Archer -- TV Review

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If the animated spy adventures of "Archer" look as if they would be a better fit for Cartoon Network's Adult Swim than character-rich FX, there's a good reason: Executive producers Adam Reed and Matt Thompson are Adult Swim alumni, having created "Sealab 2021" and "Frisky Dingo." Like their previous work, "Archer" has an anti-establishment sensibility and a preference for risque expression.

The new series boasts eye-catching animation and dollops of sex and violence but only enough humor to elicit occasional chuckles. If you eliminate the references to sexual perversions, even the smiles are few and far between.

The show is named for its hero, Sterling Archer (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin), a bumbling, mostly oblivious, self-absorbed secret agent for the International Secret Intelligent Service (ISIS). The independent cloak-and-dagger operation is run by Archer's domineering mother, Malory Archer (Jessica Walter).

Also at the agency is sexy spy Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler), Archer's former girlfriend who is dating company comptroller and metrosexual Cyril Figgis (Chris Parnell) but still has feelings for the resident bad boy. Then there's sex-starved secretary Cheryl (Judy Greer) and blabbermouth HR chief Pam (Amber Nash).

Based on five episodes made available for review, the show is more of a workplace comedy than a spoof on undercover activities and dastardly villains. In the opener, Archer has to cover up his expenditure of $50,000, the amount he claimed as legitimate expenses but spent on wine, watches and wenches.

Other episodes are about a misguided effort to train Cyril to be a field agent, a bungled effort to win a spy contract from the United Nations, an ultimately unsuccessful effort to make a diversity hire and a haphazard effort to prevent a sale of advanced weaponry by an international arms dealer.

Interestingly, the characters are drawn to reflect, more or less, the actors who supply their voices. That attraction is offset, however, by none-too-witty dialogue that confuses over-the-top sexual situations with sophisticated humor.

The show, which runs at 9 p.m. in the Central time zone, pushes the boundaries of standards and practices for basic cable. The pilot is rife with words that would be bleeped on broadcast channels and even most other basic-cable outlets. "Archer," however, wears its TV-MA rating (unsuitable for those under 17 because of graphic violence, explicit sex and indecent language) like a badge of honor.

It might offend a few unsuspecting viewers. The greater concern, though, is that its cast of offbeat characters isn't given nearly enough funny things to say and do.

Airdate: 10-10:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 14 (FX)
Production: FX Prods.
Voices: H. Jon Benjamin, Judy Greer, Chris Parnell, Aisha Tyler, Jessica Walter, George Coe, Amber Nash, Peter Newman, Lucky Yates
Executive producers: Adam Reed, Matt Thompson
Producers: Neal Holman, Eric Sims, Mack Williams, Casey Willis
Creator: Adam Reed
Production manager: Casey Willis
Art director: Neal Holman
Editor: Andy Sipes
Music-sound: Michael Kohler
Theme: Scott Sims