FX's animated James Bond parody injects cheap sex and hand-to-hand combat into the workplace comedy
Sterling Archer is a square-jawed international spy who’s also a bit of a tool. He hates his bossy mother (who is also his boss). He hates his bossy ex-girlfriend (who is also his co-worker and a fellow spy). He wants his mom to listen to him, and he wants his ex to dump her wimpy boyfriend and take him back. Occasionally, he kills people by accident. (“I’ll fetch the rug,” offers his butler, Woodhouse [George Coe], in a matter-of-fact tone, as if he’s merely fetching the morning paper.)
In other words, Archer is just like James Bond, only he’s self-centered, ineffectual, hopelessly arrogant and prone to firing his weapons in the middle of a crowded office. In turn, FX’s animated comedy “Archer” (premieres 10 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 14) is just like a James Bond movie, only it’s faster-paced, less realistic, more depraved, more mean-spirited, more violent, and it includes lots of potty humor, dirty jokes and cheap shots at Dane Cook.
But even that doesn’t completely explain why I love it so much. Maybe it’s just refreshing to see something truly repugnant and foolish that doesn’t aspire to have even the remotest trace of a redeeming quality. (Some people claimed that HBO’S “The Life and Times of Tim” had that kind of deeply obnoxious charm, but some people were wrong, because that show wasn’t nearly funny enough.)
“Archer” is funny. If you don’t agree after the first episode, keep watching. You might try drinking a little coffee or having a doughnut before you tune in, though, because the zingers fly by pretty quickly. Take this exchange between Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) and Cyril (Chris Parnell), the current boyfriend of Archer’s ex-girlfriend Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler). Archer has been ordered by his mother, the head of ISIS international spy agency, to train Cyril to become a secret agent.
Cyril: Hey, will I get to learn Karate?
Archer: Karate? The Dane Cook of martial arts? No. ISIS agents use Krav Maga.
Cyril: Krav -?
Archer: We’ve got an ex-Mossad guy, he comes in on Thursdays.
Archer: Yeah. Tuesdays he does a really rigorous spin class.
“Archer” is essentially a workplace comedy, replete with inter-office romances and late-night gossip sessions, only the workers typically end up casually killing one or two or a dozen people per episode. This might feel sick and wrong on another show, but thanks to the fact that the stories are farcical and no real human beings end up covered in fake blood, creator Adam Reed (who also created the often very funny Cartoon Network Adult Swim show “SeaLab”) is free to be as heartless and twisted as his mood permits.
As a result, Reed and the show’s other writers can go nuts with Bond gags galore, like when Archer replaces Cyril’s ballpoint pen with one that doubles as a weapon.
Archer: This is what a real field agent uses.
Cyril: Ha. Point’s a lot finer than I prefer.
Archer: That’s because it’s a hypodermic needle, and the cartridge is full of a deadly super-toxin called poiso … caine. Here, keep it in here. (Puts deadly pen in Cyril’s breast pocket.) But be careful, the cap slips off for, like, no reason.
This interplay between deadly spy games and mundane annoyances, between half-baked workplace flirtations and sexual three-ways with menacing Russian thugs, between pesky administrative tasks and Mediterranean yachts that get blown to smithereens, is the clinking ice in “Archer’s” giant, juvenile tumbler of bourbon.
Chris Parnell is, as always, delightful as the voice of Cyril. More delightful still is Archer’s mom, Malory, played by Jessica Walter (“Arrested Development”). Malory seems to spend most of her time disparaging her idiotic son, and Walter’s caustic, incredulous voice can make even throwaway lines hysterical.
Malory: I don’t want another one of your sullen whores using my medicine cabinet as a Pez dispenser.
Archer: That wasn’t her fault! Who puts Oxycontin in a Xanax container?
Malory: People with servants!
Archer: But if they’re stealing pills, how does it help to switch the labels?
Malory: Because they can’t read English!
Now, granted, throwing together these sorts of mean, harsh, dirty or gross jokes with gratuitous violence, bloodshed and a gun-toting, big-breasted cartoon babe is sort of like taking something that’s not all that tasty and covering it in melted cheese. Sure, it tastes great, but … it’s also delicious.
Actually, I guess there isn’t anything wrong with it. Like a hefty serving of melted cheese, “Archer” may leave you feeling slightly queasy, but it’s more than worth it.
Heather Havrilesky is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine, The Awl and Bookforum, and is the author of the memoir "Disaster Preparedness." You can also follow her on Twitter at @hhavrilesky. More Heather Havrilesky.
More Related Stories
- Ray Manzarek, founding member of The Doors, dies at 74
- Beware of book blurbs
- Did a Salon excerpt ruin Penn Jillette's chance to win "Celebrity Apprentice"?
- Zach Galifianakis to take formerly homeless woman to "Hangover 3" premiere
- Seth MacFarlane will not host Oscars again
- "SNL's" uncomfortable Garner/Affleck moment
- "Celebrity Apprentice" finale ratings hit a new low
- Worst National Anthem fails
- The truth in Kanye's anti-prison rap
- Stephen Colbert to UVA: "You must always make the path for yourself"
- "Game of Thrones," season 3, episode 8: A salon
- Bieber booed, Miguel falls on fan at Billboard Awards
- "Mad Men" recap: Love, acid and whores. Lots of whores
- Taylor Swift leads Billboard winners
- “Game of Thrones” recap: “We must do our duty”
- "The Unwinding": What's gone wrong with America
- Michael J. Fox wins: The best and worst of the new fall shows
- First look: The Coens' marvelous folk-music odyssey
- New York's most persecuted subway artist?
- James Franco: "I really felt I was in conversation with Faulkner"
- "Jodorowsky's Dune": The sci-fi classic that never was
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11