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Reviewed by Will Harris
py parodies are a dime a dozen, even in animated form (two words: Secret Squirrel), but they don’t come a great deal more adult-oriented than FX’s “Archer.” This is the first time the network has ever delved into the world of animation, but frankly, it’s probably the only way they’d ever be able to get away with some of the things the characters do and say on this show. As it is, you’ll still find yourself wondering how in God’s name they managed to produce a series this hilariously crude.
Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) is arguably one of the best spies within the International Secret Intelligence Service, a.k.a. ISIS. Too bad everyone hates him, including his boss, who, as it happens, is also his mother. The relationship between Mallory Archer (Jessica Walter) and her son is a decidedly complicated one, so much so that it’s hard to know where to begin, though my instinct is to start with his childhood punishments, which have led him to enjoy smacking his sexual partners on the ass with a ping-pong paddle. Like James Bond, Austin Powers, and many of the other fictional spies before him, Archer has paddled many a woman in his time (I’m using the phrase as a sexual euphemism, but hell, for all I know it’s standard operating procedure within the profession), but there’s really only one past conquest for whom he still maintains feelings: fellow agent Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler), who’s now seeing ISIS’s nerd-tastic comptroller Cyril Figgus (Chris Parnell). Suffice it to say that there is no love lost between Cyril and Sterling.
At first, it seems as though these are the only members of ISIS that matter, but as Season One moves onward, we learn more about such office drones as Pam (Amber Nash), the heavyset human resources director, and Cheryl (Judy Greer), Malory’s secretary. Both have trysts with fellow employees, though I won’t say which, lest the surprise be ruined for those who haven’t been watching the show. You’ve also got ISIS research scientist Dr. Krieger (Lucky Yates), most famous for inventing a raunchy little number called Fister Roboto, and Ray Gillette (Adam Reed), the resident gay agent who, as it happens, seems to be one of the few competent employees in the organization.
The storylines on “Archer” generally involve sexual shenanigans in some capacity, and the level of perversion may be too much for some viewers to take. But while it’s gotten to be a given that Benjamin will turn in a fantastic performance (which he does once again, of course), Walter, Tyler and Parnell are all hilarious in their roles as well, the latter in particular. The animation on the show is pretty awesome, too, with a retro look that fits perfectly with the spy genre.
“Archer” might have more fans if it were more accessible to mainstream viewers, but then, if it was more accessible, it wouldn’t be the same show. As it is, it’s utterly outrageous and downright fucked up – which is to say that it’s pretty damned awesome.
Special Features: How do you define “much more”? Because, personally, tacking on two pilots for other shows on the same network doesn’t fit the bill. I’m not saying that “Louie” and “The League” aren’t funny shows, but when the back of a Season One TV-DVD set offers up three items – the original unaired pilot for the series, a making-of featurette, and some deleted scenes – and then promises “much more,” personally, I’m expecting it to at least involved something else to do with the show itself. As for these three items, the deleted scenes are only fair to middling, and the look into the making of the series contains way more text and recycled sequences from the show than new material. And the original unaired pilot? Well, actually, that’s pretty funny. The pilot features the original actor who played Sterling Archer, an individual who was deemed too old by the network – or, at least, that’s their story, and boy, are they sticking to it. While you’ll almost certainly grow tired of watching long before it’s over, you’ll still feel obliged to fast-forward all the way through the closing credits of the pilot, if only to confirm that, yes, they take it all the way to the bitter end. (Admit it, you’re intrigued, aren’t you?)