‘Archer: 1999’ Review: In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream “Danger Zone!”

     May 29, 2019

archer-1999-review

Season 10 of Archer, FXX’s fantastic animated series that has reinvented itself a number of times over the years, arrives today with another one-off, this time … in spaaaaaaaaace! Dubbed Archer: 1999, likely a nod to date-focused sci-fi movie titles like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner 2049, this season continues the genre-skewering adventures of the titular super-spy and his team, now acting as the crew aboard the salvage spaceship Seamus. And our early preview of Archer: 1999 suggests the show is once again going to deliver the laughs, just tinged with space madness this time around.

I love that Archer has diverged from the straight-up spy organization plot line in recent years. We’ve had a noir take in Archer: Dreamland, an action-adventure story in Archer: Danger Island, and now an outer space sci-fi spectacular in Archer: 1999. All of these stories take place within the mind of the comatose Sterling Archer, and could conceivably go on for years and years until the writers opt to wake Archer from his slumber. But while I applaud the creative team for picking a genre and sticking with it season to season, I’m also left feeling like they could have done a bit more with an overall seasonal arc rather than delivering an episodic series of specific parodies. That’s just my take from the first four episodes though, so maybe Archer: 1999 brings it all together in the remaining six episodes.

Before we get into the review, here’s a teaser to clue you in to the tone of the upcoming season:

Archer: 1999 features the core voice cast of H. Jon Benjamin as the hard-drinking Captain Sterling Archer, Aisha Tyler as Archer’s Co-Captain and short-tempered ex-wife, Lana Kane; Jessica Walter as Archers mother and (literal) ball of energy, Malory Archer; Judy Greer as the eagle-eye fighter pilot Cheryl/Carol Tunt; Chris Parnell as the attention-seeking First Mate, Cyril Figgis; Amber Nash as the crew’s rock monster muscle, Pam Poovey; Adam Reed as the out-of-place-in-space courtesan, Ray Gillette; and Lucky Yates as the synthetic human with questionable morals, Algernop Krieger. This season also features guest stars like Sam Richardson (Detroiters, Veep) as a wayward space prince and Jillian Bell (22 Jump Street) as a marooned spaceship captain and military hero. The cast of characters may have changed their titles–and in the cases of Malory, Pam and Krieger, their physical make-up–but their personalities remain entirely the same, so if you’ve seen even one episode of Archer in the past, this round-up should be familiar to you.

One oddity in the early season episodes it that some of Walter’s ADR appears to have been done by someone else on the cast since it definitely doesn’t sound like her. Maybe I’m hearing things. You can see/hear for yourself in this other teaser from the upcoming season:

But I digress.

The difference in Archer: 1999 that sets it apart from previous adventures is that everything has a spacey angle to it. From nods to films and franchises like Alien, Star Wars, and Firefly/Serenity, to episodic plots derived directly from them (with with an Archer twist), this season does just fine with balancing homage with original storytelling. The jokes are hit-and-miss, mostly because the tension comes from the same sources as always: Archer is a real space-dick and everyone around him pays the price for it (though Malory is worse than he is this season). Everyone is at odds with each other and none of them seem to have a positive relationship at all, which has been fine ground for seeding jokes over the last nine seasons, but the shtick is starting to wither on the vine a bit. Changing things up are Pam’s arrival as a super-strong rock monster who breaks the fourth wall and has smelly boner-equivalents (setting up some great and literal gags throughout the season), Carol/Chery’s impressive abilities as a starfighter pilot which counter her deepest desire to sow discord and despair among her fellow crew members, and Krieger’s android body, allowing for some great physical comedy (though he’s still a mad scientist at heart).

My only gripe with Archer: 1999 is that there’s no bigger plot to the season; it’s just a collection of episodes that are loosely tied together through the space-travel setup. So while it was fun to watch the crew track down a xenomorph, battle in space gladiator combat, get addicted to psychotropic alien eggs, and fight their way out of a celestial mollusk, I wish they had some greater goal in mind other than, “Let’s just try to survive this space madness as long as possible, with some acceptable sacrifices in the process.” Maybe the final six episodes will introduce this, but I expect more of the same space silliness instead, and that’s just fine.

Rating: ★★★ Good

Archer: 1999 – Premieres Today at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FXX

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