Archer is an adult animation action comedy from the FX network that cleverly and hilariously spoofs James Bond.
In a Nutshell
Archer is a light, satirical comedy that follows the intrigues, exploits, sexual misconduct and all around wacky antics of a group of people who work at a modern day (yet somehow retro) spy agency dubbed ISIS. The titular character, Sterling Archer, is an obvious send-up to the prototypical 1960s gentleman spy, a la 007; when he manages to pull himself away from his gratuitous drinking and womanizing, his work life is populated by a cast of characters who often rightly bemoan his arrogance and lack of professionalism, but who all have their own short-comings, neuroses, and workplace foibles to contend with. It’s a classic cast of obnoxious yet still somehow lovable screwballs who get into one predictable scrape after another, and usually only succeed in spite of themselves.
Meet the Characters
A 35 year-old functional alcoholic and “man-whore,” by his own mother’s words, Archer is a shallow, vain, egotistical ‘professional’ spy who gets by mostly on gadgets, good looks, and sheer dumb luck. While he can throw a decent punch, and has an uncanny knack for keeping track of the number of shots fired in a gun fight, he is also perpetually cavalier about basically anything that does not involve him getting drunk or laid. Although this trope is played pretty straight in the earlier seasons, later seasons find Archer showing some level of genuine emotional growth, self-awareness, and competency, a development that manifests subtly but is a welcome addition.
Archer’s coworker, a fellow ISIS field agent and on-again off-again love interest. Lana is smart, professional, capable, and perceptive, possessing nearly all the good qualities Archer lacks in spades. While she is often cast as the ‘straight-man’ to Archer’s jokester, and while she could on the surface come off as a bit of a Mary Sue, she has enough flaws to make her delightfully three dimensional, and her banter with Archer is one of the highlights of the series.
Director of ISIS and Archer’s mother, she is a no-nonsense, intimidating former field-agent with expensive taste and a still voracious sexual appetite. Not quite as much of an alcoholic as her son, she still drinks her way through most of her days at work, usually due to the stress of the incompetence around her. While she can be quite shallow, and absurdly elitist, she is also quite smart and can more than handle herself.
Other standout characters include Pamela Poovey, the gossipy bisexual head of Human Resources who does underground fighting in her spare time, Algernon Krieger, the mad scientist with a fake doctorate and a hologram girlfriend, and Cheryl Tunt, the kinky air-headed secretary, who sniffs glue and occasionally has moments of great insight in between her general daftness.
Why It’s Awesome
Often crude yet surprisingly smart, the show adeptly manages the delicate balance of perpetuating what is fun about the gentleman-spy premise, while maintaining just enough satirical distance to critique its many stereotypes and tropes at the same time. While the humor can be quite juvenile, and outright offensive in a few cases, it is also intermittently impressively highbrow. The series is littered with a variety of obscure cultural, historical and political references that often require a trip to Wikipedia to get the full gist of the joke. There is a recurring bit in the 5th season about weight in pounds versus kilos, and they manage to get a surprising amount of comedic traction out the issue of converting measurements between the standard and metric systems.
Also impressively internally consistent across the seasons, Archer has a whole array of running jokes and gags that give the world an oddly authentic feel despite the animation and outlandish plots. (My personal favorite is the running shtick with his voicemail) Characters introduced as one-note stereotypes acquire greater depth and nuance over time, and this allows their relationships to demonstrate real progress, a blissful rarity in much adult comedy animation which otherwise has a tendency to push to the reset button on every single episode.
The voice-acting by the entire main cast is absolutely phenomenal, and there are a number of pretty big-name voice guest stars throughout the series including Burt Reynolds, Christian Slater and Kenny Logins. While the shows politics certainly can be taken to task at times, I am inclined to suggest it has a lot of progressive elements as well, dealing with issues like race and sexuality in ways that can be both incredibly in-your-face, yet subtle at the same time, as in the episode “The Limited” (3.06) where both Archer and Mallory have the classic white person response to the implication that they are being racist about something. Or “The Wind Cries Mary” (4.02) which finds Archer’s long-time buddy Luke Troy confessing to a “singular same-sex attraction” to him, a clever jab at the always no-homo’ed yet intensely homoerotic bromance in much of our popular culture.