Archer and the Art of the Retool   Leave a comment

The fifth season opener of Archerthe FX animated series about a hopelessly shallow but  highly successful super spy, dumped the driving premise of the series and reemerged as something new.  Something that most shows can not pull off.


If you have not seen the episode and plan to, I won’t spoil it for you.  Otherwise my take is below the cut!

Last chance…




In the season five opener the ISIS office is raided by the FBI on account of the fact that they have been operating illegally.  The team is rounded up and arrested, but Mallory uses her influence to get them off the hook.  The condition being that they stop their spy operations.  Rather than trying to have normal lives the team decides to move a literal ton of coke that had been stashed in their office and make enough money to retire in luxury.

The decision is followed by a fantasy sequence of Archer visualizing their lives as a drug cartel, which is actually a teaser trailer of the upcoming season, at the end of which Archer redudbs the series Archer: Vice.

In an interview with UPROXX, producer Matt Thompson explained that the new direction for the hit show was brought on by boredom.  According to Thompson, Adam Reed (lone writer/creator/series regular as Ray Gillette) “felt like he was spinning his wheels.”  He added, “you have a show that is successful and/or becoming more successful and we decided to change everything because we were bored and because we just want to make the show that makes us interested and happy in the end.

Retooling has traditionally had a poor track record for keeping a show going. 8 Simple Rules post John Ritter’s death failed after a season. The Charlie Sheen era of Spin City lasted two seasons, and was canceled due to a drop in ratings.  Just a few months ago when Family Guy faked a retool by briefly killing off Brian and replacing him with another dog the fan outcry was massive.  A fan lead petition to bring Brian back gathered over 120,000 signatures.

It may be too early to make the call of if these changes are going to going to work out for Archer, but from the one episode things are looking very promising.  And so far there has not been any major push back from the fans. Maybe a few people who were not thrilled by the episode venting over on Facebook, but no riots in the streets or petitions.

The best example of a major retooling like Archer‘s that failed is Scrubs, when in the 9th season the show was changed to be about  students at a medical school, with the old cast in reduced roles as teachers.  It was canceled later that year due to low ratings, and according to the shows start Zach Braff, “It was worth a try, but alas… it didn’t work.


Over 9 years Scrubs went from one of the best shows on TV (my opinion, feel free to disagree)to being a lesson in out staying your welcome (cold hard fact).  Over those years it frequently had to recycle its old plot lines in order to keep going.  JD and Elliot continuously broke up and got back together, as did Dr.Cox and Jordan. Every time Turk and Carla entered a new phase of their relationship it came with the possibility of them splitting up.  The stories always resolved themselves with the characters learning an important life less, only to repeat the same mistakes a year later.

Community was falling in into a similar pattern as Scrubs, and like Archer has attempted to retool itself in its fifth season.  Avoiding turning into another Scrubs is even meta a joke that they make throughout the episode.  Like Archer this change seems to be working out well for Community, as their new episodes have garnered a better reception than the previous season.  This return to form is also be attributed to the return of show runner Dan Harmon after his season four absence .

The reason that Archer’s retool will likely work out in its favor is that the new premise is not so detached from the old one that any of the dynamic will be lost.  The characters will still find themselves in similar high stakes high reward situations, just on the wrong side of law.  A line they skirted anyway.  

This change seems so natural that if the new season wasn’t being marketed as a retool it may not have even been considered as such.  The season three Space Pirates/Cyborg plot lines seems much more incongruous with the spy theme than the drug cartel idea.

 Do you like Archer‘s new direction? Think it won’t last? Tell me below!


Posted January 15, 2014 by atomicsam in TV

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