on August 17, 2011
Archer is a wonderfully absurdist frolic for strictly adult audiences. Fundamentally this show is a giant spoof of 1960s spy thrillers; a spoof made for decidedly 21st century sensibilities. It's the show Get Smart would have been had all the characters been perpetually high on crystal meth.
However you felt about season one, you'll probably feel the same way about season two. Personally, I love it! I don't think season two is actually any better than season one, but I don't think the quality has dropped at all either. So long story short, what we get here is more of the same. But without, I should stress, the show becoming merely repetitive.
If you haven't seen season one yet, I would suggest you begin at the beginning rather than just plunging in here. Season two does pick up pretty well exactly where season one left off. It'd be overstating things to say that this show is story-driven; it's more like a comedic improv act than that. But unlike most of Cartoon Network's [adult swim] cartoons, Archer does have a definite continuity. It's not like Aqua Teen Hunger Force where characters regularly die or get horribly mutilated only to be back again as normal the very next episode. In this universe when things happen, they've happened, and subsequent episodes do build on what's gone before.
In fact, in many ways this show is a whole lot like a more grown-up version of the original [adult swim] lineup. The sense of humor is certainly no less deranged. Things are as amoral and as brutal as ever. The difference is that the descent into anarchy is now played out on a much larger, more elaborate stage. What's more, given the success of the [adult swim] franchise, we're now watching shows with real budgets. This means that we can finally move beyond art lifted from old Hanna Barbera cartoons and into a world all our own. A jet-age, pop-art world that's smart, sexy, and at times just plain disturbing. Every bit as disturbing, say, as accidentally stumbling upon your mother's vibrator...
Not that I'm giving away any spoilers, you understand.
I'd never do that to you.
on August 19, 2011
Archer is one of those shows that has to be watched to be properly understood. I could write about how there's this group of occasionally competent spies called ISIS, ruled over by alcoholic Mallory Archer, or about the self-centered, barely survived adventures of her son. But first, I don't want to spoil things, and second, to re-iterate, Archer has to be watched to be properly understood. I'll just say that I've seen every episode several times, and the better ones many more than that.
At turns hilariously funny, ridiculously twisted, and strangely badas*, Archer takes many of the elements of previous cartoons, but goes so much further. It combines the absurd situations of "Family Guy" with the bluff aggressiveness of "American Dad", adds in the inter-relationships central to "Futurama", and leavens the mix with more mature elements, plot continuity, and character growth rarely seen in animated shows. The result is a genius on behalf of the writing team that is unmatched.
To fully capitalize on writing, a show needs animation and voice acting; Archer delivers these in spades. The animation is somewhat "Pop-Art" stylized, with clean lines, movement and coloration that could have come out of Warhol's "Factory"; it might also remind older viewer of 1990's Jonny Quest (which I used to watch as a kid). The cast, many of whom were members of "Arrested Development", don't disappoint; Sterling Archer's lines especially are delivered with a timing and panache that fully express every iota of the writing's potential.
The DVD is definitely worth buying to enjoy the images in full, high-def quality, and makes a great present for adult "children" of all ages.
I'd recommend watching the first season first (crazy idea, right?), since some of the references are to earlier episodes. Once you start Archer, you won't want to miss any of it, and equally won't want any spoilers if you have to backtrack.
on October 27, 2013
OVERVIEW: The comedy series "Archer," created by Adam Reed, was first announced on FX in the fall of 2009. Reed credits the inspiration for the show to a personal experience in which he was unable to muster up the charisma to hit on a beautiful woman; he later fantasized about a suave, debonair spy who would always have the right moves. I have absolutely fallen in love with "Archer;" I can't get enough of the continuous wit and exceptionally clever dialog. Unlike other animated shows, "Archer" utilizes complex plotting as well as character development, allowing viewers to watch and rewatch episodes without sacrificing entertainment value. I am personally humbled by the various cultural references employed by the writers--it just goes to show how involved intellect must be in creating comedy. I fully understand that much of the show's content may be deemed offensive to some viewers, so to enjoy it, it's best to keep in mind that "Archer" is written in a satirical manner. It is fair to warn, however, that the series earns its TV/MA rating quite well through use of crude language, violence, and sexual situations; basically, it's probably not suitable for children or anyone who isn't a fan of that sort of comedy.
