Judge Daryl Loomis almost married Isis on the fifth day of May—but agencies can't get married.
Our reviews of Archer: The Complete Season Two (published January 8th, 2012), Archer: The Complete Season Three (published January 20th, 2013), and Archer: The Complete Season Two (Blu-ray) (published January 22nd, 2012) are also available.
I wouldn't be caught dead in a sweater vest.
Season 4 of Archer opens with show creator Adam Reed's most audacious move yet. See, lead voice actor H. Jon Benjamin (Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist) also voices the lead on the Fox series Bob's Burgers, and so it begins a Bob's Burgers episode, animated in the Archer style, then moves through the big sequence in David Cronenberg's A History of Violence, until Bob finally arrives back where he belongs, as Sterling Malory Archer, master spy and master jackass of ISIS, the International Secret Intelligence Service. From there, fans of the show are treated to Reed's most ambitious and, arguably, funniest season yet.
Facts of the Case
From Bob's Burgers, the following 12 episodes take the ISIS crew—Sterling Archer, his mother Malory (Jessica Walter, Play Misty for Me), crack agent Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler, Balls of Fury), gay and sometime-paraplegic Ray Gillette (Adam Reed), HR head Pam Poovey (Amber Nash, Frisky Dingo), secretary and half-billionaire Cheryl Tunt (Judy Greer, Arrested Development), accountant Cyril Figgis (Chris Parnell, Anchor Man 2), and lead scientist/hentai addict/Hitler clone Doctor Krieger (Lucky Yates, The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland)—across the globe. From space to Turkmenistan to Mexico to deep under the sea, neither a KGB agent nor a bottle of booze is safe when this gang shows up.
Many thought that the fourth season of Archer marked a downturn for the series but, after a second complete viewing of the season, I can hardly fathom why they felt that way. Everything great about the series is still in place; they've just added to the fun with a couple new faces, the return of a few old friends, and the continued development of a character who previously felt a little one-note.
That character is Pam Poovey, which is what I have come away most excited about with Season four of Archer. Amber Nash's voice work is plain brilliant this season, eschewing some of the traits she started with, mostly the insufferable office gossip. She still an amazing drunk with an insatiable appetite for sex who can fit four pool balls in her mouth (just don't slap her on the back while their inside), but she's a much fuller character now, and has the best lines of the season next to Sterling. Nash and Judy Greer, who are now basically a Laurel and Hardy duo at this point, play off each other fantastically well. They might hate each other, but they hate everyone else in the office more, making them a pair of hilariously de facto friends.
But they aren't the only ones to bring the laughs. H. Jon Benjamin is perfect, as always, in the lead, while Jessica Walter is amazing, no matter what she does. Chris Parnell, apparently no longer a field agent, is back to his old tricks as the Negative Nelly, while Krieger is always good for a random perversion or two each episode. Lana's got some big changes in store for her, while Archer discovers some secrets about his past (only to promptly forget them), and Malory even gets married, although to the "most boring man on this planet Earth" and owner of six New York Cadillac dealerships, Ron Cadillac (Jessica Walter's real-life husband, Ron Leibman, Auto Focus). This, obviously, doesn't play well with Sterling, but he and Ron get to bond in one fine episode over the secrets that Ron has kept from his wife.
All this, plus the slate of guest performers is superb. From Timothy Oliphant (Justified) in episode 2 to Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Kristen Schall, and Eugene Mirman (both in Bob's Burgers) in the finale, the season is chock-full of guests, though not in the conspicuous, overplayed way that other shows, such as The Simpsons do it; it's almost impossible to recognize Hamm in his role, though it's extremely funny nonetheless. When they do go that route, they play it to the hilt, as they do in Live and Let Dine. In this episode, they pull Anthony Bourdain, who is apparently a big fan, to host a Kitchen Nightmares-type reality cooking show that, while surrounded by the usual spy plot, is really designed to place these characters and actors into an alternate situation, and the result is fantastic, one of the best episodes of the series, and something that makes me wish they'd do more standalone crap like this.
On top of all of it, the show looks great. The core of the animations have remained virtually the same, but the backgrounds and action sequences are so much more fluid and believable here than at any other time in the series. Sometimes, those backgrounds, moving quickly at least, look like live-action shots, which is a testament to the increased skills of the animators over the years. The editing, which includes both visual and audio cues, is as masterful as ever and genuinely makes the show and adds more to the comedy than one would ever think editing could. With that, the improved animation, weird stories, and virtually perfect vocal performances, Season four of the series proves to be the strongest so far.
Archer: The Complete Season Four arrives from Fox in an expectedly strong Blu-ray. The 1.78:1/1080p image transfer is perfect, probably better looking than the broadcast, with beautifully saturated colors and, obviously, no problems with digital noise or damage. The best part is the improved background animation makes the image, at times, look photorealistic. A great image with a very good sound mix to go along with it. The 5.1 Master Audio track is excellent, with good use of the surround channels and sharp, crisp dialog in the front.
A sticker on the shrink wrap for the set claims that it's "bulging with extras." I wouldn't call two brief featurettes bulging, but that's semantics, I suppose, and in any case, they're both fun viewing. The first is a mini-episode called Fisherman's Daughter and involves Kreiger's obsession with Japanese tentacle hentai. The episode is in the anime style and is really weird, though don't worry, we aren't subjected to the gross stuff. The second, called "Archer Live," runs about twenty minutes and shows members of the cast having converged onto a theater for a fan session. Highlights include question and answers, scene readings, and more. I'd love to hear some episode commentaries or something like that, but they've never done them for this series, so why start expecting it now? All in all, a good disc.
Enjoy your time at ISIS while it lasts, because Season 5 just began and Adam Reed is about to blow the whole thing up…literally. The massive changes he has implemented won't alter the quality of the show, however, because the two most important things about it, the acting and the editing, are as skillful as ever. That discussion is for another time (say, about one year from today), but for now those two aspects, along with the excellent writing and continually improving animation, are on full display here in Archer: The Complete Season Four, which upon second viewing, regardless of what the general consensus might have been, might well be the best one to date.
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