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STUDIO: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 286 minutes
- Archersaurus – Self-Extinction
- Ask Archer
- Semper Fi
- L’espion Mal Fait
- ISIS Infiltrate Comic-Con
Archer‘s shortcomings would be completely overshadowed by its fantastic cast, if those shortcomings weren’t so damn persistent.
Voices provided by H. Jon Benjamin, Judy Greer, Jessica Walters, Chris Parnell, Aisha Tyler, and Amber Nash
An alcoholic with great hair finds himself at the center of international intrigue, corporate espionage, and television tropes.
There are so many things at work in FX’s original animated series Archer that it’s easy to get lost. On the surface, there’s a pulpy, dialogue-driven spy spoof, one that’s far darker than the putrid bowels of Austin Powers‘ demented psyche, because while Austin danced around issues of cybernetic love affairs (remember that time he married Elizabeth Hurley, a known fembot), through the magic of animation, a man’s relationship with a hologram is his own business and not that of the censors. Oh yeah, people are also frequently and horrifically murdered on Archer–and not just by mutated, ill tempered seabass. Finally, underneath that bit of spy satire is a jab at tired sitcom conventions, spanning the galaxy of tropes that we’ll see in hell for giving TV a bad name.
Sterling Archer (Benjamin) is the drunken, womanizing son of Mallory Archer (Walters), the head of the ISIS organization, an international intelligence organization. He’s also ISIS’s top agent and knows it. His pomposity, fear of gators, and obsession with excess rub his colleagues and former lovers the wrong way, but dammit he gets results. Sort of.
A normal episode of Archer generally works like that of an old Charlie’s Angels rerun. Mallory, Charlie’s stand in, doles out a mission, and Archer gets to work. Somewhere along the way, something will hold up half the group, who stay stranded on B-plot Island, while the other heads to some exotic locale, where they find death defying and sexy situations. Sometimes the B-plot appears before the mission; sometimes the mission is the B-plot. Either way, it’s formal looseness that makes the show both familiar and unpredictable.
Most episodes do find a way to combine these elements, though. It’s almost ingenious, both how the show weaves sitcom tropes, like a terminally ill and suddenly selfless character or a bottle episode, and spy-movie conventions into one hilarious bit. Although, usually it involves a “don’t date the boss’s daughter” plot, except the daughter’s name is Countess Von Fingerbang (which really does sound like a joke from Austin Powers) and there’s snowmobile chase. Now, that’s a recipe for comedy! At least, when the writers and cast are willing to match the cartoonists detailed pulpiness with some incredibly foul mouths.
Essentially, Archer is a balancing act and it’s dream cast is on the wire. Melding the simplified world of dad’s first time babysitting with a murder mystery and the infinite sadness of growing old and forgotten isn’t easy. Still, through great writing and fantastic voicing, the show plows ahead. There’s a Sea Lab-like disconnect on the show, where the cartoonists play it straight, while everyone else has a good time. Still, the show is far too detached for us to actually care about anyone, yet is almost too funny to care.
But even with so many factors at work, the show puts its best foot forward. The animators, voice actors, and writers all know how to work a scene through hilarious cutaways, outbursts of violence, tricky wordplay, and something not often found on cartoons, silence. Archer is among the most frequently quiet cartoons on TV, using the slow and stern character renderings to inflect confusion, malice, or surprise, which is especially effective when Archer finds out someone doesn’t have a shoemaker. This keeps the show somewhat slow moving, but also interesting. Creator Adam Reed and co. find a place outside of Adult Swim for offbeat humor that’s consistently hilarious, which probably doesn’t shock Archer one bit.
Archer: Season Two comes with a semi-complete host of special features, which play more like spoofs of special features. The first, and among the strangest, is a short called “Archersaurus–Self-Extinction,” which chronicles the hour long rise and fall of a dinosaur cast as Archer in about three-and-a-half minutes. In it, the famed Velociraptor recreates the pilot, looks great in a turtleneck, does an advert for something called a “Scotchcooler,” and does heroine with a monkey. It’s riveting. No seriously. As narrated by Amber Nash’s Pam, this is some funny stuff.
Next, there’s “Ask Archer,” a segment where fans can write to the superspy on topics ranging from Burt Reynolds to his possibly not-so-long-lost father to his favorite sandwich fillings. H. Jon Benjamin nails this, invoking Archer’s overbearing charm and supreme ignorance in the best way possible. It’s followed up by a message to the troops from our titular boy in black; though, to less successful results.
The final short is a piece of absurdity appropriately titled “L’espion Mal Fait,” or the bad spy or something. In this bit, Ray accidentally blows up Archer on purpose, leaving the spy about a foot shorter, several waist sizes larger, bearded and bald. Actually, much to the amusement and disgust of his colleagues, he looks a lot H. Jon Benjamin, placing all the abuse he’s usually giving back on him.
Finally, there’s some footage of Adam Reed and the cast at Comic-Com, which is about as close as we come to some behind the scenes access. I guess set visits to a cartoon are impossible, unless they’re filmed before a live studio audience, like The Flintstones. Anyway, the cast makes fun of the moderator and fans. It rules.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars