(FX) Meet Sterling Archer: the world’s foremost, not-so-secret agent. He shoots to kill, he dresses to impress, and he always gets his man. Also, he’s an asshole. Archer is like an arrogant, apathetic superhero with a drinking problem. But let’s take it back a step. Sterling Malory Archer is a secret agent with the International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS), an agency run by his cold, narcissistic mother Malory. He works alongside his fellow agent and ex-girlfriend Lana Kane; the office accountant and Lana’s more recent ex, Cyril Figgis; the borderline-mentally-disabled secretary Cheryl Tunt; and more characters than I can fit without this becoming a run-on sentence. And this isn’t James Joyce.
The show’s creator, Adam Reed, described the series as James Bond meets Arrested Development. That said, I was new to this show coming in, but I devoured the second season in a day and a half, then worked my way forward through season one. Or backward. Whatever. For those that love Arrested Development, you’ll be happy to find that Lucille Bluth (Jessica Walter) is the voice of Malory Archer; Kitty Sanchez (Judy Greer) is the voice of Cheryl Tunt; and other Arrested actors make guest appearances. For those that don’t love Arrested Development, you must not have seen it.
The voice acting on this show is exceptional. In particular, Archer, played by H. Jon Benjamin (Bob in Bob’s Burgers, Carl in Family Guy, and especially, Coach McGuirk, among others, in Home Movies.) This man could read you your death sentence, and you would crack a smile. Jessica Walter gives Malory Archer an icy, closed-off, functionally alcoholic edge, and is basically Lucille Bluth running a secret agency. The ever-funny Judy Greer provides Cheryl with a lovely deadpan insanity, Aisha Taylor gives Lana Kane a strong, sexy power; Chris Parnell shows off his range with the unassuming and sex-addicted Cyril; and really, the whole cast gives their characters a unique and generally ridiculous presence.
The tone of season two builds from the later episodes of season one. The characters were still getting to know themselves in the beginning of the first season, and the humor was generally coarser and less focused. The jokes got tighter toward the end of season one, and season two is even better. The timing is impeccable, and the pauses are often as funny as the lines. There’s also enough of a backlog of episodes at this point for there to be inside jokes and subtle callbacks, giving the show an great sense of continuity. In season two the characters have fully come out of their shells, and we start to learn more about the smaller roles from season one.
The office HR rep Pam (Amber Nash) no longer bothers dispensing advice and criticisms befitting her job, and now focuses solely on being the moderately disturbing outcast of the group, accusing people of racism for not smoking weed, and at last learning that there’s a Women’s restroom in the office, among other shenanigans. Cheryl started to show her craziness toward the end of season one, what with her fantasy of being choked to death by a fireman, but season two shows us what’s really underneath: more craziness. Not fun, sorority girl craziness, but bat-s**t insane asylum craziness, like her new desire to have a baby so she can abandon it in a shopping mall.
And then we get to Dr. Krieger (Lucky Yates). Krieger is the scientist of ISIS, and we learn a bit about him in season one, namely from the time he accidentally kills intern Danny while testing his gay-inducing serum. In season two we’re introduced to the virtual girlfriend he built, and learn that not only were his parents Nazi scientists who escaped to Brazil, but he may or may not be the clone of Adolph Hitler. So there’s that. Ray Gillette (Adam Reed) is a homosexual intelligence analyst at ISIS who hates Archer. In season two we learn about his former marriage to a lesbian he met at a “Pray Away the Gay” rally. Finally, there’s Woodhouse (George Coe). Oh Woodhouse: Archer’s British butler, who had a larger hand in raising him than anyone else. Just as in season one, Archer treats Woodhouse very much as “the help” (starring Emma Stone and Viola Davis), but now we start to learn more about Woodhouse’s past. He was an army butler, and a hero at that. Also, a heroin addict.
The DVD extras are weird. Extraordinarily weird. Wonderfully weird. The first one is a Behind the Music style look at “Archersaurus,” the dinosaur actor who is cast in Archer, starting a meteoric rise to stardom, followed by an asteroidic fall to homeless heroin addict when reviews come in. There’s also a sequence about Archer’s face and body being altered by an explosion, turning him into a short, balding man (and the spitting image of H. Jon Benjamin, the voice actor playing him). All in all I was pleasantly surprised by the extras, which fit the tone of the show perfectly.
This show is not for those who are easily offended. One of the things that makes it great is that the filter is on very low, and pretty much anything goes. This is a smart, funny show, and that’s something to be treasured in a world of laugh tracks and hackneyed sitcoms. I didn’t know much about Archer going in, but I’m a fan now. Conclusion over -- I’m about to start season 3.
For Fans Of: Arrested Development, Home Movies, The Simpsons
Why We Love It: H. Jon Benjamin, Jessica Walter, Judy Greer