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'Archer' season 5 preview: big changes for the hit FX comedy (spoilers!)

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[SPOILER ALERT - This preview reveals details regarding the upcoming fifth season of FX's hit animated comedy series Archer, including a significant point of tonight's season premiere episode. If you don't want to know anything about season five, please stop reading now and come back after you've seen "White Elephant."]

You have to hand it to Adam Reed, Matt Thompson, and FX. Having one of the funniest, most outrageous, wildly popular shows on television, they could just sit on their laurels and churn out a great season five. Instead, they've taken a huge risk by significantly reinventing the greatness that is Archer.

Rebranding itself as Archer Vice, the animated series shifts from being a psuedo-spy show to being a psuedo-crime show by the end of the season premiere, as the ISIS crew discovers that Malory Archer was never operating a legal operation. After the FBI - in the person of an agent voiced by the wonderfully deadpan Gary Cole - shuts down the organization that we've loved for four seasons, everybody has to find something else to do with their lives. So, naturally, they turn to selling a conveniently revealed ton of cocaine.

There are probably some folks who'll be disappointed by the change of premise, and understandably so; spy gadgets and espionage hijinks are great sources of humor. (Let's all shed a tear for Krieger's awesome lab and all those randomly labeled boxes in the background.) But thankfully, the fundamentals of Archer are still the same. Archer is still the biggest jerk on the planet. Malory is still utterly remorseless. Cheryl/Carol is still missing about a dozen marbles. And Cyril still gets no respect from anybody, ever. The funniest things about the show - the dysfunctional relationships between these terrible people - are very much alive and well.

You'll still be hurting yourself laughing throughout the first five episodes, for all the usual reasons. In particular, Pam (voiced wonderfully by Amber Nash) reaches a whole new level of crazy when she suffers some unfortunate consequences from the new get rich quick scheme. After that, she steals large parts of every subsequent episode. And we've still got a soft spot for Ray (voice of Reed), who becomes sort of responsible for Cheryl/Carol, much to his frustration. Even the destruction of ISIS is more funny than sad.

The challenge for season five of Archer is going to be how long the writers can sustain the new concept. How long can the drug-dealing plot sustain the character dynamics we know and love? Even if it persists to the end of the season, where will that leave the show for season six? Or will we see another radical change then? It's hard to guess at the long-term viability of the ISIS crew as criminals. Even so, it's a gutsy move from the Floyd County team and FX. In a TV landscape where viewers complain about the seeing same old stuff all the time, here's a creative team and a network that are willing to try something completely different. That's awesome just on principle.

Reed and Thompson have also secured some familiar guest voices for the early episodes of season five, including Cole, Ron Leibman (returning as Malory's underappreciated husband Ron Cadillac), and George Takei (reprising his role as Pam's arch-nemesis Mr. Moto). Plus, there's yet another Conway Stern reference. Now if the Archer writers would just quit teasing us and bring back Mr. Robot Hand already (we know Coby Bell's up for it).

Archer is definitely going in a bold new direction this season, and if you liked it for the spy stuff, you might be a little sad. But if you like the show because the hero's massively self-centered, his mother is ridiculously overbearing, and it's got a scientist completely devoid of morals, then you're still in the right place.

Season five of Archer starts tonight at 10 PM on FX.

(c)2013 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted. Visit my official website and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.

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