"Archer" Season 2: Still Deranged, Demented, and Delightful
Normally, it’s not flattering to describe a show as offering “more of the same”; the phrase suggests it has fallen into a rut. But when you’re talking about a show like FX’s Archer, it means the show is following the dictum, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” After watching the first seven episodes of the new season, I can safely say that it continues to mate an outrageous and intelligent sense of humor with pitch-perfect voice casting and a distinctive visual style. It is exactly as deranged, demented, and delightful as season 1.
Archer is a gloriously hilarious send-up of the spy thriller genre. Its title character, Sterling Archer, is a suave, handsome, shallow, crass, womanizing, falling-down drunk. He is also the top field agent for ISIS, the world’s most dysfunctional intelligence agency, whose employees are often more dedicated to backbiting than to fighting their ostensible enemies. Archer’s constant juvenile antics are an unending source of aggravation to Lana Kane, the gorgeous and intelligent ISIS field agent who also happens to be his ex-girlfriend. Other cast members include Archer’s completely horrible mother, Malory, who heads ISIS; the nebbishy comptroller, Cyril Figgis; Malory’s loopy secretary Cheryl/Carol (the season continues the running gag about her constantly changing name); and the sexually omnivorous and thoroughly outrageous H.R. director, Pam.
Archer set an enviable high-water mark with its too-short first season, turning in 10 nearly perfect episodes that guaranteed at least one big belly laugh per episode. From the start, season 2 mines almost exactly the same vein, with a season premiere that has ISIS protecting the underaged, nymphomaniacal daughter of a Swiss billionaire from a kidnapping threat. There are only a few minor, incremental changes, which provide plenty of raw material for more laughs, like Cyril’s brief stint at a mental institution and self-diagnosis as a sex addict, and a larger role for Pam (which also upgrades Amber Nash to the opening credits). Archer also continues to get laughs by mashing together dysfunctional workplace comedy and spy thrillage, but this season’s stories seem a little more tailored to ISIS and the characters on the show. The second episode, “A Going Concern,” has a broke Malory attempting to sell ISIS to the smarmy suits at the rival intelligence agency ODIN, landing a marriage to ODIN chief Len Trexler in the bargain. It’s one thing for employees to try and foil a corporate merger in an attempt to save their jobs, but only Archer and his merry band of idiots could come up with the nutball solution offered here.
Archer also manages to build on itself without getting too precious about its own back story—a pit that The Venture Bros. fell into during its third season (and, to be fair, seems to have escaped so far in its fourth). Each individual episode stands alone perfectly well, and you can start watching Archer at any point, but there are definitely little treats embedded throughout for the observant, long-term watcher. Episode 5, “The Double Deuce,” reveals the World War I exploits of Woodhouse, Archer’s much-abused manservant, in a story that manages to give dimension and depth to everyone concerned without wallowing in over-expository history. The plot twist in episode 3, “Blood Test,” was even set up at the end of the first season in a throwaway bit that also promises lots of possibilities for future stories. It’s the little grace notes like that which really elevate a silly comedy into something more substantial.
While Archer definitely gets a lot of its laughs from shock value, watching seasons 1 and 2 in a relatively short span of time made it clearer why it’s not just a “shock for shock’s sake” kind of comedy. Shock value is a kind of drug, and after the shocks stop being funny they have to get bigger and bigger to get the same laughs. There isn’t a lot in Archer season 2 that is more shocking than anything in season 1, but I laughed as much or more this season than I did last time. Archer is a funny show that happens to be shocking, not just a shock comedy show.
Despite my overwhelmingly positive recommendation for Archer season 2, I must urge you not to watch it live. Record it to your television recording device of choice, watch it On-Demand or on-line, or (if you really must) wait for the DVDs. I guarantee there’s going to be at least one joke per episode that you’ll want to rewind to watch again, or that will make you laugh hard enough to make you miss the next few seconds (and, in one case for me, minutes). Rather than suffering from a sophomore slump, Archer has returned exactly as sharp and funny as before.
Archer Season 2 premieres on Thursday, January 27, 2011, at 10:00 PM (Eastern/Pacific) on FX. Don’t forget to check out our interviews with the cast and crew of Archer at the Paley Center for Media and our coverage of the premiere event there.