Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Archer: Archer

Illustration for article titled Archer: Archer

OK, let's get this out of the way upfront: I have never seen Frisky Dingo. I know that I should have seen it. I realize that it's a terrific show and that a lot of people really liked it (including, of all critics, Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker). I also know it's on DVD and watching the two seasons of it will not really require a massive investment of my time and all of that. But when it comes right down to it, I just have a hard time with the adult swim sensibility stretched to longer than 15 minutes. Maybe it's because I was an adult swim charter subscriber, watching the imprint when it first got started, so I'm just used to taking my doses of absurdism in 15 minutes doses. Or maybe I'm just an idiot. But I have enough trouble with Venture Bros. (a show I respect but don't love like I feel I should) to end up just shrugging to something so many people obviously love.

But, that said, if Frisky Dingo is anything like the new FX series Archer (from some of the same people), it's probably worth checking out. Archer hasn't yet ironed out all of its kinks, but it obviously has a fresh and new voice, and that voice's blend of pop culture, office politics and absurdity is right up my alley. It feels, to a degree, like a show that will really kill in its second season, but there's enough to like in the first few episodes of Archer that I'll tentatively set a season pass. Also, any show that's a star vehicle built around H. Jon Benjamin can't be all bad in my book.

The basic premise of Archer seems a little strained (or, at least, a little too similar to those stories where you learn that the secret life of Insert Pulp Icon Here is very similar to your own life). Sterling Archer, international spy at large, is a man who's having to deal with quite a few issues in his everyday life and office. His mother is his boss, and she clearly doesn't have a great deal of affection for him. His former girlfriend, Lana, is now off with one of the accountants at his espionage organization (ISIS), and he still has to deal with everyone down at human resources. It doesn't help that he's a completely insufferable boor, almost every cliche of what a baldly womanizing spy could be. So, yeah, Archer is sort of, "What does James Bond have to put up with when he's not being a spy? Lots of stuff just like you do!" but it's laced with such a poisoned sense of absurdity that I still really enjoy it.

I mean, sure, lots of other shows have made the joke that a spy like Bond (or like Archer) would be kind of a dick in his day-to-day life, but I like the way this show takes it to ridiculous extremes, having Archer treat his man servant like some sort of lower-than-dirt thing to be trod upon or having him frequently forget the name of his receptionist, who's so taken aback by this that she frequently changes her name to whatever he's just called her (which makes it hard to know whether to call her Cheryl or Carol, based on these episodes). Add in to that one of the more bizarre mother-son relationships on the dial - again, something you've seen before, but twisted JUST ENOUGH to make it even more hilarious - and you've got a show that has all of the pieces in place to be something great someday soon.

It also helps that the show has what amounts to a crack ensemble cast, even if we never see their faces. Jessica Walter is the person who should play all domineering and icy mother figures from now into eternity, while Judy Greer is maybe my favorite supporting character as Cheryl/Carol. Chris Parnell turns in a solid performance as the straight man in this little band of weirdoes, accountant Cyril, and Aisha Tyler is good fun as the slightly unhinged former love of Archer's life Lana (even if I thought her voice was Katey Sagal's in all of the promos for this show).

But it's Benjamin who is the best thing here. Taking this guy and giving him an ace comic ensemble around him is rather like if a live action sitcom were inexplicably built around Tony Hale. People in the know would know who Hale was, but everyone else might just wonder who the guy they'd never seen at the center of the show was. Of course, it works better in animation, where Archer is obviously the guy who's supposed to be at the center of the show, but it's the same principle. Fortunately, Benjamin doesn't let down the ensemble he's at the center of, deftly turning in the same sort of performance he usually does - shout-y - and yet still undercutting it at every turn by always letting you know just how much of an idiot blowhard Archer is. It can take a bit to adjust to the voice of Coach McGurk coming from a guy like Archer, but once you do, it's wonderfully goofy.


And, make no mistake, this is one goofy show. Treating the halls of ISIS like any other workplace might have seemed cliche in the promotions for the show, but the series itself has a wonderfully understated view of office politics that plays right in with something like, say, Archer giving Cyril a poison pen to make him seem more manly (part of a plot launched by Cyril and Malory Archer to make sure Archer and Lana don't get back together). By making the show just as much about how big of a jerk Archer is AND how little anyone likes dealing with human resources, Archer finds a neat balance that proves funnier and funnier the more you watch it.

The adult swim mindset has been making increasing inroads into the mainstream in recent years, but mostly on little-watched shows that the networks don't pay attention to (see: American Dad). Archer, then, which lands with a pretty substantial promotional campaign by FX standards, is the netlet's first real assault at winning over a larger audience than 18-34 year old guys who are up late with nothing better to do (and I say that as someone who loves to turn on adult swim). I don't know if Archer is the way this style of humor will conquer the mainstream, but I do know that it's a damned funny show, and it's well worth your time.


Stray observations:

  • On the other hand, broadcasting a full hour of the show is not the best idea, and I hope FX scales it back just a bit.
  • Want weekly coverage? Clamor for it in comments. This is one we're contemplating adding.
  • "Ugh. She is riddled with herpes."
  • "I was laughing at your clothes."
  • "Point is, you come out of the john waving this around, nobody's gonna bug you for a tip."
  • "I was black ops, and that does not a young boy a merry Christmas make."
  • "Immigrants! That's all they do, you know. Just driving around listening to the raps and shooting all the jobs."
  • "Sorry. Let's just call it what it is. Food rapist."
  • "Jesus Christ. That is just babytown frolics."
  • "Who would wanna wear an on-fire suit?!" "Cosplay enthusiasts!"