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 Swimbe 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.
Archerbroke 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 2021and 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.