Of all the solid comedies on television to make an innovative jump in structure, Archer wasn’t very high on the predictions list. Adam Reed’s farcical spy series has always been one of the best-constructed productions on TV with an editing team that deserves every award ever made. But, at its core, it has also always been that same spy series. Archer gets ISIS in trouble – rinse and repeat. Immediately, though, season five announces itself as a huge departure from standard Archer fare, and it couldn’t be any more exciting.
The opening of “White Elephant” is a dialog-free, not-quite-dream sequence set to ballet music. If it’s not formally experimental, it’s certainly formally experimental for Archer and plays out like the stunning and shocking prologue to Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist. There’s recognizable Archer humor in it, like Cyril being given Sterling’s coffee mug instead of a rose from the bouquet, but the whole situation – Sterling bothering to give his mother a birthday present to begin with, letting alone remembering the date – is ridiculous.