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TV Review: Archer (2009)

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Film and television spy spoofs are a dime a dozen. From Get Smart to Get Smart, Again! to the film version of Get Smart to Austin Powers to I Spy and oh-so-many others, it is a well-trodden road. Now, FX is entering that territory with their own spoof, Archer. How is Archer different? It’s animated.

If that doesn’t sound like a big difference, truth be told, it isn’t. It isn’t wholly bad though, either.

Archer revolves around the exploits of suave alleged superspy, Agent Sterling Archer (code name: Duchess), voiced by H. Jon Benjamin. Sterling works at ISIS, the International Secret Intelligence Service, where he answers to his mother, Malory Archer, voiced by Jessica Walter. Archer is your typical spoof spy, in the job for the free booze, trips around the world, and the ability to use his job description to pick up women – both the lonely and desperate kinds. He doesn’t get along with mommy, who certainly also doesn't get along with him. Malory, may in fact be too busy with her hidden and clearly against the rules relationship with a Russian counterpart. As for the incompetent Sterling, exactly why he continues to be employed at ISIS despite his gross incompetence and the fact that no one likes him is unclear.

Photo Credit: FXSterling’s fellow employees include Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler), who dated Archer for an extended period of time and has since moved on to ISIS comptroller Cyril Figgis (Chris Parnell). Lana is competent at her job, and consequently the humor with her character revolves around her more than ample cleavage, man hands (which was funnier on Seinfeld), and domineering attitude towards Cyril. As for Cyril, he’s the comptroller, which seems to be enough to make him a funny character.

The rest of the characters on Archer include Malory Archer’s secretary who constantly changes her name and has a thing for Sterling (Judy Greer); the office gossip and HR head, Pam (Amber Nash); and Sterling’s devoted-no-matter-how-he’s-treated butler, Woodhouse (George Coe). Though they are all characters we’ve seen before, perhaps more problematically, save perhaps Malory, they’re all characters we’ve seen in this exact sort of setting before.

Densely populated with sexual innuendo and incompetent employees, the series may sound like the exact sort of thing that airs on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. In point of fact, executive producers Adam Reed and Matt Thompson (Reed also created the series) created Sealab 2021 and Frisky Dingo for Adult Swim.

While all of the above certainly means that the show isn’t terribly new or original or different, one has to remember that there’s a reason why the shows/movies are repeatedly made – they can be very funny and have a good deal of appeal. Archer is no different. While a lot of the jokes – more than should – fall flat, enough of them make one laugh so that the audience won’t feel as though their entire half-hour was wasted. Additionally, there’s always the feeling that maybe, in the next episode, Reed and Thompson will really hit the nail on the head and put forward a really funny episode with material that feels fresh.

That’s something that doesn’t occur during Archer’s first five episodes – they all very much feel as though they’re following a well-worn path. However, with the talents of the voice cast, proven ability of the producers, and source material that has worked so well in the past, it still feels like they might just get there. For fans of spy spoofs and adult-oriented animated fare, there is absolutely enough to enjoy in the first five episodes to keep them tuning in and to make the series worth recommending.

Archer premieres on FX, Thursday January 14 at 10pm.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    I scheduled this on the DVR as soon as I was half-paying attention to the TV and heard the voice of John McGuirk in a commercial.