Looking for the funniest show on television? Forget NBC’s resuscitation of Thursday night “Must See TV” or ABC’s ensemble gem Modern Family – turn to basic cable.
FX’s Archer, for the uninitiated, is an animated show from the mind behind cult classics Sealab 2021 and Frisky Dingo, Adam Reed. The title refers to main character Sterling Archer (the impeccable H. Jon Benjamin), a narcissistic, hedonistic secret agent at the dysfunctional spy agency ISIS.
If James Bond has been done to death, so has the spy parody (Get Smart, Austin Powers). Yet week after week, Archer manages to find new targets of ridicule, from double agents to the honeypot. And when the trappings of the spy genre aren’t in its sights, the show skewers ISIS itself for an absurd workplace comedy.
The world of Archer is intentionally anachronistic, with the style of the 60s (think Mad Men), the politics of the Cold War, and the culture and vernacular of the modern day. With Reed’s signature brand of vulgar black comedy and rapid-fire dialogue, Archer tailors Frisky Dingo into a more mainstream package.
The characters are well-drawn, both literally and figuratively. Archer’s relationship with his mother – and boss – Malory (voiced by and designed for Jessica Walter) would give Freud headaches. Complicating matters is his ex-girlfriend Lana (Aisha Tyler), another ISIS spy, and her (in)significant other Cyril (Chris Parnell), who doubles as ISIS bean counter.
Midway into its second season, Archer keeps getting stronger, building up running jokes and delving deeper into twisted secondary characters. The interplay between the inappropriate Pam and the clueless (and asphixiation-obsessed) Cheryl is a highlight, as is the show’s Q-like Dr. Krieger. In particular, Krieger gets funnier as the jokes get sicker. A brief rundown of Krieger’s antics: dosing interns, videotaping something “…darker” than bumfights, making his own breastmilk, and a brief affair with Cheryl that involved a mechanical claw and “slacking off.”
Archer is on a 30-day delay on Hulu, so the second season is just available now (the pilot will disappear in a few days). Stay tuned for the third episode this season, “Blood Test,” which is the show’s strongest offering yet. In a testament to the writing, the script weaves in references to both Of Mice and Men and William Burroughs, while Archer attempts to determine the paternity of a baby a prostitute says is his. (Spoiler alert: the baby appears in a later episode and the possibilities open up even more inappropriate humor.)