“I’m not a huge fan of change,” quips super-spy Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) at the end of tonight’s premiere. Boy, will he ever be happy with the start of season 6 of his titular show, then. After last year’s dalliance with a whole host of dangerous pursuits—drug-dealing, governmental coups, country-music stardom—the spy comedy has reset to its original format.
Of course, the gang is all here and back in fine form. Pam (Amber Nash) is plump again, Ray (Adam Reed) is walking unassisted, and Carol (Judy Greer) has ditched her Cherlene persona. They’re even working out of a perfect replica of the old ISIS offices, down to Brett’s bloodstains (though, sadly, not made with Brett’s actual blood).More than just the office space is eerily similar. Archer once again opens the season waking up from a bender in Southeast Asia, having fled from his responsibilities. Archer-family matriarch Mallory (Jessica Walters) is once again demanding he get off the cobra-sauce and back to work, while Lana (Aisha Tyler) fumes in the background. The plot is also back to a mission-of-the-week format; this one sees Archer facing off with a WWII Japanese army holdout mid-assignment.
That’s not to say there aren’t some important differences present for season 6. For one, Lana is toting around baby Abbiejean, who is poised to provide plenty of plot- and character-development as Archer comes to terms with being an actually involved parent. And the group is now working as an independent contractor for the CIA—a move that brings them more or less back onto the side of legality and handily allows the now-fraught moniker of ISIS to discreetly fall away. And there’s Milton! Who wants toast?
Luckily, there’s no change to the trademark Archer style. Lightning-fast repartee, clever cutting, obscure references, recurring gags, and beloved callbacks are all present. The show still boasts one of the highest jokes-per-minute rates of any comedy on TV, as well as an obscenely many (and sometimes just obscene) quotable lines.
Last season’s foray into Archer: Vice was at times uneven, but it had a manic inventiveness fueling every nutty twist. Adam Reed and company were clearly energized by that chance to start fresh and follow every screwball idea and comedic quirk wherever they led. While this episode shows that the essential comedy DNA of Archer is still strong, the premiere itself lacked that sharp, kinetic spark that made this show so addictively watchable in the first place. Here’s hoping that’s just a hiccup from changing gears, and Archer will ramp back up to firing on all cylinders.
Archer airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.