Monday, October 10, 2016

Archer's season 8 plans could be the greatest fuck-you to continuity since Sledge Hammer!'s nutty resolution to its nuclear-blast cliffhanger

When we last saw Sterling Archer, he was, like William Holden in Sunset Boulevard, face down in a pool and dead from multiple gunshot wounds. But that shocker of a season finale twist ending back in June was made less shocking by both FX's renewal of Archer for three more seasons and Archer creator Adam Reed's confirmation that the 10th season will be the final one for the longest-lasting of all his animated shows. So we're not through yet with the adventures of the world's most immature spy/P.I., and Reed has now come up with a crazy way (but it's typical for this show, which once had a poisoned Archer hallucinating that he was Warren Beatty in Heaven Can Wait) to continue on with those adventures despite killing off the title character.

At a New York Comic Con panel last week, Reed announced that when Archer resumes on FX in 2017, it will reboot itself again like it did in both 2014--when the main characters switched from espionage work to drug dealing (while Cheryl/Carol became a country singer) during the season-long arc known as "Archer Vice"--and March of this year. The seventh and most recent season took place in Hollywood and had Archer, Lana and Ray working as private eyes for Cyril, their now-defunct intelligence agency's former accountant. The eighth season will take place in an alternate timeline in 1947.

In this reality, Archer is a gumshoe instead of a spy, while Lana is a lounge singer Archer will be meeting for the first time, which contrasts with how the show first introduced Lana as Archer's colleague and ex-girlfriend. All the other main characters will have similarly different roles in 1947. Woodhouse is Archer's business partner instead of his butler, and the season will involve Archer's investigation of the murder of Woodhouse. Reed hasn't disclosed yet what the other six main characters' lives will be like in the '40s, but I won't be surprised if Krieger, the gadget expert who's possibly a Nazi, has a fondness for jodhpurs and the ideologies of certain recently fallen fascist leaders.

Archer's reverse time jump after the title character's death at the end of the previous season reminds me of Sledge Hammer!'s crazy approach to picking up from where it left off after the cop genre parody, briefly famous for the catchphrase "Trust me, I know what I'm doing," received a surprise renewal from ABC in 1987. Sledge Hammer! is, by the way, an '80s show that has aged better than Mr. Belvedere and The Cosby Show, a pair of wholesome sitcoms (aside from Belvedere's bizarre and awkwardly executed Very Special Episodes about AIDS, child molestation and date rape and Cosby's now-creepy barbecue sauce episode) that the anarchic and not-so-wholesome Hammer! got embroiled in public feuds with; Hammer! creator/showrunner Alan Spencer found Belvedere to be unfunny and often threw shade at Belvedere, while Hammer! aired against Cosby during its second and final season and got badly whupped in the Nielsen ratings.

Spencer's satirical creation confused both older viewers and Reagan-era network executives who preferred Dynasty-style lifestyle porn (the kind of Reagan-era entertainment John Carpenter cleverly critiqued in 1988's They Live), Cosby-style affluence and drab family sitcoms. Hammer! was ahead of its time: Spencer, a protégé of Mel Brooks, fought against ABC's insistence on a laugh track (and won, although Spencer has said that otherwise, the ABC execs "were brave. They rolled the dice. They trusted you"), and his show was a precursor to much more absurdist but similarly twisted Adult Swim network TV spoofs like Childrens Hospital, NTSF:SD:SUV:: and Eagleheart. Spencer thought Hammer! was going to be axed after the first season, so he concluded the season with David Rasche's reckless title character accidentally detonating a nuclear bomb and obliterating all of San Francisco.

The Hammer! season finale's apocalyptic last shot showed an ashen and completely ravaged San Francisco skyline, while Captain Trunk, Hammer's hapless, long-suffering boss, shouted "Haaaaammerrrrrrrrr!" off-screen. It was a difficult-to-resolve cliffhanger: how would Hammer, unless he was as invincible as Ray Luca was after Crime Story similarly blew up Luca with a nuke, have survived the blast when his hands were wrapped around the nuke?

