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DVD Review: Archer – The Complete First Season

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Following the rapid-fire absurdity of Sealab 2021 and Frisky Dingo, Adam Reed moved from Adult Swim to FX, and while the network is different, the sensibility remains wholly intact with his latest project, the dysfunctional spy comedy Archer.

Voiceover artist extraordinaire H. Jon Benjamin lends his pipes to Sterling Archer, a suave, narcissistic secret agent for the International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS). He’s also got his share of neuroses, most of which can be traced back to his alcoholic, oversexed mother, Malory (Jessica Walter, almost reprising her Arrested Development role in animated form), who also happens to be the head of the organization.

Fortunately for those two, they’re in good company when it comes to dysfunction around the office, including Archer’s longsuffering former girlfriend Lana (Aisha Tyler), her new boyfriend Cyril (Chris Parnell), the wishy-washy and easily manipulated comptroller of the company, and Cheryl (Judy Greer), the secretary who’s constantly changing her name and indulging in her frightening sexual fetishes.

Archer finds much of its humor in the sexual foibles of its characters, who all possess at least one unsavory bedroom behavior, but the show is more than simply raunchy bizarreness (although there is plenty of that to be found).

Rather, the show is a pitch-perfect satire of international relations, workplace minutiae and spy self-centeredness. Sterling Archer looks like James Bond from a distance, but the show continuously subverts the smug egotism and sexual politics expected from the genre, revealing every bit of harm that comes from Archer’s causal disregard for anyone or anything but himself. (Nearly every episode sees Archer getting some coworker shot or killed because of his obliviousness.)

The voiceover work is uniformly excellent. Everyone knew Benjamin could turn in sidesplitting work every week, but who would’ve expected Tyler to blow every line reading out of the water, with a simple emphatic “Yup!” acting as the perfect comic cap to every scene it’s used? Greer, Walter and Jeffrey Tambor, who guest stars as the rival head of another secret agency, bring a mini-Arrested Development vibe to the show, which is more than welcome.

Archer ranks as one of the sharpest comedies to currently grace the airwaves. It travels familiar ground, but possesses a thoroughly twisted wit that more than ensures it’s not just another edgy Adult Swim retread.

The first season DVD spreads all 10 episodes across two discs, and includes a few extras that aren’t too exciting. The first disc includes what claims to be the original unaired pilot for the show, which features an actor who the network felt was too old to play Archer. Rather, the episode is identical to the actual pilot with one major shift that’s funny for about two minutes. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to sit through the whole thing.

Disc two brings us a bit more substance in the form of a five-part making-of featurette that mostly focuses on the technical elements of the show (with enough bizarre humor thrown in to make sure it’s not totally dry). Also on the disc are a 30-second unaired promo that features more of Archer’s simmering Oedipal complex and a couple minutes of deleted scenes.

The set also features pilots from fellow FX comedies The League and Louie, which is a better marketing tool than trailers, I guess.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.