Earlier this month, the current writers behind The Simpsons made a bad situation worse. Following a series of genuine, affecting criticisms of the show by comedian and former Totally Biased writer Hari Kondabolu (spearheaded by The Problem with Apu, a 49-minute documentary released by Tru), the creative forces behind the show responded to Kondabolu on an episode named “No Good Read Goes Unpunished.” Without subtlety, insight, empathy, or anything resembling humility, the writers called upon the show’s most progressive central character, Lisa, to deliver a bizarre message of unstirred indifference toward verbal and visual representation of races and religions outside of suburban Catholicism in art and storytelling in general. That they seemed to infer that their show was no more important than a beloved childhood fairytale betrays the show’s obvious and immense importance in American culture. That importance isn’t lost on the people who put out “No Good Read Goes Unpunished” at all, but they are quick to deny it when their oft-brazen political bent comes under serious scrutiny.
The overwhelmingly negative reaction to the episode served as an unneeded yet nevertheless welcome reminder that the legendary Fox series should have been cancelled around the time the Iraq War started, if not earlier. Nevertheless, it’s worth remembering that Matt Groening’s animated behemoth isn’t alone in overstaying its welcome. We probably would have been better off if Family Guy had stayed cancelled, American Dad hadn’t survived a second season, and — as good as it still is in spurts — South Park started looking for an exit sooner than later. After seeing the first third or so of Archer: Danger Island, the show’s ninth season, it’s more apparent than ever that creator Adam Reed’s plan to potentially end the series after its tenth season would be the right decision.
Following the show’s inventive turn in Season 5 into Archer Vice and its triumphant return in Season 6, the show has seemingly gone full dinner theater. The jokes are still non-stop and admirable in their pun-laden linguistic complexity, but the set-ups are obvious to the point that you know the joke before they say it. It’s similar to the ceaseless callbacks that squandered FX’s other initially brilliant comedy, The League, but it’s less the content that’s familiar than the tempo, rhythm, and style of the humor. For longtime fans of the show, including myself, there’s still a basic sense of amusement, but just you try to find a genuine guffaw amongst the first three episodes that isn’t an echo of a big laugh this show already made over its run.
Where the last few seasons of the show took on the tropes and style of noirs, Danger Island moves the setting and time to more exotic environs, ones cinephiles may find similar to those in Only Angels Have Wings, Casablanca, or High Sierra. The animation style remains delightfully low-rent, but the story, which now involves Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) as a rebellious pilot that works for Malory’s island resort in the South Pacific circa 1939, exists simply to prop up the tonnage of would-be gags. There are no longer any intimations towards building up complexity in the characters to give depth, nuance, and texture to the humor. The plot and narrative seem to boast little more than proof that the denizens of the show’s writers’ room have seen Mutiny on the Bounty and a few dozen more adventure or crime films from the 1930s and 40s.
This has been an issue for numerous seasons in Archer – the last two were built around an ode to Sunset Boulevard – but it’s impossible to ignore the lack of invention and energy in Danger Island’s storytelling turns. And unlike The Simpsons or South Park, Archer has never been particularly boisterous about its politics or societal concerns, though it was made relatively clear that the show’s creators were left-leaning. The laughs and the characters were what brought viewers back to the show over the years, yet in this season, you can barely suss out evidence that they cared about either. Perhaps the (hopefully) final season next year will bring the whole thing revving back to life, but for now, Danger Island is just a reminder of better days.
Archer: Danger Island premieres April 25th on FXX.