A few weeks ago, FX launched the seventh season of Archer. For anyone who has been living under a rock for the past seven years, the animated comedy follows the explosive, often drug fuelled misadventures of the World’s Most Dangerous Spy, Sterling Archer. Working for his domineering mother’s organisation, the International Secret Intelligence Service, Archer and his colleagues delve into the darkest intrigues of national security, blundering their way through shoot-outs and drunken orgies with the world’s most wanted criminals.
Archer himself is based on the worst aspects of James Bond that can be gleaned from the original books. Written in a time when racism and sexism was far less frowned upon, the modern incarnations of Bond’s adventures are, perhaps subconsciously, updated to meet modern society’s more progressive standard.
But not Sterling Archer.
Bloody Marys for breakfast, a disturbing relationship with his mother and a valet hooked on heroin, Archer shies away from nothing if he thinks he’ll enjoy it. A spoilt brat who puts self indulgence as his highest priority at all times, Archer dares you at every turn to stop rooting for such a selfish bastard.
Adam Reed’s writing is brought to life by a killer cast that combines great vocal dexterity with impeccable comic timing. H Jon Benjamin takes the title role, while Jessica Walter seems born to play his controlling mother, Malory. Judy Greer takes on ditzy billionaire, choke fetishist and sometime aspiring country music singer Cheryl Tunt. Archer’s long term will-they-won’t-they love interest Lana Kane is that darling of the pop culture fandom Aisha Tyler. Explosive and unpredictable, Lucky Yates’s performance as mad scientist Krieger pushes the very limits of what is deemed acceptable even by Archer’s standards.
Its humour strikes the perfect balance between smart and stupid, and always dancing over the boundaries of the respectable, wound expertly through plots that are simultaneously complex yet easy to grasp. Yelling “phrasing” enough to turn almost everything into an innuendo is played off against much more sophisticated jokes that fly over many viewers’ heads. From the Byron poem tattooed on Pam’s back to the spoilers printed on the cover of books and magazines scattered throughout the magazines, there is always something worth watching closely for and usually a handful of things worth Googling before you can really appreciate.
Archer is notorious for its in jokes, gags that span seasons to the point that laughter becomes an inevitable Pavlovian response.
But it goes a lot deeper than sometimes even the most hard core fans realise. Many jokes and other random Easter eggs have been known to crop up in other shows that Reed has worked on, including Sealab 2012 and Frisky Dingo, as well as even more made by Reed’s mates, like Bob’s Burgers. Some references even transcend the medium.
Check out Krieger’s website, Algersoft. You can log in if you figure out the password – clues are scattered throughout the sixth season.
(Though if you don’t want to do the hard work, it’s certainly been revealed on the internet somewhere by now.)
While Archer can hardly be credited for its realism, its characters connect on a very human level. They are defined by their vices far more than their virtues. A group of alcoholics, sex addicts and generally selfish jerks, we love them for saying and doing the things we don’t have the courage to do ourselves. Their general unpleasant also affords us a degree of sadistic pleasure in seeing such largely unlikeable people so often denied success.
What gives them, and their adventures, such an extraordinary ability to connect to with so many people is their basis in real life events. While it is not worth any one of us denying that we’ve laughed at an inappropriate innuendo at some point, that’s not all the writers have drawn from real life. In fact, it’s often more outrageous things that were inspired by something true.
The rampant adoration of all things booze at all times of day, for instance, draws on Reed’s own experience working with his partner Matt Thompson. Together, they used to host High Noon Toons on Cartoon Network, hosting a three hour block of cartoons via their alter ego cowboy hand puppets. They regularly showed up blind drunk – even though the show was broadcast to children, as the title indicates, at midday – and once were so hammered that they ended up in trouble for setting fire to a spaceship on the set.
For seasoned Archer fans who have been slightly disillusioned since the gang’s identity crisis in season five, where at times the new format didn’t feel like the same show we fell in love with, rest assured that the newest season sees a fine return to form.
An increased budget with each renewal means that the quality of animation has only got better and better as the show has progressed.
Now, the FBI ruling that disbanded ISIS still stands, but the team have started again from scratch in California as a private investigation business. They are now named after the only member of the team who is actually qualified: The Figgis Agency.
Baby AJ is now two years old, providing ample opportunities to glimpse Archer’s humanity – or not – amidst his usual sea of booze, women and maverick escapades.
The first episode of the most recent season sees them committing a monumental cock up that unveils a mystery that has dogged them ever since. So far, the balance between sprinkled references to it and the plot of episode-long missions has allowed them to keep each episode relatively contained while building up to something that could be epic.
The team still cling just enough onto their luck to remain alive, if a little riddled with bullet holes, though it hasn’t done much to improve their skills.
Despite their efforts to reinvent themselves, the team remain as incompetent, disorganised and loveable as ever.