TV We Love: Archer

When I was a young whelp of a lad, I keenly remember rushing home from school on a Friday evening to watch a television programme called The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which focused on the adventures of two sixties super spies. They were Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, cool guys with even cooler names. I recall it as a rollicking good time though for the life of me I couldn’t tell you any plot details beyond the fact that U.N.C.L.E. was good and trustworthy. Upon reflection I’m damn lucky it wasn’t called The Man From P.R.I.E.S.T. or my therapy bills would be even higher than they already are.

Anyway, happy memories. But I raise them because little did I imagine that twenty years later I needed an absolutely filthily dark animated version of that show in my life.

But I did. I really really did.

Archer is that show and not only is it the best-animated comedy on television, I’ll bet you dimes to drachma it’s the funniest show on TV.

The titular Sterling Archer is a secret agent who works for ISIS, a loosely defined Cold war espionage organisation which is run by his mother, Mallory.

However, the espionage angle is merely the screen on which the psychological, psycho sexual and psychopathic issues of Archer and the rest of the staff of ISIS are projected. Occasionally Archer might, say, have to go undercover as a roller-skating twink in order to seduce a high ranking Cuban official who is a potential defector- but it’s every as bit likely we will find him breaking into Monte Carlo to recover one of his mother’s many, many sex tapes.

The writing on the show as bizarre and, ah, colourful as the above suggests, but what really takes it to the next level is the cast. John Benjamin as Archer leads the line in awesome style, managing to make Archer sound both suave and lethal while at the same time making it clear the man is a total bloody fool.

Plus anyone who can sell a Bartleby the Scrivener gag as hard as he does deserves some kind of Super Oscar.

But the rest of the cast and characters are very nearly as entertaining. Aisha Tyler is sheer cynical magnificence as Archer’s rival agent and sometime love interest Lana Kane, Judy Greer brings a weird sexual creepiness to disturbed pyromaniac secretary Cheryl Tunt while Lucky Yates is all oddball malevolence as ISIS resident mad Scientist and possible clone of Hitler, Dr Krieger.

However the jewel in the crown is Jessica Walters as Archer’s mother Mallory. Now you can argue she’s just playing Lucille Bluth: her character from Arrested Development. However, I believe that alcoholic mothers who despise their children is one of the last great frontiers of comedy and Ms Walters is perhaps the greatest pioneer ever to stride across that harsh, loveless land.

I could write an ode to every member of the cast but it’s also worth flagging up the style of the show. The animation is good (if not overly complex) but it does have a very clearly defined style which harkens back very clearly to shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the show’s other obvious touchstone: James Bond.

Indeed one of Archer’s greatest strengths is the way it evokes fond nostalgic memories of many of those old fashioned spy thrillers, then explodes a glorious hot mess of bitterness, weirdness and hilarity all over them.

Although some of the early episodes are a little hit and miss if you stick with it you’ll not be disappointed. After two seasons it’s only getting funnier, better and stranger.

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The third series of Archer is due to air on Channel Five in the new year. Season 1 is currently available on DVD.

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About Ian Dunn
I love avocados, WH Auden and dinosaurs but I don't like effort.

One Response to TV We Love: Archer

  1. I cannot tell you how much I love Bartleby gags nd try and shoehorn them into my everyday life. Well, I could, but I prefer not to.

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