The storyline centers around Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) who is the sort of spy Reed had imagined, only with a few extra character `flaws'--he is pretty much a sociopath. Despite bearing the codename Duchess, Archer is considered the world's most dangerous spy; were he not absorbed with promiscuity, alcoholism, expensive toys and tactlenecks, he might also be considered the world's best spy. Archer works for his self-centered and emotionally distant mother, Malory Archer (Jessica Walter), at the International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS) based in New York City. Fellow ISIS employees include agent Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler), comptroller Cyril Figgis (Chris Parnell), agent Ray Gillette (Adam Reed), HR Director Pam Poovey (Amber Nash), Head of Applied Research Dr. Algernop Krieger (Lucky Yates), ISIS whipping-boy Brett Buckley (Neal Holman), and nut-job secretary Cheryl Tunt (Judy Greer). Other recurring cast-members include: ODIN agent Barry Dylan (Dave Willis), call-girl Trinette (Maggie Wheeler), KGB head Nikolai Jakov (Peter Newman), ex-KGB agent Katya Kazanova (Ona Grauer), and Archer's valet, Woodhouse (George Coe; Roy McCrery in flashbacks).
Season 2 Guest Stars: Head of ODIN Len Trexler (Jeffrey Tambor), actress/Russian-sleeper Rona Thorne (Rachael Harris), German billionaire Conrad Schlotz (George Coe), German teenager Anka Schlotz (Kari Wahlgren), pimp-turned-laundromat-owner Popeye (Clarke Peters), Ruth (Joan Van Ark), El Frente Rojo agent Sia (Nika Futterman), computer-security expert George Spelvin (Peter Serafinowicz), Irish mobster Mikey (Darren Criss), head of the Irish mob Freddy Dulaney (Darren Criss), German freelance assassin Mannfred (René Auberjonois), German freelance assassin Uta (Kat Cressida), WWI ace Reggie Thistleton (Roy McCrery), and eco-terrorist Joshua Gray aka Gandalf (Robb Pruitt).
ARCHER: THE COMPLETE SEASON TWO--kicked off in January of 2011. The second season carries some of the long-running jokes from Season One, but now that we have become comfortable with the characters, Season Two is able to investigate greater character depths. Some of the continuing themes include: Who is Archer's father? Will Brett finally die? Will Lana and Archer get back together? What is to become of the rivalry between Barry and Archer? What happens to Katya?
SPECIAL FEATURES: [13 Episodes/2 Discs] Archersaurus--Self-Extinction, Ask Archer, Seper Fi, L'espion Mal Fait, and ISIS Infiltrates Comin-Con 2011.
Episode 1: "Swiss Miss"--Besides making budget cuts, Malory seeks a new investor, Conrad Schlotz, a German billionaire in control of all European videotext services. To do so, Malory offers ISIS agents for the protection of Schlotz's 16-year-old daughter, Anka, who is the target of a kidnapping plot by El Frente Rojo. [El Frente Rojo is a Spanish criminal organization--the same previously infiltrated by Hector Ruíz, the ISIS agent shown `vacating' his position in the episode "Diversity Hire."] Just as the team arrives in Gstaad, Anka molests Archer, but Archer is named the pervert. Attempting to distract Conrad, Malory puts on her best moves; unfortunately, Conrad has a thing for dairy cows and Pam. El Frente Rojo's Gstaad operation is led by Sia and her twin lovers--one of whom Archer fatally wounds early in the episode, but the other ISIS agents refuse to believe him because the unhurt twin is still walking around. Despite being banned from contact with Archer, Anka slips into his hotel room to seduce him. Sia and Carlito, the other twin, walk in on Archer and a topless Anka; the episode culminates in a very cold and explosive snowmobile chase.
Episode 2: "A Going Concern"--Krieger removes the KGB mind-control device from Sterling's brain, leading Archer to again question his mother as to whether Nikolai Jakov is his real father. Malory deflects the confrontation by informing Archer that she is selling ISIS to ODIN and marrying Len Trexler. Barry offers Malory's vacated position to Lana on the condition that she sleeps with him. The rest of the team, in fear of their jobs (along with Archer's fear of a new daddy), plans to drive Len and Malory apart by reimplanting the KGB chip into Len's brain and convincing him that Malory is evil.
Episode 3: "Blood Test"--Since his split with Lana, Cyril has taken to binge eating and sexual addiction. Sterling arrives at ISIS to find that Trinette, his favorite prostitute, has given birth to a baby by the name of Seamus Sterling Magoon. In order to receive child support from Archer, Trinette schedules a paternity test; to ensure Archer doesn't tamper the with DNA samples, ODIN is put in charge of the testing. Even though Barry has taken great care in protecting the samples, Archer manages to exchange his blood with an unsuspecting fool's, i.e.: Cyril's.
Episode 4: "Pipeline Fever"--Archer and Lana are dispatched to New Orleans to intercept eco-terrorist Joshua Gray (aka Gandalf) and his plan to blow the U.S.'s largest natural gas pipeline. Sterling jumps at the chance to commandeer an airboat for travels on the bayou. Through the course of the mission, we learn: (1) Archer's three greatest fears, (2) how Lana first became an ISIS agent, (3) Lana used to be a hippie, and (4) Archer isn't Lana's only ex-boyfriend on the bayou.
