FX’s animated comedy Archer follows the exploits of the eponymous Sterling Archer as he navigates the treacherous waters of international espionage office politics.
Sterling Archer has a lot in common with James Bond. Both are handsome, debonair, notoriously womanizing and, of course, highly-trained secret agents. The difference is that Archer is an endlessly self-centered, obnoxious jerk whose neuroses and obsessions with minutiae rival those of George Costanza from Seinfeld. Add to this the fact that his boss, the M to his Bond, is his domineering mother and that his crazy ex-girlfriend is a spy at the same agency, high jinks must ensue.
Archer is a show defined by contrasts. It takes a manly, roguish super-spy, one of pop culture’s most enduring images, and then puts him in such mundane circumstances as justifying his expense report or dealing with a human resources representative. Instead of being suave and sophisticated, Sterling Archer is often boorish and egomaniacal, focusing more on coming across as cool or cracking stupid jokes than on completing the mission at hand.
The show is highly indebted to the style of pop culture-heavy absurdism popularized by Adult Swim. In fact, Archer’s creator, Adam Reed, was also responsible for that network’s under-watched series Frisky Dingo. In addition, viewers may recognize the voice of Archer as H. Jon Benjamin, who voiced Coach McGuirk on Adult Swim’s Home Movies.
However, Archer is far more tightly written than typical late-night fare, a characteristic that makes it more akin to Arrested Development than Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Jessica Walter and Judy Greer, two regulars on Arrested Development, also voice characters here. The show transitions seamlessly between scenes so that a character in the next scene will often finish a sentence started in the previous. Recurring jokes provide more continuity than any semblance of a serial plot does. Pop culture references, such as a continuing fascination with Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” (the theme song from Top Gun), lend the series a “Seinfeldian” silliness without weighing it down.
The premiere of the second season, which aired on Thursday, Jan. 27, finds Archer’s spy agency, ISIS, in a financial predicament. As a result, Archer and crew take a menial job (menial for super-spies, anyway) protecting a German dignitary’s teenage daughter from plotting Spanish communists who want to kidnap her for a hefty ransom.
Archer never takes itself too seriously, and any attempt the show seems to make at tapping a vein of emotional truth is always subverted soon enough.