Creativity isn't always profitable, regardless of the medium. In video games, the critically acclaimed Psychonauts goes unnoticed while the annual Call of Duty installment rakes in obscene amounts of money; in movies, it's tough to find an original script during the summer blockbusters, and on television, adding a colon and a major city to an established show's title passes for creativity. That's why it was so refreshing to see FX's Archer successfully change things up this past year with Archer: Vice.
For the uninformed, Archer is an animated comedy, the best on TV in my opinion, known for its unique brand of humor and beautiful animation. It centers on Sterling Archer and the rest of the employees of the ISIS spy agency. The outrageous cast of characters, all of whom you can follow on Twitter, had already spent four seasons of misadventure and hilarity together when the show runners decided it was time to freshen things up. The season five premiere saw ISIS shut down after an FBI raid and the gang form a makeshift drug cartel to sell their literal, not figurative, ton of cocaine that mysteriously appeared in the ISIS office.
This change allowed them to organically bring back some great characters, like Fidel Castro's gay hit men, while giving their established characters room to grow in these new situations. Series stars Archer, Lana and Mallory all shine while supporting regulars Pam and Cheryl provide the season's highlights with a ridiculous addiction to eating cocaine and musical stardom in "outlaw country" genre. Amidst the comedy and typical ISIS brand of success/failure were several major developments that will have huge ramifications for season six and beyond. These developments would have been hard to come by if not for the season five changes, so even when the show inevitably returns to its roots in the coming seasons, it will be much better off for having this exploratory season.
Major credit needs to be given to the Archer big wigs for doing what many shows wish they could. But as was stated before, creativity isn't always profitable, and change is even less. South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone remarked on this with their self-referential season fifteen episodes "You're Getting Old" and "Ass Burgers" where they had a main character's parents divorce and move away only to have them return with a monologue about how sometimes people have to stick to what they know, even if change would make them happier. South Park recognized that even though they'd like to change things and explore new stories, they can't, as changing a winning formula wouldn't be allowed by their network. This makes what Archer has done all the more impressive, especially when considering that Archer: Vice is one of their best seasons yet.
I, like many fans, was wary of the changes. I didn't want to see the show I loved depart from what had made me love it in the first place. But Archer: Vice proved me wrong. They kept the characters, humor and tone intact while exploring new ideas that made their already smartly written characters that much deeper.
There are very few shows that couldn't benefit from following Archer's example; take a great idea and make it better by putting their characters in creative new situations. This is the best way to ensure continued quality in the shows we love. So do the world a favor: seek out new and creative ideas and don't settle for Call of Duty and the inevitable CSI: Hoboken (they're going to run out of fun cities at some point). So embrace the danger zone, read the terms of en-rampage-ment, and... dammit I had something for this... screw it, just #GoVice.
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