The Pitch: Typically, the longer a hit program goes on, the harder it is for it to maintain its quality and relevance. Thus, Archer’s ability to mostly preserve its trademark wittiness, ridiculousness, and audaciousness across 12 seasons (and 12 years) is commendable. Admittedly, some fans and reviewers feel that it’s fallen from grace in some ways — and maybe it has — but it’s hard to deny that the show remains immensely clever, fun, and (at times) moving.
The Season 12 finale “Mission: Difficult” cemented all of that very well. For one thing, it found its lovable band of dysfunctional spies dishing out plenty of biting quips and explosive action before ultimately being acquired by a rival company called the International Intelligence Agency, or IIA, run by British mogul Fabian Kingsworth (Kayvan Novak of What We Do in the Shadows).
What’s more, it gave the group’s boss, Malory Archer, a sincere sendoff by having her leave a caring yet chastising goodbye note to son Sterling (H. Jon Benjamin) before retiring to a beach with her husband, Ron Cadillac.
That closing scene was doubly resonant because it also venerated Malory’s voice actor, the legendary Jessica Walter, who passed away in March of 2021. (Adding even more emotional weight is the fact that Ron was portrayed by Walter’s real-life partner, Ron Leibman, who died in 2019. Therefore, the creators used some archived audio to pull it off.)
Of Malory’s parting, executive producer Matt Thompson told TV Insider: “Casey [Willis] and I had planned out that finale way in advance, because Jessica passed in the middle of the season. So we had to reorganize the season to where you felt like she was in the episodes, but we actually kind of retro-scripted them. And then, we had an early idea for the finale, and that came together really nicely.”
Naturally, diehard devotees have spent the last ten months or so asking themselves two major questions: “Will Archer still satisfy as it enters its thirteenth season?” and “Will it sufficiently honor Malory — and Walter — amidst its various shenanigans?”
The answers are yes and no. Well, at least so far.
While nearly all the initial four episodes screened for critics are as comical and chaotic as you’d expect, they rarely acknowledge the absence and lingering influence of the show’s central matriarch. Granted, focusing on Malory too much could also be problematic, but by the time you get to the third and fourth episodes, it seems like the characters have essentially forgotten about her entirely. Even so, the 13th season of Archer is off to a generally triumphant start.
Highway to the Danger Zone: The best of this season’s bunch so far are the first two episodes, “The Big Con” and “Operation: Fang”: Obviously, they find Archer and company getting into all sorts of characteristically illogical yet intense mishaps (including thwarting a kidnapping, competing in high-octane activities during the Agent Skills Competition, trying to escape a hazardous tropical jungle, and facing off against guerilla soldiers).
It’s all pleasingly over-the-top and highly stylized, with the team’s habitual disregard for safety, practicality, regulations, and human life in full effect. These situations showcase not only how incredibly reckless, elaborate, and dangerous their jobs remain but also how well animated and edited the show can get during action scenes. In particular, a skydiving sequence during “The Big Con” (whose parallels to Point Break are so blatant that Archer even screams, “Whoooo! Johnny Utah!” as he falls) is complex and thrilling.