First it resembled the 007 series, then Miami: Vice, and now, Magnum, P.I.: After six seasons of existence, Archer is no stranger to overhaul. In the seventh season, we’ll see Sterling (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin) and the gang, freshly blacklisted by the CIA, reincarnated as The Figgis Agency, a Los Angeles-based private investigation firm run by Cyril (Chris Parnell). Were it any other show, it’d be a risky move; any series that changes its appearance so often runs the risk of losing its identity. But Archer’s creators, calling it an “unreboot,” have taken the same approach to refreshing the show as they have with dressing Sterling: Sometimes you need to switch from dark black to a slightly darker black, but in the end, you can always count on the (metaphorical) turtleneck. Er, tactleneck.
The ex-ISIS gang remains consistent in its unfailing inadequacy and utter disregard for political correctness in the new season, a constant amid the show’s shape shifting. In their new roles as private investigators, the team will move away from tackling international dramas to solving personal intrigues — think Hollywood burglaries, missing persons — which Mallory dismisses as “grubby” but actually gives Sterling and Lana the chance to exercise what they’re actually good at: spying. Amping up the show’s glamor factor, the characters get a sexy new L.A.-in-the-80s-inspired wardrobe and soundtrack, too. And it’s clear where the show’s creators drew their inspiration: The preview trailer released in February was a shot-for-shot remake of the credits to Magnum, P.I., the slick 1980s Tom Selleck private detective series that Archer’s been aching to parody since it first paid homage back in Sterling’s breast cancer days.
But the core of the show — the team itself — remains the same. In the second episode, after the crew botches their first mission — a simple Hollywood burglary — Mallory (Jessica Walter) scolds her (well, Cyril’s, but who really believes that?) team, saying, “Don’t be the same feckless idiots you were when this was a spy agency!” Looking blankly back at her, Cheryl (Judy Greer), Pam (Amber Nash), and Krieger (Lucky Yates) are as lovably unmotivated as ever.
Still, after six seasons, the series is so confident in its characters that it can afford to give them the freedom to grow within the spaces they’ve carved out for themselves. We see Archer slide, somewhat uncomfortably, into the responsibilities of fatherhood, attempting to juggle mission assignments with finding a private preschool for baby Abijean. He’s more gung-ho about being a dad than he is a long-term partner, as he flirts shamelessly with an older Hollywood starlet, to Lana’s (Aisha Tyler) — and Mallory’s — disgust. Still, as he willingly places himself in the midst of Jewish-lawyer crossfire to save Lana’s life, there there’s an obvious sense that he’s at least trying; he’s come a long way from bedding underage German heiresses, after all.
It’ll take some getting used to seeing ex-lawyer Cyril at the head of the company — L.A. private eyes need either 2,000 hours of detective work or a criminal law degree — although his attempts to flex his management muscle provide endless options for outrageously funny emasculation. Whether he’ll ever earn the respect of the gang remains to be seen. Sterling, for one, can’t get over the fact that “a stupid law degree somehow qualifies an otherwise total idiot for a private investigator’s license but an entire career as a secret agent does not.”
There’s still plenty of room for Ray, more cyborg now than man, to be hilariously mutilated; Pam’s still playing the role of lovable (but now seemingly coke-free) muscle, and Cheryl’s perfected her role as the idiot-savant. The crew’s all here, diving headfirst into their new roles on Archer: PI while never turning their backs on what’s worked for the series. Long-running gags about octaroons and slavery resurface, together with the inevitable nod to the show’s anal fixation: “You’re going to have to go in from the rear,” Krieger says, hinting at what we’ve all been wondering: Are we still doing phrasing?