For a show that is just entering its fifth season, Archer is one that has surprisingly flown under a lot of radars, which is actually a loss for those who don’t watch it, because it is a sleazy, aggressive, clever animated comedy that is definitely worth the time to get into.
The show follows the exploits of Sterling Archer (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin), the world’s greatest spy, working at Isis, the government agency headed by his mother Malory Archer (Jessica Walter) and the hilariously incompetent/dangerous/browbeaten agents that also work at Isis.
Archer, created by Adam Reed to be a bastard child of James Bond and Arrested Development, has blitzed the best elements from both (mainly the latter) to create a show that is fast becoming a cult phenomenon amongst those who watch it. The reason is very simple. At its core, Archer is incredibly, incredibly funny. At one end of the scale, the show is brutally crude with some of its jokes; with running antics ranging from the secretary Carol/Cheryl’s (Judy Greer) rapidly burgeoning sadomasochism to what have to be some of the most brilliant one liners on TV thrown out by Pam: ‘You could drown a toddler in my panties’. Fans of political correctness are probably advised to leave this show well alone. At the other end however, Archer has to have some of the best use of call-backs, in-jokes and catchphrases since Arrested Development, which is no mean feat in itself.
From the get-go, it is relationships between the characters that make the show; that allows the show to go down the numerous (frankly) insane paths that it chooses to. It’s a miracle that it even works, given how initially unlikeable the characters seem.
Sterling on paper is wholly unlikeable: incomparably arrogant, reckless, clueless and with a sex and drinking addiction that certainly merits counselling; his mother Malory has even worse drink problem and is self-centred enough to often be a liability while Cyril (Chris Parnell) is incompetent, Lana (Aisha Tyler) is almost perpetually angry and Krieger (Lucky Yates) has an unnerving penchant for tentacle porn, radioactive pigs and several other unscrupulous activities. And even with all of this, every single character brings a massive wad of laughs to the table. It is their flaws that make the show, because it means that every character can be verbally attacked in a way so unrestrained, and so continual, it is impossible not to sit back and laugh. Nobody is allowed to get away unscathed, and the show’s willingness to drag every character through the mud with such viciousness makes for legitimately brilliant humour. Think along the lines of Larry David from Curb Your Enthusiasm and it starts to make more sense.
The animation is top notch as well, with the 60s pop comic styling a fresh alternative to the more cartoon-y templates of the Simpsons or Family Guy. It allows the show to subtly reference a lot more than it might have otherwise, and it sets a tone without the viewer realising; Sterling feels slick because he looks uncannily like Don Draper while Malory looks exactly like Lucille Bluth, essentially the exact character that she is playing.
If you are a fan of clever comedy, sharp wordplay and the more-than-occasional inappropriate joke that is guaranteed a spit take, then this show is definitely one to watch. It might take a couple of episodes to fully get into, but once you’re there, you’ll love it.