Proving that its 10-episode first run was no fluke, Archer returned with a second season more confident in its own profane hilarity. These 13 episodes saw creator Adam Reed increasing the number of superbly weird one-off asides and expanding the characters and internal world with several sure-footed arcs. We already knew Archer was nearly peerless in terms of rapid-fire, vulgar absurdity, but it found a successful way to work these moments into some nicely architected structure in season two, creating a richer experience less susceptible to future fatigue.
Of course, even without a stable narrative foundation, Archer would still be must-see, thanks to Reed’s finely tuned manner of escalating the madness in any given episode and the corresponding voice work, which features game performances all around.
When Archer first took off, it was no surprise that H. Jon Benjamin’s laconic, often exasperated delivery worked perfectly for impossibly self-absorbed secret agent Sterling Archer. But he’s surrounded by equally sharp work from Aisha Tyler as more serious-minded ex Lana, Jessica Walter as possessive mom Malory and Judy Greer and Amber Nash competing for the spot as most depraved coworker in Cheryl and Pam. Chris Parnell doesn’t get as much to do this time around as pencil-pusher Cyril, but his delivery of just a single world (“Hello” in a montage revealing his sex addiction) is enough to induce fits of laughter.
Season two finds Archer continuing the search for the identity of his father while simultaneously discovering that he might be one himself. On the home front, he’s a perfectly atrocious dad; out in the field, he mounts a search for his father in Russia in a season-ending arc that finds him falling in love with a former KGB agent. But as solid as that storyline is, an earlier arc where Archer discovers he has breast cancer after his mother is misdiagnosed is exploited for copious amounts of unflinching black comedy that somehow manages to be rather sweet at the same time. A bit where Archer is given bad news over the phone while throwing a cancer-free celebration is golden; the subsequent reversals of diagnosis in the same scene make way for the delirious comic acceleration that defines some of the show’s best moments.