The silly, sexy spy farce “Archer”

After a rocky start, the FX animated series has become a hilarious, visually gorgeous update of "Get Smart"

Topics: Archer, Our Picks, TV, Television,

The silly, sexy spy farce "Archer"

If the “Seinfeld” gang became international spies, their adventures might look something like “Archer,” the FX animated series that kicks off its second season tonight (Thursday 10 p.m./9 Central). The show revolves around an organization called ISIS (International Secret Service Intelligence), which I’d describe in more detail if I knew what the hell it’s supposed to be; it seems like a top-secret organization of super-spies and their support team, but I can’t figure out if they work for the United States government or if they’re a private organization like Halliburton — and there are a couple of jokes this season conceding that the people at ISIS aren’t sure, either. ISIS is headed by Malory Archer (voiced by “Arrested Development” costar Jessica Walter), a sexually insatiable control freak with a taste for the high life; she’s always hustling to land “contracts” to keep the agency afloat financially, as if it were Sterling Draper Cooper Pryce of “Mad Men.” The agency’s star operative is Malory’s son Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin), who’s an awesomely prolific killer and, unfortunately, a jackass. Archer feels duty-bound to cap spectacular acts of violence with punny kiss-off lines, but he rarely comes up with any. His recurring phrase is, “Uh … I had something,” often delivered moments before or after he’s killed an enemy or blown something sky-high.

“Archer” is the brainchild of Atlanta-based animators Adam Reed and Matt Thompson. Their credits include a couple of memorably off-kilter series for Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim: “Sealab 2021,” an undersea adventure spoof made of footage from the Hanna-Barbera series “Sealab 2020,” and “Frisky Dingo,” a superhero parody that in retrospect feels like a run-up to the sleazy antics of “Archer.” The team’s FX spy spoof is the best-designed animated series on commercial television, with strikingly composed panels drawn to take advantage of the widescreen TV ratio, and intricately rendered backgrounds that look hand-painted. (You can see the brushstrokes.) There’s a new dynamism in season 2. In tonight’s episode the filmmakers play around with big-budget action film flourishes, including epic wide shots that turn characters into flyspecks in the frame, and a moment during a snowmobile chase where Archer spots a pursuing foe in a rear-view mirror seconds before the foe destroys the mirror with his machinegun.

But even though the show has visual panache, movement-wise it’s a couple of steps up from the old Hanna-Barbera series that Reed and Thompson spoofed for Cartoon Network. (The characters often deliver dialogue while standing ramrod-straight; their faces rarely blink or even move.) Rather than making the series seem stylistically inconsistent, the mix of minimalist characterizations and elaborate backdrops makes it funnier — maybe because it reflects the gap between the momentousness of the missions assigned to these characters (rescue hostages, protect diplomats, defeat terrorists) and the pettiness they display at every waking moment of their lives.

Archer and Malory’s sexually fraught mother-son relationship is the (cold, dead) heart of the series. (Next week’s episode includes a gag where Archer breaks into his mom’s office desk and accidentally sets off her vibrator, which rattles around unseen in the desk’s top drawer. “There’s not enough psychotherapy in the world to undo that,” Archer says.) The show’s other recurring characters include Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler), Archer’s curvy, hyper-competitive superagent ex-girlfriend; Lana’s follow-up boyfriend Cyril Figgis (Chris Parnell), a milquetoast administrator who’s also a hopeless sex addict; Pam (Amber Nash), a portly, drawling office administrator who recently returned from Jamaica wearing cornrows, smoking giant spliffs and accusing everyone in the office of racism (she’s white), and Malory’s permanently horny secretary Cheryl (Judy Greer), who declares her intentions to potential conquests by ripping her blouse open, and who once spent part of an episode pregnancy-testing herself after an office tryst with a hunky new agent (she was hoping the results would be positive). The series is even developing its own set of catchphrases and proper nouns; this season introduces a drink called the Green Russian (absinthe and milk) and a brainwashing technique called The Modified Ludovico.

“Archer” didn’t find its footing right away. At the start of season 1 it struck me as likeable but unremarkable — a return trip to the imaginative terrain of “Sealab 2021″ and “Frisky Dingo,” but with more ambitious visuals, and more of a stab at modern TV series continuity. (Although the episode plots are self-contained, each season has a master narrative that’s heading someplace, and the characters’ relationships and job statuses shift over time.) I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t quite working for me. Then at some point around the middle of season 1, the tumblers clicked into place and “Archer” knew what it was — a sex farce set at a workplace, with ridiculous spy movie trappings — and it produced episodes that were, in their own naughty/dumb way, perfect. “Archer” is the next generation version of “Get Smart,” with a similarly thickheaded, overconfident, horny hero whose petulant deadpan lines are funnier than they have any right to be. A Lolita-like teen that Archer is trying to protect against kidnappers at a ski chalet in tonight’s premiere comes onto him by telling him she’s 17, and that “I’m from Germany, where the age of consent is 14.” “What is that,” replies a flustered Archer, “The Alabama of Europe?”

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>