As with most great comedies, especially of the cartoon variety, to describe FX’s spy satire Archer on premise alone is to greatly undersell it. Sure, there’s international espionage, jokes about code names and turtlenecks and bomb diffusion, and Get Smart-esque assassins screwing everything up before saving the day at the last possible second.
But there’s also family dynamics; office politics; romantic relationships and rivalries; even an ongoing paternity mystery. All penned with a hefty dose of surrealism, carved out with razor-sharp wordplay and washed-over with layer of sex (of all kinds, styles, pairings…) so raunchy that only cartoon characters could get away with this stuff. On cable, anyway. And it’s funny. Funnier than a spy series just about spies could be, dirtier and envelope-pushier than a non-animated series could be, and stranger still than I can sufficiently explain here. For all these reasons and one more for the already-fans out there (that season 2 is just as strong as the first, if not stronger for reasons I list below), it’s a must-watch. No kids allowed.
Created by Adult Swim super-scribe Adam Reed (Sealab 2021, Frisky Dingo), season 2 jumps straight back into the tumultuous life of Sterling Archer (voiced by on-his-way-to-omnipresent H. Jon Benjamin of Dr. Katz, Home Movies and currently FOX’s funny Bob’s Burgers) at the spy agency ISIS, which is run by his self-centered, withholding, tyrannical mother Malory (Jessica Walter). Missions and mayhem ensue.
In the first episode of the season, “Swiss Miss,” Malory throws Sterling and his co-workers straight back into danger, this time to protect the slutty daughter of a Russian diplomat, while the Archer writers throw us straight back into the quick and dirty dialogue that makes almost every minute of the show an attention-demanding delight. Watch:
The greatest part of this clip is the end, when Archer skips over an easy sex-joke about “touching a hair” on a young girl to prove that he’s the “perfect gentleman”–but we know what he would have said, because by now we know Sterling Archer well. The difficult transition from introduction to exploration that can trip up a series between seasons one and two. But Archer just keeps upping the ante, never slowing, dumbing or watering any of it down, and it’s a joy to watch as Reed and his writers enter this stage of the series, where they can let their now-fully-developed characters play on these established traits and running jokes. There are plenty of jokes on the surface to keep anyone entertained, but those who pay attention get the biggest pay-off. The show’s playful, ever-layering character-driven comedy is reminiscent of Arrested Development (to which Reed has actually compared Archer for its family-driven storylines, not to mention for sharing the talents of Jessica Walter, Judy Greer and Jeffrey Tambor), and only make the tightly-written 22-minute episodes more satisfying as the series goes on. Early season 2 call-back plots about who Sterling’s “real father” is, whether he’s fathered a bastard child of his own, and Malory’s ongoing affairs with other agency-heads already prove this to be the case.
Rounding out Sterling and Malory’s dysfunctional group of killers and cohorts are Archer’s ex Lana (Aisha Tyler), her neurotic and nerdy love interest Cyril (Chris Parnell), Malory’s confused secretary Cheryl (Greer), butch and bumbling HR rep Pam (Amber Nash), and openly gay analyst Ray (voiced by Reed). Much like Parks and Recreation, another young ensemble comedy blissfully back on the air this winter, there’s not a weak link in the voice-actor bunch.
But the real star, as the show’s title rightfully suggests, is Benjamin, who plays Archer with the perfect blend of egotistical machismo and deep-seated, approval-seeking manic insecurity. He may look like Draper and kill like Bond, but underneath the sexy baritone he’s still a little boy, and you can’t help but love him. But “love” is not an emotion that often comes into play with Archer, unless it’s hidden behind or quickly deflected by a hefty wall of snark. Just the way we like it!
Sure, your Thursday night is already jam-packed with laughs, but Archer is killing it this season (pun intended, just let me have it). And who are you to deny the power of H. Jon Benjamin’s golden voice?
Archer returns to FX this Thursday, January 27 at 10pm.
)(Image courtesy of FX)