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Archer: Dreamland [Archer Season 8] (2017)

Over the course of seven seasons, Sterling Archer and his cohorts have gone from being spies to drug runners and back again, before setting themselves up as private detectives in LA for its seventh season . Even by Archer's standards though, season eight is a radical shake-up of the status quo. So much so that as with the drug running season Archer: Vice, this season has its own subtitle, Dreamland.

This season ditches the show's more-or-less present day setting ( although it's never been entirely clear on when that is if we're honest). Instead, it takes place in a film-noir influenced late 1940s LA, with Archer again cast as a private dick ("Slang for detective, so not an insult)".

It would be a spoiler for the events of Season Seven to explain how this scenario comes about (although a clue can be found in that subtitle), but it certainly means things are rather different.  Archer himself is pretty much the same old Sterling despite any change of setting. Other members of the regular cast take on new roles in the story. Most radically of all, Malory appears to no longer be Stirling's Mum but instead is a nightclub owner and crime boss known as Mother. Lana Kane is recast as a nightclub singer with a secret, Cheryl a Femme Fatale, and Pam and Cyril are a pair of cops. Their characters are broadly the same as their modern-day equivalent, with some minor differences.

The story opens with Archer investigating the death of his partner (Dreamland's equivalent of Woodhouse, played by the late George Coe). It soon unfolds into a bigger plot taking in kidnapping, people smuggling, gangsters and other film noir staples, and throws in anachronistic details such as cyborgs and robodogs for good measure. As the series has gone on, Archer has become more reliant on serialised storytelling, and this season goes full in on this. The plot unfolds over the course of 8 episodes, with each episode leading directly into the next.

Still, the film noir trappings and period setting doesn't make that big a difference to the show. The dialogue is unchanged, and as hilarious as ever (although admittedly without the Kenny Loggins references). It doesn't ape the noir genre too closely- the protagonist voice-over is only used for a throwaway gag, for example. It might have been more exciting if the season had taken advantage of the setting a little more.For example, it would have been interesting if the entire season was made in black and white, but it's understandable why this didn't happen. There's also some pretty spectacular cheats on the set-up of the season. If this world takes place entirely [spoilers] in Archer's head, why do we see events he wasn't involved in? The "private eye" set-up would have perhaps been more effective if the previous season hadn't also seen the characters taking on this role- albeit in a contemporary setting.  Such complaints are relatively minor though, and the positives of the new setting definitely outweigh any negatives here.

The show has without a doubt seen some improvement in animation quality over the course of its run. There are some well-executed action sequences here that mean that it's come a long way from the "illustrated radio play" feel that some of the earlier seasons had. Having said that, it's the sharp dialogue and hilarious interplay between the characters that really makes Archer special, and that has not dulled one iota here.

This is (as always) buoyed by one of the finest voice ensembles in the business. H. Jon Benjamin, Jessica Walter, Aisha Tyler and crew are as fantastic as ever, alongside returning guest Jeffrey Tambor and newcomer Eugene Mirman.

Archer rarely steps outside of comedy to try for a more dramatic moment or storyline, but when it does (as with Sterling's Cancer storyline) it never feels forced or unearned. There are a few such touches here that actually work really well. The opening moments of the season are particularly affecting for longtime fans.

Archer should be lauded for its willingness to change up the formula time and time again. Despite changing the "sit" in the sit-com, several times, it never loses sight of what makes the series work. Eight episodes feels about right for this, as it was never in danger of outstaying its welcome. We have two more seasons to look forward to before the series is over for good- and we can't wait to find out where it's going to go next.

8 Episodes