Archer Dreamland. What a ride.
With Dreamland, the show is finally taking the last step toward true serial drama rather than a villain of the week format with a linked narrative. At 8 episodes, Dreamland is essentially a 4-hour noir, and at that it is one of the best noirs ever made.
Dreamland opens with No Good Deed, the greatest episode of the series. This usually doesn’t bode well for a show when their opening episode is the best. But every episode in Dreamland is almost as good as the first, from the quality of the writing to the animation, with the strategic use of editing, pauses, and witty dialogue that makes for a great show.
Dreamland, as its name implies, is a coma-induced dream. As such, everything is fair game. All of the principal cast returns, but many of the characters have changed. Malory is now “Mother”, the owner of the titular “Dreamland” nightclub. Cyril and Poovey are cops, while Lana is a singer/T-Man investigating Mother. Cheryl is essentially Cheryl with her name changed.
When Archer is freed from the shackles of the previous continuity, the show can really do some interesting things. Archer’s flashbacks to the war not only fit his character (Archer has always been wounded in some way) but perfectly intersect with the action sequences.
As far as the plot – it’s a standard noir plot. Woodhouse (portrayed by the late George Coe) is Archer’s murdered partner. Archer vows to avenge Woodhouse’s death, the investigation into which takes a backseat for the rest of the season. Woodhouse’s death was merely a hook, a standard narrative trope in many such noir films. And it works. The great thing about Archer is that it has always played with standard tropes from multiple genres, some of which are good, some of which are bad. But when Archer does it, either as parody or homage, they’re always good.
This season it’s noir and Archer does it better than most serious noirs. The plot involving Charlotte acts as the main storyline, with B plots sprinkled throughout. Lana’s storyline is lacking for the first half of the season, until it is revealed that she is an undercover Treasury agent. This has the feel of something that was decided rather late in the season, as there’s no real indication of it in earlier episodes.
The inclusion of Barry/Dutch as the big bad was at first a little bit formulaic. But it’s Archer’s formula and they use it so well. However, the reveal that he was the one who killed Woodhouse was just too much of a coincidence. Except that Archer doesn’t take itself seriously, to the point where Dutch even comments at how impossible a coincidence it is.
Dreamland is Archer‘s greatest season yet, and hopefully marks a new direction in the show. Although Archer has always been great, Dreamland set a new bar for excellence. The serial format is the kind of thing Archer was meant for. Luckily the show doesn’t take itself too seriously to take advantage of all the jokes and clichés that are it’s forté.