Netflix review: Archer Season 1
Philip W Bayles | On 10, Jul 2013
Archer is one of those bizarre TV shows that’s hard to pin down. It’s like a the love child of The Office and Leslie Nielsen’s Bond parody Spy Hard, but that doesn’t even begin to convey the tone of the humour, which goes from quirky and irreverent to just plain wrong at the drop of a hat.
The show follows the exploits of Sterling Archer (H Jon Benjamin), the world’s greatest secret agent, who works at the International Secret Intelligence Service – ISIS for short. Archer is, for want of a better phrase, a despicable human being. He’s an alcoholic, womanising narcissist, and he has a relationship with his mother Malory (Jessica Walter), who also happens to be his boss, an arrangement that would make Sigmund Freud throw down his clipboard and give up on psychoanalysis in favour of beekeeping in the country.
It’s not just the Archer clan who have their share of neuroses, however – there are more than a few sex addicts among its employees, not to mention a scientist in the vein of 007’s Q with a penchant for less than ethical experiments and an… interesting relationship with a hologram.
They’re all voiced by an absolutely top-notch cast. H Jon Benjamin’s voice, instantly familiar to anyone who’s seen Bob’s Burgers, brings a perfect blend of dry wit and immature buffoonery to the lead role, whilst comedian Aisha Tyler is brilliant as Lana Kane, Archer’s co-worker and former girlfriend. But the standout performance has to be Archer’s mother Malory, played with icy scorn by Arrested Development star Jessica Walter.
Her character is essentially Lucille Bluth in overdrive; a scathingly bitchy matriarch with absolutely no discretion and fewer inhibitions. Fans of Arrested Development should also keep an eye out for some other members of the cast; Judy Greer has a fun role as Malory’s secretary, while Jeffrey Tambor makes a guest appearance as the head of a rival espionage service.
Visually, Archer is unlike any other animated show currently airing. Taking its cues from shows like Sealab 2021, it’s set in a world that’s become unstuck in time – the US is still at war with the KGB, but everyone’s carrying cell phones and the suits and offices all look like they’ve been pulled straight from Mad Men. It’s a bizarre aesthetic, and it’s one that takes a little while to get used to, but that’s what makes the show so brilliant.
It’s not really a spy show at all; it’s just a workplace sitcom that happens to take place in an espionage agency. Most of the gags in the show come from pretty humdrum work situations – the first series deals with office romances, Archer trying to hide how much he’s abused the expenses accounts, and the problems of hiring employees for the sake of diversity.
The humour gets pretty demented, and it may be too much for some to bear (there are jokes here about race, religion and sex that push all of the boundaries of taste) but it’s never done purely for shock value. There’s a brilliantly satirical undertone to it all about the nature of security in the modern day, and some pretty fantastic movie references for those keen enough to spot them.
Archer certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but anyone with a particular soft spot for comedy should give it a try.