Episode 5: "The Double Deuce"--Archer is in charge of babysitting the wee baby Seamus for the weekend. Woodhouse notices an obituary for Sir Augustus Stilton, one of his WWI comrades, and the latest of four mysterious deaths to veterans of the Double Deuce. This leads to a confession about the Double Deuce's tontine and the revelation that Woodhouse may be the next member to be assassinated. When the remaining tontine members gather at Archer's apartment, Woodhouse goes on to share memories about "Blood April," including the death of his lover, Reggie Thistleton (Roy McCrerey). We also learn how Woodhouse first came into Malory's service, leaving Archer to feel (slightly) guilty about Woodhouse's impending murder.
Episode 6: "Tragical History"--When Cyril blows a team game of darts, he feels emasculated. A mysterious computer security expert, George Spelvin, convinces Cyril to download a pirate-virus into the ISIS mainframe under the impression that Cyril would then be able to play hero by fixing it. Krieger and the rest of the ISIS underlings work tirelessly to remove the virus; attempting to `beat' the virus out, a frustrated Lana sends Krieger into a deep depression by destroying his virtual fiancé. Cyril is unable to remove the virus, rendering the mainframe's list of undercover agents `compromised.'
Episode 7: "Movie Star"--New-age starlet, Rona Thorne, shadows Lana to prepare for her role as a covert agent in the upcoming film "Disavowed." Lana initially feels that involving a civilian in her work disrespects the integrity of her position, but when Archer volunteers in her place, Lana immediately OKs taking Rona on as an apprentice--even if it is just to irritate Archer. Chatter has warned that a member of the KGB will assassinate Associate Prime Minister Cochenko at the upcoming UN conference. As Lana warms to having Rona around, she lets Rona tag along for the mission where Lana is tasked to snipe the KGB assassin before he or she can strike.
Episode 8: "Stage Two"--When Malory has a scare with breast cancer, Sterling accompanies her to the oncologist. Malory's diagnostic exam clears her, but a large tumor is found in Archer's chest; Archer's stage two diagnosis and `stay positive' attitude garner resentment and jealousy from Malory. Despite not being his real father, Archer decides to spend time with the wee baby Seamus. Even Lana can't escape Archer's newfound charm; they have what is later referred to as `cancer sex,' which causes Archer to be late for surgery. Once the tumor is removed, Archer is in full celebration-mode until he is informed that the cancer has spread to his lymph nodes. The doctor then recants Archer's diagnosis--sending Archer into another attitude-relapse. The doctor quickly calls back to explain the chart mix-up and confirms that Archer really does need chemotherapy.
Episode 9: "Placebo Effect"--Archer strikes a bond with a fellow cancer patient named Ruth; she is an elderly lady who has been forced to spend her savings on prescriptions. When Dr. Krieger discovers that their expensive cancer drugs (other than the marijuana) are really just candycorn and Zima, Archer embarks on a rampage of revenge. Since he is now on the real chemotherapy drugs, Archer's physical state is weakened; Lana agrees to help him carry out the rampage, which starts with kneecapping Irish mob-men at a drug warehouse; Mikey (Darren Criss) names Freddy Dulaney as the head of the counterfeit cancer-drug operation. Archer goes on to produce an epic film titles "Terms of Enrampagement"--a working title. Back at ISIS, the `uber German' Dr. Krieger is revealed to be fluent in Portuguese; Cyril suspects that Krieger is actually a `Boy from Brazil.'
Episode 10: "El Secuestro"--During Pam and Cheryl's walk to work, Pam is kidnapped; Cheryl manages to escape by concealing her identity and convincing the kidnappers that Pam is Cheryl. Malory intends to fire Cheryl for being late again, but changes her tune when she discovers Cheryl's last name is really Tunt, not Gimble. Archer makes friends with Cheryl's pet ocelot, Babou, who could really use some toys. Now that he knows Cheryl's true net-worth, Cyril attempts to ransom her himself.
Episode 11: "Jeu Monegasque"--In order to retrieve another one of Malory's sex tapes, the ISIS team travels to Monaco; Le Chuffre offers to exchange the video for $4,000,000 in bearer bonds. Ray manages to swing the last hotel room in Monaco during the week of the Grand Prix, meaning that he will have to share the room with Lana and Malory. Because Archer deposits the bearer bonds with the hotel's casino, Benoit (Balls) gives him a VIP suite and luxury treatment; the more Archer drinks, the more of the $4,000,000 he loses gambling. Meanwhile, the `drones' back at ISIS discover that Malory raised the money for the exchange by emptying each of the employees' 401K accounts. When Lana, Archer, and Ray learn that their accounts have been emptied, the three agents concoct an elaborate plan to recover their money from Benoit. Krieger, Pam, Cheryl, and Cyril seek revenge by selling ISIS equipment to anyone with $5.
