are the same as early seasons the deeper layers are vitally different archer is forced to reintegrate himself into a team that no longer really needs him cyril is now a super spy lana is married and the whole agency is vastly more ethical efficient and cost-effective than it ever was when he was there i'm just going by the book and archer a man pathologically in need of attention has to learn to live in a world that he's not the center of even his favorite group jokes have gone out of fashion whoa sploosh right oh yeah we don't do that anymore you don't what sploosh you you have to sploosh you all sploosh everybody splooshes i do not sploosh these shifts and power dynamics create changes which are actually far more meaningful than any of the alternate setting seasons could yield and as a result we see new sides to each character cyril is an obsessively sculpted mass of muscle built on a foundation of raging insecurity oh geezy petes that keeps happening the dangers of increased muscle mass i guess lana has achieved the sort of peace companionship and professionalism in her life that she always thought she wanted pam who began as the hapless hrf has become a self-assured competent emotionally aware member of the team it's been three years numbnuts we've had a whole thing going without you can't you just make an effort to fit yourself in and beyond that the show even manages to transform the ongoing anxiety about backsliding from problem into a major theme we must keep moving forward a meta turn which allows it to effectively self-analyze without disappearing up its own ass completely but what do you think wisecrack did you enjoy the creative freedom that the comatose seasons provided or would you rather see archer keep his eyes open from now on let us know what you think in the comments big thanks to our patrons as always and try not to spill anything while you hit that subscribe button because that is how you get ants also ring that bell it won't give you tinnitus and of course thanks for watching [Music] later [Music]

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