I’m a huge fan of Archer. As of now, I have seen every single episode. I’ve raved about it for years. I love the way jokes are constructed. Creator Adam Reed has created a seamless formula that brings together set-ups, punchlines, and call-backs beautifully. I think the first 4 seasons of the show are hilarious, tightly plotted and very well done. Season 5 is rambling, but it has its moments.
And then season 6 happened, and things got pretty shaky. By season 7, for me, the show had collapsed. It went from one of the most interesting shows on television to one of the laziest, and I got the strong feeling that Reed was out of ideas.
The biggest indication of this: The black jokes spiraled out of control.
Throughout Archer’s first 6 seasons, racism has been a giant wrench in Reed’s creative toolbox. Most of the racism comes from Malory, Pam, and Cheryl. Malory is an old insensitive woman, so that makes sense. Pam is a Midwestern hick and probably didn’t grow up with many black people, so I can buy her racism. And Cheryl, well Cheryl is crazy, and that excuse seemed to work well enough for Mel Gibson.
I was never crazy about the racist comments that often came out of these characters’ ignorant mouths, but at least their racism always tended to make sense in the context of their characters. Black viewers are much more lenient about this than we get credit for. We’ve had centuries to get used to ugly portrayals of us, so we’ve grown a thick skin.
And usually, through character development, people in television programs become less bigoted over time. They often learn to be less racist the more time they spend with and gain an understanding of “the other.” That is not to say that if you have a black friend you’re more likely to understand institutional racism (ahem Donald Trump still doesn’t) but you at least learn not to let ignorant blatant shit come out of your mouth during the day-to-day.
Or, at least, you would think so.
Let’s talk about the season 6 two-part finale “Drastic Voyage”.
Things began getting a little iffy near the end of Season 6 when Ray got his hand chopped off and it is replaced with a black-colored robotic one. I was raising my eyebrows during that entire ordeal, but it concluded well enough – at least for Ray.
During the finale, Ray complains a lot about his black hand. The rest of the gang chimes in with his complaints, making jokes out of them, playing up the racism. But near the end we find out Ray was actually upset about his hand being robotic, not that it was black. He tearfully apologizes to Lana before the conclusion of the season, and my eyebrow went back down to its resting place.
And then Season 7 happens, and my eyebrow skyrockets out of the Earth’s orbit.
The hits start coming in episode 3 “Deadly Prep” when Lana and Archer try to get their daughter AJ into a prep school (pre-pre K, apparently). The board member that interviews them is openly racist to Lana, and neither Archer nor Malory stand up for her. Archer is dealing with trauma because the board member is a former bully from school–that is the plot reason why he doesn’t stand up for her.
The problem with this scene underlines the problem with the entire season: Archer’s feelings are considered more important than Lana’s, thematically and story-wise.
Lana deals with racism, Archer is too busy dealing with trauma to be there for her. Lana gets arrested at the end of the episode and Archer has gotten over his trauma, but he still makes fun of her. The episode ends on a joke. And the joke is that she’s stuck in prison and Archer won’t even put money in her account so she can go to the canteen.
Because, yes, forget your black baby mama. Who cares. Let her stay in jail. That’s hilarious! Abusing your marginalized loved ones is great!
It’s even funnier when you realize she was arrested by a cop played by Keegan Michael Key, who clearly pulls her over for driving while black even though he is also black.
HAHAHA. If she’s arrested by the black one, it’s cool, right? Even though this only underlines a thing that has been very much in the news the past few years and that is the police (regardless of color) are trained to be harshest to black offenders.
And sure, she had a gun. But she was driving with FOOD to give to a BOARD MEMBER FOR A PREP school to help HER DAUGHTER. There was no reason for her to be pulled over in the first place, so him finding the gun is a moot point.
And, as for Archer, I know that trauma is a very serious subject, but this is not a serious show. If it was, once Archer had realized he was dealing with unresolved trauma, he would explain that to Lana and apologize to her for not being able to be there for her when he was in that emotional state.
But this is not a serious show. And it’s my opinion that the trauma was thrown in so that Archer would have an excuse to be a total dick to the mother of her child and leave her in prison with no money to take care of herself. In a hostile environment.
