Archer may just be the best show you’re not watching. If you are watching, disregard that statement and pay attention to this one: “OMFG! Archer is so funny, isn’t it? LOLOLOLOL”. If you belong to the former camp, allow me to explain why you’re missing out.
Archer is an animated spy spoof done in the style of the 1960s Hanna-Barbera Jonny Quest cartoons. We follow the adventures of the world’s most dangerous secret agent, Sterling Archer (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin), who despite his awesome spy credentials, is an egotistical, arrogant, juvenile playboy with complex mother issues. Archer himself is a textbook case of arrested development, which is rather fitting as most of the cast of the second most lamented Fox cancellation (Firefly being the first) voice the main ensemble here, many in similar roles. We have Jessica Walter voicing Malory Archer, the alcoholic, self-centred head of spy agency ISIS and Judy Greer, who plays Cheryl Tunt, a nympho secretary who happens to be the heir to a massive family fortune. Also noteworthy is Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler), the top female agent at ISIS and Archer’s ex, who is usually frustrated at Malory’s nepotism in choosing her son for the best missions and more often than not has to protect Archer from himself and get him out of the easily-preventable scrapes he finds himself in.
Archer really appeals to my sense of humour. It doesn’t get hung up on the spy spoof angle and just uses the covert operations and exotic missions as a background for the office banter between the characters. The strength of Archer lies in how the characters play off each other, especially Archer and Lana. Archer can often be quite bawdy and vulgar, but something about the characters and the minimalist animation offsets it. If you’re familiar with Adult Swim cartoons like creator Adam Reed’s previous works, Sealab 2021 and Frisky Dingo, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. Having said that, I find the humour in Archer to be more accessible than both Sealab and Frisky Dingo, which are more acquired tastes. Archer is one of the only shows after The Simpsons that not only holds up to repeat viewings, but is densely written enough to have you laughing at different lines each time round. There are one-liners aplenty and the snappy dialogue makes it a joy to watch. The high quality of the voice work also ensures that when jokes hit, they really hit hard.
Season 2 starts off strongly with ISIS reacting to the credit crunch in “Swiss Miss”, where the team are tasked to protect a possible investor’s Paris Hilton-esque daughter, who has the hots for the normally enthusiastically promiscuous Archer, but who has been sworn to his best behaviour. Looking over the series, I wouldn’t say there’s a bad episode in there. Some episodes definitely hit higher than others, but the quality doesn’t waver much. Season 2 starts to expand on some of the secondary characters who were previously just used as dialogue trampolines and punchlines, like Cyril Figgis (Chris Parnell) who gets the focus in episode 6 “Tragical History”- one of my favourites of the entire series so far and which guest stars underrated Brit funnyman Peter Serafinowicz. Archer’s maltreated and put upon butler Woodhouse also gets a fleshed-out backstory in “The Double Deuce”.
This season isn’t afraid to plumb some darker levels of humour either, when Archer is diagnosed, cleared and then re-diagnosed with male breast cancer in “Stage Two”. Following on from that, my personal favourite episode is “Placebo Effect”, where Archer finds out the Irish mob have switched his cancer medication for sugar pills and alcopops and subsequently goes on a chemo-fuelled rampage. Despite the sensitive subject material, I never get the sense that Archer is being spiteful. What’s important here is that it isn’t done entirely for irreverent yuks or simply for shock value in a misguided attempt to be “grown-up”. I think the series’ approach is actually quite refreshing in this pop culture obsessed, desperate-to-offend, Seth MacFarlane dominated world of populist, adult-oriented animation.
So yeah- Archer. It won’t be for everyone, but the people who like it will like it hard and quote it endlessly, much to the annoyance of non Archerites (not sure if that is the collective term for Archer fans, but it should be.) If you find yourself tiring of generic, overrated sitcoms and frantic, nostalgia-padded, unfunny bottom-of-the-barrel jokes, give Archer a try. It’s one of the wittiest, most sharply-observed shows in a long time that actually has a high replay value. Highly recommended.
Archer: Season 2 is released on Blu-ray & DVD from 26 March, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment