Archer explores office politics at ISIS

Animated series for adults only

For a generation who grew up with a fixation of Saturday morning cartoons it should come as no surprise that present day primetime television is littered with animated series geared towards adults. Archer produced by Fox television cable channel FX is the byproduct of Adult Swim — a channel created with total dedication to adult-oriented animated shows. Adam Reed creator of two such shows ( Frisky Dingo and Sealab 2021 ) successfully pitched Archer to studio heads at FX. Archer follows the intriguing international and inter-office exploits of ISIS agent Sterling Malory Archer (voiced by comedian H. Jon Benjamin) code name Duchess the world’s deadliest assassin and suave master spy. The show premièred in September 2009 garnering critical praise for its witty and unforgiving comic style.

The International Secret Intelligence Service or ISIS happens to be run by Archer’s mother Malory who constantly criticizes everyone in sight and condemns Sterling for some of his more deplorable character defects. Drawing inspiration from James Bond Archer shares many of the traits with 007 — the clothes women and cars — and it’s his brash self-centred nature that helps pace the comedy each episode. “Don’t you realize nobody likes you?” ISIS accountant Cyril Figgis queries to which Sterling assuredly replies “I am a product of my upbringing!”

Contrary to other popular animated series Archer doesn’t solely rely on beating one-liners to death. The language and wordplay combined with the strong supporting cast of ISIS turn the show from a series of one-note dick jokes to a genuinely funny social-workplace satire. Fans of The Office and Arrested Development will enjoy similarly dysfunctional characters navigating flawed relationships within the ISIS agency.

Jessica Walter known for her role as Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development provides the voice of Archer’s mother and matriarch of ISIS. She displays deviant sexual tendencies opulent tastes and an aristocratic view of her subordinates. Corruption and incompetence are just two of the many unfavourable workplace conditions at ISIS; Sterling’s oedipal relationship with Malory also forces him to butt heads with ex-girlfriend and fellow top-agent Lana Kane who despite being the better agent is undervalued because of Malory’s position of power at ISIS.

The cast is rounded out by a clingy pencil-pushing boyfriend a deranged secretary with auto-erotic asphyxiation fantasies a loud-mouthed human resources mediator a demented head of ISIS research development and Archer’s proper and passive butler who endures a barrage of physical and emotional abuse. A rival agency full of style-thieving copycats provides several complications for what is usually another day at the office of a secret agent.

Along with the often dirty and occasionally pensive language of each episode the animation of Archer has garnered critical acclaim. Other popular animated series tend to go for the comic-strip style of design while Archer exhibits hand-painted backgrounds and realistic-looking characters.

Unfortunately for Canadians the show has not been picked up north of the border although FX shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and comedian Louie C.K.’s self-titled Louie are broadcast giving hope that it one day may hit the airwaves. For now the best alternative is the recently released Archer: The Complete Season One DVD. The first season boasts 10 half-hour episodes an original unaired pilot deleted scenes and a feature on the show’s production process. The unaired pilot is simply the first episode with Sterling’s character replaced by a Velociraptor while a few of the deleted scenes appear to be jokes which were perhaps too racy for television (hard to believe given the show’s dialogue). The real gem besides the episodes is a series of features detailing the animation process.

Those familiar with Adult Swim — or any primetime animated series — will likely find Archer to be a clever and sometimes hilariously crude comedy. Archer has been renewed for a second season which began airing in January in the United States. Archer: The Complete Season One is available at local retailers and online.