Monday, April 25, 2011

"Archer:" The Best Show You're Not Watching

Clockwise from top left: Chris Parnell as Cyril Figgis, Lucky Yates as Dr. Krieger, Judy Greer as Carol/Cheryl, Amber Nash as Pam, H. Jon Benjamin as Sterling Archer and Adam Reed as Ray Gillette
I suppose I should qualify the statement "the best show you're not watching." You could, after all, already be watching FX's absurd spy comedy Archer, in which case you are already awesome. You could also be ignoring other wonderful shows, like Fringe or Community or The Vampire Diaries, in which case Archer would merely be one of the best three or four shows you're not watching. However, if you, like me, already watch the aforementioned shows, but have missed out on Archer because it's on FX, or you don't like animation, or you simply haven't heard of it, then you should listen up, because Archer is actually the best show that you aren't watching.

Created by Matt Thompson and Adam Reed (the guys behind such previous cult shows as Frisky Dingo and Sealab 2021), and featuring the best voice cast on television, Archer is a workplace/family comedy in the vein of Arrested Development. The show takes place at a spy agency, ISIS, run by the cold, snobby Malory Archer (the fabulous Jessica Walter, also known as Lucille Bluth) and revolves around the exploits of Malory's son Sterling (H. Jon Benjamin), the organization's top spy. The time period is some ambiguous and possibly nonexistent era when the Soviet Union and the KGB still exist, but the characters talk on cell phones and are perfectly capable of using Skype.

Benjamin's Sterling Archer is one of the most famous secret agents in the world, which is rather surprising given that he is completely incompetent at his job. He regularly blows his cover in order to pick up women, often abandons his missions because he sees something better going on, and is constantly fighting with fellow agents Ray Gillette (Adam Reed) and Lana Kane (Aisha Taylor), his seductive ex-girlfriend, not to mention his mother. Archer is basically Arrested Development's G.O.B., but with even more of a god complex and access to a lot of guns. He's a somewhat endearing (depending on the day) man-child who drinks, smokes, and screws his way through life. And like G.O.B. he even has an illegitimate son, although this one is a wee baby named Seamus rather than dumb jock Steve Holt.

The rest of the cast is fabulous too; Walter nails it as Malory (although granted, she's basically playing the same character she did on Arrested Development) a greedy, distant boss whose love of expensive things is only overshadowed by her love of men. One of series' best ongoing jokes is her relationship with Nikolai Jackov (Peter Newman), head of the KGB and possible father to Sterling. Aisha Taylor imbues Lana with seduction and danger, while at the same time making her unable to resist engaging with Sterling whenever she disagrees with him (which is all the time). Their combative, flirtatious (at least on Archer's part) relationship is one of the most amusing parts of the show.

The supporting cast also provides a lot of laughs, particularly Judy Greer's dimwitted, extremely slutty receptionist Carol (or Cheryl; it's unclear) and Chris Parnell's nerdy yet sex-addicted accountant Cyril. Much of the supporting players' job is to provide an even more insane backdrop against which Sterling, Lana and Malory can seem at least a little more human, but the subplots involving the office workers are often just as funny as the main storylines, and are generally even more absurd.

One of the nice things about Archer being an animated show is the freedom the writers have to create elaborate action sequences on the shoestring budget. There are just as many explosions and gunfights as you would expect from a typical action movie, although they tend to have an absurdist edge to them. One nice running gag is when Archer, as generally unrealistic as it is, calls out action movies for showing their heroes walking away from explosions or giant gun battles with their hearing completely intact, and a recent episode set in Russia mocked the action trope in which a character is the target of massive machine-gun fire and somehow never gets hit. The way that Archer makes fun of action movies is one of the most consistently amusing elements of the series.

I should also mention that Archer has amazing opening credits (sorry this isn't the real credits, which are very hard to find, but the remake is really quite close to the original, so shout-out to SkipShot77):

Take my word on this: Archer is a slick, giddily fun, edgy spy comedy that will have you laughing out loud even as you cringe at the characters' behavior. And it's extremely easy to catch up on: only twenty-two episodes at twenty minutes each makes this a perfect distraction during final's week or over the summer. Watch it now, and thank me later.

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