Animation Wednesday: Archer

This post is part of the Animation Wednesday series, a weekly column which looks at animated TV series and movies of the past, present and future.

Parodies are a strange thing.  They sound easy enough.  Pick a genre, play up the clichés and tropes, draw attention to the more ridiculous aspects, go home at noon.  But for a parody to really succeed they require something a bit more complex: a genuine love and understanding of the subject matter.  As I mentioned before, this is what makes some shows and movies work, and others crash and burn.

Archer is a show that understands this.  A spy fiction send-up, it plays out kind of like an updated (and far more profane) version of Get Smart.  Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin, channeling the douchebaggery he used so well in Home Movies for Coach McGuirk) is the top agent of ISIS, a spy organization headed his mother (Jessica Walter, who is exactly the same as in Arrested Development).  Inconsiderate, self-centered and often idiotic, Archer is nonetheless a talented, suave James Bond type, and episodes revolve around missions he and his equally dysfunctional fellow agents and coworkers undertake.  He’s often paired with far more competent ex-girlfriend Lana or Ray, a flamboyantly gay fellow field agent.

The animation style of Archer is similar to older [adult swim] shows like Frisky Dingo or Sealab 2021, all of which were created by Adam Reed.  It owes a lot to classic Hanna-Barbera shows like Johnny Quest or Space Ghost, though in much more modern, updated way.  Stylistically, the show looks and feels like the 1960s, with wood paneling in offices, grey suits, and the Soviet Union, but it also incorporates modern technology and pop culture references.  It weaves these elements together well, and avoids getting bogged down in technical details or genre-specific jargon.

But what really drives Archer is that in addition to being incisive and full of witty one-liners, it’s a genuinely enjoyable action-comedy.  The plots are decently well-developed, and there’s enough bad-assery in the gunfights and action scenes to choke a horse.  Episodes and characters homage elements of the James Bond franchise and The Six Million Dollar Man, and the admittedly nebulously defined world still provides legitimate secret agent thrills.  The theme song and end theme are especially smooth, and while the show is never afraid to call out its own shortcomings, it deftly utilizes spy fiction conventions just as well as it parodies them.

Archer recently wrapped its second season on FX.  Season one is available on DVD, and FX reruns it constantly (as they do with all their shows).  It’s clever, dirty, and action-packed, and a good pick for fans of summer blockbusters and adult comedy.

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