Because, comedy! And woo the laughs!
But, strap in folks, because the two-part finale for season 7, “Deadly Velvet” is the icing on the racism cake.
Archer, too infatuated with his older white woman crush Veronica Dean, decides to joke in front of the POLICE, about how maybe Lana may have killed Veronica’s ex-husband. As a joke. Haha. And she gets taken in. Hilarious. But not before the white cop, played by JK Simmons, points a gun in her face-apropos of nothing.
Once again, no one backs her up. She’s the number one murder suspect during the entire two-parter. Archer never stands up for her in person. He keeps fucking Veronica even when it looks like Lana might GO TO PRISON (and no one considers how this may affect AJ, by the way, or even comments on where AJ IS during all of this).
And I would also like to point out how disgusting that scene with her and JK Simmons Cop is in the car when he basically threatens to mistreat her before he releases her from custody. That was super hilarious and not disgusting at all.
Basically, Lana starts getting cocky, realizing the police can’t hold her for much longer. She starts celebrating and getting a little obnoxious and then:
JK Simmons Cop informs her that a lot can happen between now and her release.
SO FUNNY. Things like what? Assault? Maybe being lynched in her cell with a garbage bag?OH MAN. So many WACKY hijinks could occur. Such a funny show.
Eventually, Lana is cleared of the murder because everyone figures out it’s Veronica. And, get this, the cops seem DISAPPOINTED they can’t send Lana to prison. Haha. Because Lana is so terrible with her tallness and her blackness and her big hands. Such a threat.
And the season has the nerve to end with a fake-out proposal before the Archer kneeling in front of her is revealed to be a robot. Which honestly was a relief for me, because Lana should never marry Archer. Ever. Even if he apologizes for everything. Which he won’t.
The thing about Lana is that she’s the kind of black character white people write: She’s privileged, comes from wealthy respectable Cosby-like parents, and yet she STILL HAS A BAD ATTITUDE. Because black people are just LIKE that. Especially black women. We’re just angry, even when we’re supposedly as privileged as whites. We yell a lot and fuck white guys, but then want to play the “race card”. We’d probably be better off if we just had a good attitude, right? Get that chip off our shoulder. Lighten up. Calm down.
That is all bullshit, by the way. Respectability politics are for the birds.
In the wake of Sandra Bland and the Black Lives Matter activism that has been going on in the past three years, it is simply irresponsible to depict black characters this way unless you’re drawing a line in the sand and picking your side. It was disgusting watching this season of Archer. I was angry, I was sad, and I couldn’t stop thinking of Sandra Bland from the first time Lana was arrested. I thought about Sandra when I saw Lana in that jumpsuit. I thought about Sandra when Archer just left her there as part of the episode ending “joke”. I also thought of Sandra every time Lana got angry and her issues were brushed off as “attitude”.
Lana was arrested two times in one season, for doing nothing wrong. No one has any sympathy for her being a mother or her being frustrated that Archer allows everyone around them to treat her however they want. He never sticks up for her. He never comes to her rescue. Not once.
You know who he does rescue, though? Veronica Dean. The white woman.
I live-tweeted the entire season. My thoughts expressed on Twitter are a bit different than my thoughts expressed here. The entire time I was annoyed with Lana for being so jealous and shrill about Archer’s attraction to Veronica. It just felt like regular bad sexist writing. But by the end I realized that is incredibly bad, anti-black (misogynoir) writing. The kind of writing that makes black people the punchline, but tries to be cute about.
Retro racism. Hipster racism. Ironic racism. It’s all racism.
And this season of Archer was the most blatantly racist I’ve seen a show be in a very long time. I honestly believe that everyone involved should be ashamed of being a part of it. Not just because it was racist, but because it wasn’t funny. It was bad writing. It was tone-deaf writing. It was poorly paced and plotted. The mystery was obvious. The femme fatale wasn’t compelling. It was a disgrace. In propelling this Veronica Dean character to top billing for the season, Adam Reed decided to give Lana the shaft. In the worst way possible.
Congratulations on the Emmy, Adam Reed. You should have gotten it back in season 5, before your show went off the rails and become one of the laziest shows on television.