Has ARCHER lost its way?

And, if so, how? Why? Who’s to blame?

Hmm, considering that this is an animated series and nobody’s complaining about its technical expertise, meaning that its look and sound are still just as good or bad as they’ve ever been, we’d say it’s the writers who need to man up to the blame or take credit for the wonderfulness of their creation. Let’s see what Vox, one of the most critical sites on the interwebs when it comes to TV, has to say on the matter:

archerpicby Todd VenDerWerff

Archer launched its sixth season on FX … with an episode about a Japanese soldier still fighting World War II and a once-destroyed office that was reconstructed exactly as it had been.

Along the way, there were plenty of meta jokes about everything getting back to normal, after the partial reboot of the show’s premise in season five. (Long a show about spies, the fifth, highly serialized season was about former spies trying to sell off a massive haul of cocaine.) But it was the former plotline that resonated more. Archer just feels tired of fighting old battles now; it’s not hard to blame it.

Archer is still a reliably funny show, with great gags and moments in every episode. But it’s also a comedy in its sixth season, when it’s not uncommon for shows to lose a step, and it’s a show coming off of a season that proved hugely divisive within its fanbase. (I loved it, even if I didn’t think everything about it worked.) What’s more, this is the first season of a two-season order, and such things have a long history of feeling sort of safe and unexciting. There’s nothing like knowing for sure that another season is coming to kill off innovation.

I don’t want to suggest Archer has completely lost its way. But this was by far one of my favorite shows on TV in its second and third seasons, and I loved the raw ambition of season five. And now, it feels a touch sluggish in the season six episodes I’ve seen (six, so far).

Here are my best guesses as to why.

1) The characters are stuck

That Japanese soldier feels, in some ways, representative of everybody on the show at this point. Archer used to be my go-to for a show that was primarily about jokes, but also boasted seriously great character development. Normally, putting “character first” in comedy means injecting some more pathos-ridden, dramatic moments. (Think The Office or Cheers.) ButArcher was proof that the characters could be utterly insane, but still capable of surprising depth.

With every season, creator Adam Reed (who has also written the vast majority of the show’s episodes) gave these characters new facets. He filled in more and more of their back-stories. He turned one-gag characters — like mad scientist Krieger — into figures you understood the motivations of, even as you were cracking up at them. He incorporated elements of spy stories and sci-fi in them, but he never let those elements take over. And they all felt like they weregoing somewhere, even if that somewhere was straight to Hell.

In the show’s fourth season and the first bit of season six, however, Reed seems uncertain how to proceed. He can’t keep introducing new, weird facts about the characters, because the time for that is over. (This sort of exposition is usually best confined to the first couple of seasons.) And characters’ story arcs feel frozen, consequently. Super-competent agent Lana, for instance, has a baby now (and Archer’s the father, no less), but it’s never been precisely clear what the show is doing with this plot point, even now that the kid is on screen. (It’s not a coincidence that the season’s best episode so far is its fourth, which gives us more of one prominent character’s back-story.)

2) So are the relationships

Going hand in hand with Archer‘s heavy focus on character has been the necessary corollary that it has some of the best-defined relationships on television. At the center of the show are the relationships between Archer and his mother/boss Malory and the relationship between ex-lovers Archer and Lana. Both of these core relationships have changed and evolved over the course of the show, revealing more of their depths of hideous, hilarious co-dependency.

Read it all (but the two notions above certainly seem to reflect on the writing, y’know?