Episode 12: "White Nights"--Hoping to resolve paternity questions with his could-be father, Nikolai Jakov, Archer steals Ray's mission to make an air-jump into Russia. Because he took so much time with his monologue, Archer misses the jump-window and lands in a Russian military camp. Malory seeks out Barry (who is fluent in Russian) to go to Moscow and rescue Archer. During their attempted escape from the KGB, Archer and Barry exchange insults and fists; in a moment of déjà vu, Archer drops Barry from a balcony... again.
Episode 13: "Double Trouble"--Katya Kazanova, the mysterious and beautiful ex-KGB agent credited with saving Archer's life, has returned with Archer to the U.S. to meet his mother. Everyone at ISIS is suspicious of Katya's true intentions; Lana points out the `coincidence' that Katya has defected just as Dr. Krieger is finishing his top-secret project. Archer tries to prove Katya's loyalty by pulling her KGB file to show she has been disavowed; to trick ISIS, the KGB has instead labeled Katya as a double agent. The only thing stranger that Katya being a KGB traitor is that Archer seems to truly love her, he even asks her to marry him. In an homage to the "Bionic Man," Nikolai Jakov orders Barry to be rebuilt as an unstoppable, track-suit-wearing cyborg who is determined to seek revenge against Archer.
on September 8, 2013
I'm not a mean person. In my daily life I am kind, sensitive, resolutely politically correct and inoffensive, no matter how much vitriol and meanness patients hurl at me.
All of that being said, I'm not a women's studies major by any means; I was always a tomboy as a kid; most of my friends were (and are) guys; and I grew up watching comedy from low-brow (Three Stooges, Benny Hill) to high brow (Monty Python; the 70s original Saturday Night Live cast), slapstick to cutting satire.
I don't find formulaic sitcoms to be funny most of the time, probably because the quality of network TV shows and their writing has dropped so egregiously in the last 30 years. Given the choice, I'd rather watch Family Guy over Three And A Half Men, because Family Guy is flat-out funnier. (But, given the choice, I'd rather watch Futurama over Family Guy, because Futurama is wittier, not mean-spirited or reliant on gross-out comedy).
All of that being said -- maybe because of how I grew up, maybe because Archer has some major throwback tendencies, and it is totally irreverent and politically incorrect in almost every possible way (gender, race, religion, size-ism, sexual preference) -- I LOVE Archer.
I think it is hands-down the funniest, best-written animated show on TV right now, network or cable/satellite. I am SO glad I found it. (I skipped past it many times because the stupid satellite receiver guide descriptions of the show and episodes were so understated.) It wasn't until one day when I actually flipped past it and SAW it, that I was hooked.
And while it manages to be totally politically incorrect, it's not completely insensitive. Underneath it all, Archer ("The spy who loved himself") has his own neuroses, the reasons for which are explored in both sensitive and insensitive ways. The fact that Lana (his ex, his near-nemesis, and his frequent temptation) is often the better spy, objectively, is not skipped past. She's more tactical, less egotistical, and generally very competent (though the ongoing jokes about her "man hands" are hilarious). The fact that Archer could not do (or get away with) all that he does without the support staff behind him, however severely twisted they may be (Cheryl, Krieger), is also not skipped past. And above it all is haughty, hilarious Mallory, who actually means the insensitive and politically incorrect things she says. Her son, Archer, master spy, is well aware of his mother's failings, and this makes him a more sympathetic character, despite being so full of himself. The times he is humbled feel deserved, but most of it is humorous without being mean spirited.
The animation is better quality in season 2. I suspect the producers got higher budgets for the second season, so that's a plus that is missing from season 1. There are longer story arcs (who is Archer's real father) for the major characters and also some backstory about characters more in the background. And, despite the ongoing and cherished political incorrectness, there is more open homosexuality in guest characters and puncturing of stereotypes.
That may be the best thing about Archer, the show and the character: the frequent puncturing of stereotypes in the midst of the irreverence and political incorrectness.
If you want to laugh your butt off at a loving homage to old spy and scifi (and cult or B) shows and movies, set in a vague future-present-past with all kinds of old and new technology, that is very wittily written, laugh-out-loud funny, but also subtly amusing, this is a show you just can't miss.
I'm reminded of a joke someone told me once long, long ago:
"How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb?"
"That's not funny!"
If you can't help laughing at the above joke -- male or female -- you'll probably enjoy Archer.
If the above joke pisses you off, you better pass on Archer, because Archer, ISIS and crew will probably piss you off too.