TV Reviews: “Archer,” “Working Class”
Two cable channels stretch into unlikely territory — FX with its first animated series, while CMT takes an ill-advised step into scripted shows.
When FX announced in 2009 that it was creating an animated comedy, it was a bit of a head-scratcher. This was a channel where every show it ever created was rated MA. And the executive branch at FX surely knew that animation works best in bunches and flounders as a one-show stand-alone. Even with snark galore, wouldn’t Adult Swim be the de facto first choice for the target audience? How was Archer, a kind of twisted James Bond-style premise, going to work?
As it turns out, by being insanely funny.
Archer broke pretty much every preconceived notion on how to create a successful series. But animated or not — and yes, it’s rated MA — the show managed to fit in perfectly with the comic sensibilities of the FX audience (and fans of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia in particular).
The key was great writing and one of the best voice casts on television. Created by Adam Reed (who did Sealab 2021 and Frisky Dingo for Adult Swim), Archer centers on the International Secret Intelligence Service, a group of spies and ordinary office workers who are extremely dangerous at what they do (yes, both groups) when not stumbling over, undermining or yelling at one another. The beauty of Archer is that it’s essentially an office comedy. Imagine James Bond having to fill out travel expenses and deal with HR violations, etc.
The woman running ISIS is Malory Archer (Jessica Walter), who gripes a lot about the group losing money, lives a privileged life and has dubious sexual ties to any number of foreign dignitaries. Her son, Sterling Archer (the incredible H. Jon Benjamin), has first-rate spy chops that are undermined by his laziness and predilection for women, booze and complaining. Benjamin’s vocal theatrics are the linchpin of Archer, mixing rants, mumbling, whining and a stop-and-start delivery style that is note-perfect for comedy.
Aisha Tyler is also wonderful as Lana Kane, the ridiculously curvy and supremely dangerous spy/assassin who used to be Sterling’s girlfriend and now despises his childish manners. Others in the stellar cast include Chris Parnell (Cyril, the pill-popping comptroller and nerd of ISIS), Judy Greer (Cheryl/Carol, the incompetent secretary to Malory and a person whose name Sterling can never get right), Amber Nash (Pam, the wildly inappropriate head of HR) and George Coe (Woodhouse, Sterling’s completely abused manservant).
Season 2 of Archer kicks off Jan. 27 with one of its best-to-date episodes, “Swiss Miss,” in which Sterling is put in charge of protecting a Swiss billionaire’s daughter while Malory is trying to milk him for funding. The trouble is that the girl is a nymphomaniac, and Sterling has to fight her off while fighting her kidnappers. Like any episode of Archer, telling the jokes does them no justice. You need to find out for yourself why this series is such a politically incorrect gem.
Airdate: 10 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 27 (FX)
The word “incorrect” could mean a lot of things when used to describe another series, Working Class, on CMT — formerly Country Music Television. Here’s another cable channel jumping into the scripted game with dubious results. Working is a sitcom starring Melissa Peterman as Carli, a twice-divorced mom with three kids and a complex about finding love. She works at an upscale grocery store with Ed Asner, who is called on to be grumpy at every turn and compare life’s injustices to his time at war.
Working is ostensibly about a family struggling to get by in a down economy, flying the proudly blue-collar flag of CMT, but it ends up mostly about Carli’s insecurities. Like all bad — and regurgitated — sitcoms, familiarity and poor writing kill it dead. For example, Carli’s brother Nick (Steve Kazee), who gets his rent paid by being the babysitter, tells Carli that an old friend who liked her is in town.
“He was the only boy in high school who was willing to be seen with me after I was voted most likely to destroy a Japanese city,” Carli says, setting off the laugh track.
“That was hilarious — Blond-zilla,” Nick says.
No, Nick — not hilarious. And neither was the Ablondible Snowman. Or Kareem Abdul-Jablonde. Or Blondre the Giant. Or Ghengis Blonde.”
Exactly. Not hilarious. Working is filled with bad jokes you can see coming from a country mile.
Airdate: 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 28 (CMT)