So what was Spencer's solution after ABC surprised him with a second-season pickup? Instead of continuing the narrative in a post-apocalyptic, Mad Max-style San Francisco, which would have been amazing at the time but really expensive to do for a low-budget show like Hammer!, or doing the soap opera thing of revealing that Hammer had a twin brother who has decided to step into the shoes of his deceased brother, Spencer rewinded to five years before the explosion and tacked on a "Sledge Hammer! (The Early Years)" graphic.

Hammer! began its run with the SFPD forcing Hammer--an anti-social gun nut who talks to his gun and prefers to work alone--to pair up with a new partner, by-the-book Detective Dori Doreau, whom Hammer never met before (she was also the one character on Hammer! who kept the show grounded in a reality that wasn't as absurdist as Police Squad!'s or Childrens Hospital's, and she was played completely straight by Anne-Marie Martin in a low-key manner reminiscent of both Ryan Phillippe and Powers Boothe in MacGruber--sure, Rasche and Harrison Page played, respectively, Hammer and Trunk straight too, but unlike the other two characters, Doreau rarely cracked wise about the mayhem surrounding her). But at the start of the second season, Spencer contradicted his own continuity and showed that Hammer and Doreau were longtime partners back in 1982. This wasn't an accidental gaffe like Frasier Crane having a dad on Frasier, even though Cheers had established that Frasier's dad was deceased (the Frasier writers did a retcon and had Frasier explain at one point that he was angry with Martin during the years he worked in Boston, so he told his friends his dad was dead). This was Spencer's way of saying, "My show is a spoof in which the lead character gets rebuilt as a RoboCop-style cyborg for one episode and then returns to normal as if the cyborg thing never happened. I don't give a fuck about continuity."

Reed and his producing partner Matt Thompson could be doing the same thing with Archer season 8--flouting continuity and not having to worry about the task of addressing the lead character's death by skipping to the character's adventures from an earlier time period (a time period that, in Archer's case, took place before Archer's birth in 1948)--while the eighth season's official subtitle of "Dreamland" could be a hint that this '40s reality is Archer's dream state after he was shot by femme fatale Veronica Deane. And if it does turn out that all of season 8 is Archer's fantasy while he's in a comatose state, it's a move straight out of the playbook of Magnum, P.I., a show Archer adores, as well as a show that Reed has frequently referenced, whether during moments like a recreation of Magnum's famous "Did you see the sunrise?" scene and Ray's quip about waiting to be rescued by T.C.'s chopper or during FX promos like last season's shot-for-shot recreation of the Magnum opening titles.

Magnum often did gimmicky stories like a parody of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the movie Tom Selleck would have starred in had he not been contractually obligated to Magnum; a "Magnum in a coma" story that, like Archer's recent season finale, killed off Magnum when the cast and crew assumed CBS was going to pull the plug on their show; and a black-and-white Sam Spade homage. But while Magnum experimented with being a '40s private eye mystery for just one episode, Archer will experiment with the '40s setting for an entire season.

Instead of something more along the lines of the one-episode experiments Magnum and Hammer! were fond of doing (Hammer! did one-episode spoofs of Witness, Vertigo, the aforementioned RoboCop and Desperately Seeking Susan, and my personal favorite out of Hammer!'s movie parodies is the Desperately riff because it's a rare showcase for Martin's comedic skills: Doreau experiences a concussion and wakes up thinking she's Hammer), Archer's willingness to both experiment for a time span that's longer than one episode and continually explore new facets of Archer's screwed-up character is largely what keeps the show fresh (the exploration of those new facets is, now that I think about it, similar to Spencer's statement that "The point [of Hammer!'s Witness episode] wasn't parodying Witness, the point was taking the character of Sledge Hammer and putting him in new and interesting situations to see how he reacts"). That willingness makes the start of every new Archer season something to look forward to each year.

At this late point in Archer's life span, you'd expect the jokes to get stale, but Reed and Thompson continually find ways to keep their show from growing tiresome. And if the "Dreamland" arc fails to entertain the most die-hard Archer fans or if it becomes a burden for Reed in the writing department, Reed and Thompson can always blow the show's premise to smithereens again and stick Archer, Lana and the rest in the Pinkerton Detective Agency during the Wild West, which could be interesting--as long as Reed and Thompson don't go all Jon Peters on us and pit the team against a lame-ass giant spider.

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