There was a time that we, as a culture, believed James Bond to be the greatest secret agent of all time. It was a simpler era than the one we live in now, when all a spy had to be was a dashing, death-defying hero constantly saving the world. Now we know the truth; he must also be a borderline incompetent alcoholic momma’s boy that can barely drive his car let alone avoid a nuclear holocaust. And for that, we have Sterling Archer.
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An agent of ISIS (International Secret Intelligence Service), Sterling Archer travels the world alongside his fellow agents, Lana Kane and Ray Gillette, under the watchful eye of his mother and employer, Malory Archer. As almost competent as he is at his job, whatever good he almost does is consistently outweighed by his inability to stay sober or keep his pants on. He also might be the single most self-centred character on any show, possibly ever.
Some of the biggest laughs come from the support staff of ISIS. Human Resources Director Pam Poovey is a former fight club member with serious sexual boundary issues. Cyril Figgis, the ISIS accountant, is a raging sex addict and wannabe agent. Malory Archer’s secretary, Cheryl Tunt, is…well, I don’t actually know what to say about her beyond the fact that she is deeply disturbed and owns an ocelot. And there is Woodhouse, Sterling’s thoroughly abused British valet and WWI hero.
This is not a show for kids. The humour is hyper-sexualized and violent, set against an anachronistic background that borrows from a variety of eras. Archer’s gun, both literally and as a sexual euphemism, is constantly going off in the office. The dialogue is fast paced, smart, and witty, often with very little attachment to what’s going on in the scene. Archer is often more concerned with proving whatever abstract point he is discussing than surviving the mission. This show is ostensibly a mash up of James Bond, Mad Men and Arrested Development.
As always, it is the talent that makes this show work. Sterling Archer is voiced by H. Jon Benjamin, as stand-up comedian also known for voicing Bob on Bob’s Burgers. Geek royalty Aisha Tyler provides the voice for Lana Kane and SNL alum Chris Parnell does Cyril Figgis. And you cannot forget Malory, who is voiced by the same actress who played the matriarch of the Bluth family on Arrested Development, Jessica Walter. Incidentally, the head of ODIN, an opposing spy agency, is voiced by Jeffery Tambor who played George Bluth Sr. Arrested Development alums David Cross and Judy Greer (as Cheryl Tunt) also lend their voice talents to Archer.
Arrested Development is not the only comedy Archer derives its pedigree from. Archer was developed by some of the same team members that also worked on other Adult Swim shows like Frisky Dingo and Sealab 2021, both of which have very similar animation styles and senses of humour to Archer. There is also a rumoured cross-over episode with Bob’s Burgers coming in season four of Archer, which will most likely make little or no sense if it actually happens. It will be hilarious, though.
Currently, Netflix has seasons one and two of Archer ready to watch, though there are a few stand-out episodes.
Season One, Episode Five: Honeypot: Sterling runs one of his favourite spy games, the honeypot, where an agent uses his or her sexuality on a target. Only this time the target is a man with ties to Fidel Castro. And why go to all this trouble? To get one of Malory’s sex tapes back, an all too common theme in this show.
Season One, Episode Seven: Skytanic: The ISIS team is hired to help protect a luxury blimp’s maiden voyage and the support staff tag along by stowing away in Malory’s state room. Archer’s inability to understand the difference between helium and hydrogen plagues the mission.
Season Two, Episode Ten: El Sequestro: When kidnappers try to take Cheryl, she sells out Pam and tricks them into thinking Pam is her. Malory haggles over the ransom while the field agents try to make it out of the building on a rescue mission. Spoiler alert: they don’t. Also, this episode introduces Cheryl’s pet ocelot. Which is awesome.
Archer is one of the most underrated animated series currently on TV as well as on Netflix. Once you get through seasons one and two, you will be salivating for more.
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