Spies are cool. They’re suave, clever, and unflappable agents with a single-minded focus. That’s what we’ve all been taught to believe, anyway. Because it would be awfully funny if spies were kind of dense, had a bunch of mother issues, and were backed by the same level of employees you’d find at the local burger joint. And that’s why you’ll probably find yourself laughing at Archer.
So, Sterling Archer (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin) -- codename “Duchess” -- is the top agent for a somewhat retro-styled spy group called ISIS. Now, by “top agent,” I’m referring more to paychecks and parking spaces than actual ability. When it comes down to it, Archer’s kind of an idiot. I mean, he can be rock-stupid about things. And he’s a pretty blatant misogynist and womanizer. And excessively cruel to his butler and co-workers. Oh, he has moments of brilliance, sure, but really Archer is to espionage what Vince Vaughn was to organized crime in Made.
By no small coincidence, Archer is also the son of ISIS’s oversexed, micro-managing executive officer, Malory (v. Jessica Walter). This little fact gets shoved in his face a lot by the number two ISIS agent -- and his ex -- Lana (v. Aisha Taylor), who happens to be as skilled and lethal as she is beautiful. Whenever the two of them are paired up on missions, it tends to make sparks fly. Not the good ones. And Archer tends to catch a lot of friendly fire. Usually in the foot.
Of course, all this is a bit moot, because Archer isn’t so much about the missions and the spy work as about the stuff that happens between missions with all the support folks back at headquarters. They compete with inter-agency rivals for contracts. They waste time with “kill, bang, marry” websites. They drink a lot and have inter-office relationships. They even go on strike while they’ve got agents out in the field. It’s like The Office with spies, where the last thing anyone seems to care about are the jobs they’re supposed to be doing.
The first episode features Archer trying to manipulate his expense accounts before he gets nailed by the ISIS comptroller, Cyril (v. Chris Parnell, best known to many as Doctor Spaceman on 30 Rock) -- who also happens to be the guy nailing Lana these days. We see Malory constantly abusing her power to get one up on her friends and neighbors, and also to hide her ongoing affair with her Russian intelligence counterpart, Nikolai Jackov (v. Peter Newman). There’s also the constant abuse of Pam (v. Amber Nash), the snide and overweight human resources director, as well as Malory’s disturbed and wildly promiscuous secretary, Cheryl...or maybe it’s Carol...or Cristal (v. Judy Greer), who sleeps with everyone in the office in an attempt to make Archer jealous (think of Miss Moneypenny with a serious choking fetish).
I have to point out the episode “Skytanic” as one of the funniest things I’ve seen in ages. Archer, Lana, and Malory are tasked with stopping a bomb threat on an international, luxury-class airship. It’s amazing how much mileage they get out of Archer thinking the ship’s going to blow up at the slightest spark.
I mentioned Vince Vaughn earlier, and there’s a reason he came up. He pretty much pioneered the modern idea of the grating idiot as a character in, well, every film he’s in (except maybe Fred Claus). You know that guy. The one who won’t stop talking and adamantly refuses to get a clue. He’s funny for a while, but pretty soon he becomes...well, grating. One of the reason Archer works is that a 20-minute episode is perfect for this type of character. The story’s done just as the non-stop banter, raunchy humor, and blatant stupidity is starting to wear thin.
Of course, that’s the problem with the DVD set. Now you’ve got them all back to back to back, and that’s when Archer tends to get a little frustrating. Annoying, even. Credit to the writers, it’s right around episode six that Lana starts shooting Archer in the foot on a regular basis. Comeuppance can make the grating idiot a lot more bearable.
There are a couple of special features on this box set, but they don’t really add up to much. There’s an “unaired pilot,” which begins by explaining they originally had a different actor for Archer, but the network felt he skewed the character too old. We then get to see the entire first episode, word for word, with a shrieking velociraptor subbed in for Archer. No, that’s it. They just swapped out the Archer animation for a dinosaur. It’s cute until the title sequence. It’s old by the end of the next scene. If you make it through the whole 20 minutes, you’re a better person than me. There are also a few deleted scenes, most of which are just longer, unedited versions of existing scenes, but they don’t have any context to tell you where they fit into which episodes.
Actually, the most interesting special feature is the “Making of...” piece. I never would’ve guessed that the entire world of Archer is a 100% computer-generated environment. Alas, it quickly devolves into a montage of renderings, and we never get a glimpse at how the episodes are conceived or written.
If you like the show and this type of comedy, it’s great fun. If not, you might want to ease into the tip of Archer before making any sort of commitment. After all, that’s how he’s going to do it...