Wednesday, March 7, 2012

TV Review - Archer

When I first set out to do a week of TV reviews, I was only planning on reviewing shows where you could find the entire run on Netflix. For that to happen, though, it has to be a show that's off the air, and I'm watching some pretty awesome TV right now. Plus I want to highlight some kick-ass old shows that you may not have known about, so telling you to watch Battlestar Galactica is probably a waste of digital breath on a site devoted to geeks.

So instead of following my own stupid rules, I'm going to tell you why you should be watching Archer. It's a spy show-slash-comedy about the most backward, socially retarded group of miscreants who ever infiltrated governments to botch an assassination. Plus it's a cartoon. And it's just wrapping its third season right now, but you can see the first couple seasons on Netflix, so it counts.

At first glance, this sounds like it should be really stupid. But it's damned smart, even when it's making jokes about anal sex or malodorous bowel movements. Not only that, but the cast is impressive. Two members of the crew from Arrested Development make regular appearances, and the main female spy is voiced by Aisha Tyler, a woman who is both talented and ridiculously sexy. In fact, everyone on the show has comic timing down to a science, and sometimes the delays between punch lines are funnier than the lines themselves.

One huge upside to making the show a cartoon is that they can frequently cause incredible injury to the characters without having to consider long-term ramifications. And they do, and it's almost 100% hilarious. When Archer (the womanizing spy) propositions Lana (the gorgeous chick spy) and she deliberately crashes the car into a light pole, Archer flies through the windshield and lands, mangled and bleeding, on the hood. This sounds demented, but the response is comedically perfect - 'so, that's a no?', followed by Lana not saying anything, followed by Archer (who, as I mentioned, is a twisted mess) saying, 'Oh, OK, then I guess just pout.'

The show is often bizarre, punctuated with grotesque humor and overtly offensive humor. All the main characters work for ISIS, which is owned by Archer's mother. Archer has no idea who his father is - mainly because his mother doesn't either. Both mother and son are horrible alcoholics. Archer routinely visits prostitutes, and even has a few favorites. He also hooks up with the women who work in the office, making for awkward conversation that Archer handles by being absolutely the most insensitive man alive.

And that's just the main character. The escaped Nazi gadget guy is in love with a computer-generated anime hologram that he created himself - in the same lab where he makes clones of himself. The head accountant is a sex addict (to which everyone will reply, 'that's not a real thing!'). And the mother - who is old enough to retire - is regularly caught having kinky sexual encounters with foreign agents.

But the greatest thing about Archer is not the bizarre and often unsettling humor, or the ridiculous situations that result from the ISIS employees being intensely incompetent and completely devoid of scruples. The best parts are the simple exchanges that show how smart the writers really are. They frequently play off commonly misused phrases (like the use of the word 'literally') or idiosyncrasies of the English language. They make obscure-but-hilarious cultural references. And they are not afraid to make their characters look incredibly foolish if it serves a comedic purpose.

You might think that a show about a crew of misanthropes might have trouble creating sympathetic characters, and yet even as Archer is cheating on his girlfriend, who is faking an affair with 20 different men, and the secretary is getting off on being choked while the HR lady curses and leaves toxic waste in the men's bathroom, you'll end up liking these people. You won't feel sorry for them when bad things happen to them, or anything, because they totally deserve it. But by the same token, you'll be rooting for them to succeed, which they do, every now and then.

If this sounds like a show you should not let your kids see, you're right. It's not just the subject matter that makes this a late-night comedy. Nearly every episode of Archer has at least one scene where someone is naked (though you never get to see the naughty bits). There's frequent profanity, some of which would get a network shut down by the FCC. In fact, if your kids aren't old enough to watch this one, wait until you're sure they have fallen asleep. And if you're offended by scatological references and naked butts (not to mention bed scenes that end with chocolate sauce on the ceiling and blood on the sheets), you should definitely avoid this one.

I, of course, have no intention of avoiding Archer. I watch every episode, going so far as to buy the new episodes from Amazon Instant Streaming the night after they air. I LOVE this show. It is incredibly funny, and has provided my family with a constant source of quotable humor. But then, my kids are teenagers, which is good, because both my son and my wife have installed Archer soundboards on their phones, and like to drop opportune phrases at regular intervals. I guess in my house, Archer is family television. Because everybody in my house likes to laugh.


Crank Crank Revolution said...

I love Archer for a variety of reasons:

1) COACH McGUIRK. H. Jon Benjamin is awesome and rivals Patrick Warburton as Coolest Animated Voice Actor Of Modern Times.

2) The ill-defined timeframe. There are cell phones and the KGB and reel-to-reels and the internet. For some reason I find that very amusing.

3) The plots are absurd but still keep true to the superspy genre, much like the Venture Brothers.

4) Fans of Arrested Development would love it. Lucille and Kitty are both voice actors, as is Jeffrey Tambor in a recurring role.

My only complaint? Two, really: they make Cyril just a touch too whiny, and even though I love the ribald humor the first season was so hyper-sexualized as to be absurd (plus it got a little old). Thankfully, seasons 2 and 3 handled it better.

Christopher said...

Danger Zone!

H. Jon Benjamin is the best part of the show. How he makes Archer even slightly sympathetic is the miracle of the show.

I laugh out loud every episode.

Archer is the only thing that got me through the Community hiatus.

Love Ms. Tunt. And her ocelot.

That is all.

Wiz-War said...

Archer is most excellent. It allows me to get my dysfunctional Arrested Development fix... but with more dick jokes and Krav Maga.