Fox // 2011 // 286 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Rogers (Retired) // January 22nd, 2012
"If I stop drinking all at once, I'm afraid the cumulative hangover will kill me."
For the last decade, since the premiere of The Shield, FX has been making a name for itself as a preeminent destination for original programming. More recently, the channel has been challenging the hallowed halls of primetime comedy and consistently coming out on top. Be it their breakaway hit It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia -- which aims to redefine the tired conventions of the sitcom though the prism of narcissistic antiheroes -- or Louis CK's brilliantly on-the-nose and tonally experimental Louie, FX shows it's not afraid to take risks. Archer, a zany spoof of the spy genre hybridized with the conventions of a 9-to 5-comedy, is the channel's most daring and rewarding show to date.
Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin, Home Movies) only wants to save the day if there's a gin and tonic at the end of the tunnel and a woman waiting in his bed when he gets home. Because what's the fun in being an ISIS secret agent if you can't use it as the world's most successful pick-up line? Standing in Archer's way of being the most talented secret agent ISIS has to offer is fellow Agent Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler, Death Sentence), who still resents Archer for that time he used a candy bar wrapper as a condom on her. At the helm of ISIS is Mallory Archer (Jessica Walter, Grand Prix), Sterling's overbearing mother who thinks nothing of draining the money from her employees' 401(k)s to use as collateral to get back one of her sex tapes made with the head of the KGB. It's no wonder her son is so pompous and vain. I'm sure Freud would sight some sort of abandonment issues wrapped around an Oedipal complex. If you ever wondered what it would be like if James Bond had a penchant for turtlenecks and hookers, then sit down and enjoy these 13 episodes of Archer's second season.
As a character, Sterling Archer is akin to James Bond ripped of his English sensibilities and replaced with those of a late '70s era Burt Reynolds. Then inject him with a lethal dose of exhaustive pop culture knowledge -- enough to choke a dozen hipsters -- and unleash this Frankenstein upon an unsuspecting populace of loose women, single malt scotch, and innumerous outrageous situations. If that sounds off-putting, just go back to your reruns of Two and a Half Men. The fact that so much of Archer's comedy relies on obscure references and non-sequiturs is sure to annoy many people.
The show's tone is not surprising, considering its creator is none other than Adam Reed, the king of Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim." Sealab 2021 is a masterpiece of cartoon comedy and his equally absurd Frisky Dingo shares many elements with Archer, especially the crisp animation that harkens back to 1960's cartoons and more than a dash of Franco-Belgian aesthetic like Jean Van Hamme and William Vance's XIII. Thankfully, Reed has abandoned the ever-growing hipster sentiments of "Adult Swim" for a more fostering climate at FX.
Unsurprisingly, a stellar cast of voice actors has followed Reed to Archer, giving life to his zany cast of characters; much of the talent coming straight from Arrested Development. H. Jon Benjamin's take on the show's hero is impeccably flawless in its sardonic nature. Whether he's whipping out Bartleby The Scrivener references while staring down the barrel of a gun, or recreating a game of Family Feud with a double barreled shotgun and a few kneecaps, Benjamin's voice gives the series its gravitas. Jessica Walter plays Archer's acerbic mother, swilling Tom Collins while reveling in the fact that six pygmies from the dense jungles of South America died while extricating the materials needed for her brand new conference room table. Aisha Tyler as Lana Kane is half James Bond love interest and half Foxy Brown reincarnate, who may or may not want to roll around in Archer's extensive collection of turtlenecks. Rounding out the cast are Chris Parnell (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy) as Cyril Figgis, a bumbling comptroller with sex addiction problems; Lucky Yates (Frisky Dingo) as Doctor Krieger, a freak scientist who might just be a Boy From Brazil; Judy Greer (The Descendants) as Cheryl and Amber Nash (Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1) as Pam, the office gossips who come across as a demented version of Laverne and Shirley. Short of The Venture Bros., you'd be hard pressed to find a more talented and cohesive ensemble cast of voice actors.
Fox gives Archer: The Complete Season Two (Blu-ray) a two-disc set, complete with a 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded high-def transfer which is the best the series will ever look. Many people believe that most simple animation doesn't sit well with Blu-ray, well here's proof it does. The line work is crisp, colors varied, and textures have character. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is anything but flat. The dialogue is clean and hefty in the front channels, and the constant ambient action never overpowers the sub woofer. One complaint: There's not much play in the surrounds.
Make that two complaints, as the bonus features are sorely lacking. There are no commentary tracks by cast or crew, no deleted scenes or extended episodes, and no featurettes on how the show is conceived or produced. What we do get is a strange collection of vignettes set in the Archer universe. One of them is entitled "Archersaurus: Self Extinction," a short little piece that re-imagines the character of Archer as a velociraptor. "L'Espion Mal Fait" poses the idea of what it would be like if Archer looked more like the fat balding man who voices him instead of a suave super agent. "Semper Fi" is nothing more than a slightly chuckle worthy shout out to a group of Army guys stationed overseas (nice to see the creators of the show caring so much), and "ISIS Infiltrates Comic-Con" is the production team's experiences in San Diego. The only extra of note is a Q&A with Archer himself, as fans are allowed to ask random questions. The resulting comedy is almost enough to justify the set's existence.
I'm a bitter cynic with stingy comedic tastes, so it takes a lot for me to find something genuinely funny and worth the effort. Archer is a ray of hope in an otherwise dismal murk. Adam Reed has created a brilliant satire of the spy genre stocked with characters of distinctive voice and approaches to humor. Go in with an open mind -- one preferably good at picking up on obscure references -- and you're sure to fall in love with Archer. It really doesn't get much better than this.
Review content copyright © 2012 Patrick Rogers; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SH)
Running Time: 286 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site