DAVID BIANCULLI

Founder / Editor

ERIC GOULD

Associate Editor

LINDA DONOVAN

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MIKE HUGHES

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The Spy Who Bugged Me: Archer is a Dummy, But Still Funny
January 17, 2013  | By Eric Gould  | 2 comments
 

According to FX press descriptions, secret agent Sterling Archer is a dashing rake, a top field operative and "a colossal tool." It's hard not to disagree. As lucky as he is in getting out of a jam, he's equally inept (more like an egotistical ass) when it comes to doing the right thing by his fellow agents — and even his own mother.

Not that this is new territory for Archer or us, but it continues to work. The show's fourth season (which begins Thursday, January 17 at 10 p.m. ET) has a familiar ring to it, with Archer and his pals at ISIS (the International Secret Intelligence Service) doing everything they can to outflank the enemy while undercutting each other like a dysfunctional group of 8 year olds.

Archer, (brilliantly voiced by H. Jon Benjamin) is still given to the juvenile rants of that aforementioned demographic. And the series hasn't ventured outside of its successful formula of a bitter, bungling covert gang that can't shoot straight yet somehow backs into victory each week.

Not that it needs to. Why mess with a show that made a few Top Ten lists in 2012? Archer stands alongside Family Guy and South Park as one of the top adult cartoons, one that is smart, quick, and an equal opportunity offender.

No cow is too sacred or out of range of the ISIS gunsights as they attack subjects ranging from gender and sexual orientation to affirmative action and everyday common decency. (ISIS might as well be a haven for the Freudian id unleashed.)

Series creator Adam Reed (Sealab 2021) also has more than a few film homages left in the arsenal, too. Season four picks up with Archer suffering amnesia, and he's now taken up with a new family and tending a short-order grill (left) à la Viggo Mortensen in David Cronenberg's A History of Violence (2005). Similarly left with no memory of his former life of intrigue, thugs from his past arrive for payback. Later, in Episode 3, (January 31) he crawls through ductwork to escape (out of his own headquarters that he, duh, accidentally exploded) Bruce Willis-style (in Die Hard).

This season's first four episodes find Archer also confronting an old friend from his ISIS training days (Timothy Olyphant from FX's Justified), his childhood fear of robots and his new stepfather (Ron Liebman, Kaz, The Sporanos) who may not be the retiring Jewish car dealer he seems to be. They take a surprising road trip in episode four.

Series regulars Aisha Tyler, Chris Parnell and Judy Greer are still in tow, as the espionage gang more set on personal gain than on keeping the Free World safe. Jessica Walter, as Sterling's domineering mother, Malory, and impatient head of ISIS, is also still dishing out plenty of conflicting signals for Archer to absorb. Archer can quickly dispense with counter-intelligence thugs who are out to kill him, but he still can't quite seem to outstep his mommy rage.

The series sports one of the better main title sequences going, hyping its James Bond-styled brand with silhouetted female agents and sixties bongos knocking out the sex and danger themes.

Archer can also still claim one of the best animation styles around these days. Born from the old Johnny Quest-style of illustration-realism, it has an extra layer of irony-steeped art direction with a mash-up of high rolling interiors and arcane technology that feels like '70s discounts out of Radio Shack.

Those anachronistic tools are appropriate, as the human ones at ISIS are about as up-to-date in their interpersonal skills — and their ability to behave like adults.
 
 
 
 
 
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2 Comments
 
 
Neil
Good column, Eric. I also love Archer. But guy, you need to proofread your stuff before posting. Just re-read your last 'graph.
Jan 17, 2013   |  Reply
 
EG
And now you know what happens when my nightcap is stirred, AND shaken...
Jan 18, 2013
 
 
 
A. Hill
You're missing the BIGGER homage in tonight's episode with Archer (with a mustache) working as a 'short-order cook'... BOB'S BURGERS!!! Just look at the picture... it even looks like Bob's Burgers! -lol and H. Jon Benjamin IS the voice of Bob!
Jan 17, 2013   |  Reply
 
EG
AH - You don't know how right you are. Watch tonight. But the Archer animation team has it's Cronenberg references dead on, too. So, let's call it a hybrid homage. –EG
Jan 17, 2013
 
 
 
 
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