My devotion to Adam Reed was borne out of Frisky Dingo, Cartoon Network's miniseries created in 2006, Adult Swim. While its drawings were crisp and defined, their movements were no more animated than the foul-mouthed tots from the still-ingenious South Park series. What set Dingo apart for me was its commitment to its story. No matter how far off the rails it would travel, it never looked back.
Many comedies, especially animation, have the ability to hit the "reset" button for the sake of the story, but Reed somehow stuck to it (give a human character lobster claws for hands? Damn straight he's going to go full Kafka on him through the end of the series).
Archer has a bit of both: week by week it asks audiences for a do-over for much of its office setting, but strings out some narrative threads to some not-so-logical-but-wildly-amusing conclusions. But regardless of its approach, it’s the speed and ferocity of the jokes that have fueled four seasons of Archer and give it endless re-watchability.
It’s all the more astounding when you realize that creator Reed had a hand in writing every single episode, most of which he has sole credit.
Of course, Archer is bolstered all the more with some of the best vocal talent currently in the biz. H. Jon Benjamin provides the pipes for Sterling Archer, an egomaniacal superspy who drives the ladies mad, and makes his mother furious. Jessica Walter is momma Mallory, who is the head of the ISIS, the agency for which Archer serves as its top agent.
Though one could argue that the real brains of the agency is Lana Kane (voiced by Aisha Tyler), the statuesque spy who used to share more than just her office space with Archer. And while the rest of the cast does not regularly get in on all the globe-trotting action, they are no mere window dressing. It’s a cast of characters that rivals Arrested Development in its dearth of line-delivering scene-stealers. There’s pudgy worker drone Cyril, who so desperately wants to play with the big boys and gals (and ultimately gets his chance in Season 3), but has spent far too many years playing it safe and logical to truly get lost in the espionage. So he is mainly relegated to the office, which, ironically what is in essence a spy series, is where Archer derives some of its sharpest barbs.
Being no fan of the American version of The Office, I was more than enthused to see a show which captured the acerbic, politically incorrect tone of the original British version. Pam (voiced by Amber Nash) and Cheryl (voice by Judy Greer) are the ISIS homebase staples who ensure that no situation goes by without some sexual entendre, however inappropriate or downright horrifying. Dr. Krieger (voiced by Lucky Yates), ISIS’s answer to Bond’s Q (if Q was into hallucinogens and had an anime fetish) also lurks around the office’s more shadowy corners. And Reed himself gets into the act as Ray, a gay ISIS agent who becomes paralyzed for a large part of the show’s run, opening many doors to let the wildly un-PC humor fly.
And adult it is. The show’s four seasons thus far have made for plenty of “rewind” moments, in which you doubt your own ears that the show would paint a joke that dark. It does.
But whether its the sex, violence, or any combination thereof, none of the humor feels forced, noxious or gratuitous. In fact, it never misses an opportunity to halt its globe-trotting action to settle some petty squabble between characters. It also casts a large humor net: jokes range from base (“She’s a callgirl!” “No Cyril. When they’re dead, they’re called hookers!”) to the just plain wrong (“There's not enough liquor and therapy in the world to undo that. Ugh, I touched my mother's dildo.”).
Guest voices on the show are infrequent, but when they land someone, it’s typically a doozie (David Cross, Patrick Warburton, Burt Reynolds). They spring up for an episode or two without disrupting the flow of the show or feeling as though it’s wedged in for stunt casting. The same can be said for viewers. You don’t have to necessarily follow the show from its first (or second, or third, or fourth) season and feel as though you've been invited to a party in which you know no one. It helps, of course, with some of the running gags, as Reed richly rewards the faithful with countless callbacks that lend to its continuity without hindering its accessibility.
It wouldn't hurt to have brushed up on, well, just about everything, too, as last season opened with an homage to Bob’s Burger's, another animated series headed by Benjamin’s voice, and concluded with a shout-out to James Cameron’s oceanic odyssey The Abyss.
Reed was recently at this year’s Comic-Con by stating that the upcoming Season 5 (set for January of 2014) will be a “radical departure” from previous seasons (adding, in typical Reed esoteric style, that it would be “not dissimilar to season two of Growing Pains”), so what better time to acquaint yourself with perhaps the fastest and most furious comedy on television today, animated or not. For as outlandish and chaotic as their adventures may be, Reed infuses an underlying humanity that has been the true arsenal in Archer’s quiver.
Review by Rob Rector, Special to Influx MagazineShare: