The last season of “Archer” went for a game changer, bucking the traditional super spy farce in exchange for its cast of characters entering the criminal world where they peddled cocaine, sold firearms and entered the “outlaw” country music business. The aptly titled “Archer: Vice” announced a dramatic change in the life of the Adam Reed (“Sealab 2021”) created series. However, with the season six premiere, “The Holdout,” the show returns to its espionage roots. The result is an abruptly humorous return as characters readjust to the status quo.

Archer

A-
Season Six Premiere
FX
Thursdays 10 p.m.


Of course things have changed drastically for the series’ title character (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin, “Bob’s Burgers”) who now finds himself the biological father of fellow agent Lana Kane’s (Aisha Tyler, “Whose Line Is It Anyway”) newborn daughter, Abijean. This is after Lana, unannounced, used Archer’s “goop.” In typical fashion, Archer avoids responsibility until he’s called back into action.

The spy mission of the week leaves Archer stranded in Borneo where he’s forced to team up with a WWII Japanese soldier, Kintaru Sato (Togo Igawa, “Memoirs of a Geisha”), who has spent years ignorant of the end of the war. The first confrontation between the two is an incredibly well-animated sequence as the two duel in the jungle. The sequence presents possibly some of the best animation the series has seen and speaks volumes to how much the show has improved technically from its initial seasons.

Reed’s writing remains top-notch, with the dynamic between Archer and Sato being particularly strong, as the duty-bound Sato reprimands Archer, “You cannot shirk your duty.” “Yes I can I do it all the time!” is Archer’s unsurprising response. However, the arc presents a surprisingly emotional turn for the episode as Sato, who has missed seeing his own family grow up, challenges Archer’s fears of parenthood and forces the spy to confront his reluctance to grow up. The poignant story still brings humor with the series’ quotable one-liners. Archer tells the jungle to “eat a buffet of dicks” and a mix of candy and painkillers coined “Mike and Vics” — all particular standouts.

The episode’s subplot about the rest of the cast’s return to their spy agency (formerly known as ISIS, but changed for obvious reasons) provides some self-referential comedy. The renovation of the agency’s office by Cheryl (Judy Greer, “Married”) and Pam (Amber Nash, “Frisky Dingo”) is incredibly clever as they reveal the great lengths they’ve taken to return everything to the original before the office was destroyed, all the way down to the bloodstain on the carpet. Mallory Archer’s (Jessica Walter, “Arrested Development”) despair after seeing the hologram of a futuristic office fade away to Cold War era technology and Cheryl’s glee at her expense are fantastic. The drastic return to normalcy seems like Reed laughing at critics who initially called for change and reacted poorly to “Vice.”

Characters themselves have physically returned to normalcy: Pam addresses the return of her weight after slimming down due to a cocaine addiction, as filling a hole in her life saying, “Some people fill it with drugs. Some fill it with work. Some fill it with between meal snacks, liquor and their therapist’s cock.” But it still remains uncertain whether Krieger (Lucky Yates, “Frisky Dingo”) is or isn’t a clone from last season’s finale.

“I’m not a huge fan of change,” Archer declares at the end of the episode. “Archer” may be returning to well-worn territory but its humor remains as sharp as ever with its strong sense of self-awareness. Meanwhile, there is enough chance for development that some characters of “Archer” will have to face their shifting circumstances, making this return a welcome one.

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