"Archer: The Complete Season Two" – Nobody Does It Better
Archer is cool. Archer is awesome. Archer is really freaking funny. I love Archer. You should get Archer: The Complete Season Two because it is cool and awesome and really freaking funny and I love it. … You’re expecting me to be more descriptive than that, aren’t you? I am not exaggerating to say that FX’s Archer is one of the funniest TV shows from the past decade, if not the last quarter-century. What could have been a tired, phoned-in animated sitcom has turned out to be one of the most consistently excellent shows on TV, mating razor-sharp writing with perfect casting to create a perfect storm of a show where the sum is way more than the sum of its parts. Archer: The Complete Season Two is now available on DVD and Blu-ray disc, building and expanding on the successes of the first season to turn in thirteen episodes that are faster, funnier, and even more outrageous than the first. Rather than sum up the series yet again, I’ll refer you to my reviews for the season 1 DVD and the start of season 2 (and throw in my colleague Maxie Zeus’ review of the series premiere for good measure). Even if you haven’t seen the first season, this second one is still a perfect place to start, since there isn’t much continuity from the first season and it’s easy enough to pick up what you need as the show goes along. The mark of truly outstanding humor isn’t that it makes you laugh once, but that it can make you laugh twice or more. By now, I’ve seen several of these episodes at least two or three times, with some episodes like “Placebo Effect” coming close to the half-dozen mark. And yet, even though I know the jokes by heart, this season of Archer can still make me laugh and laugh and laugh. Re-watching these episodes again, I will revise my initial opinion that there were only minor, incremental changes to the show between seasons 1 and 2. This season elevates the outrageously awful H.R. director Pam Poovey and the flamboyantly gay agent Ray Gillette to full cast members, and their expanded roles are a big reason why this season manages to be even funnier than the first. The show also seems to have allowed a bit more money per episode, which makes for some much more impressive set pieces, like the snowmobile chase of “Swiss Miss,” the World War I re-creation of “The Double Deuce,” or the big Monaco Grand Prix racecar sequence in “Jeu Monegasque.” None of these changes are huge by themselves, but they have a much larger impact on the show than I had initially thought. However, the core reason for the show’s success is that it’s extremely smart and sharply written—something even more true this season. This is best illustrated by the success of the exceptionally transgressive “Placebo Effect,” which could have easily gone over the line but instead pulls off an episode that manages to be funny, more than a little offensive, and even a little bit touching. It’s also an episode that highlights the show’s skill in characterization. Sterling Archer is an unmitigated tool, but he’s still someone we end up liking. The balance means we can enjoy watching his (occasional) triumphs, but still find humor in it when really horrible things happen to him. That’s a really hard balance to pull off with just one character, but Archer manages to do it with the entire cast, each of whom are awful in their own specific ways (with the possible exception of Lana Kane). I’m also impressed that the show manages to pull off a second season finale that balances the comedic and the serious so beautifully; I had thought season 1’s “Dial M for Mother” had set the high-water mark for that kind of thing, but this season’s “Double Trouble” manages to top it. The Archer season 2 Blu-ray looks and sounds phenomenal. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that modern digital animation looks great in high-definition, and Archer does not disappoint in this regard. As with the first season, I felt like the soundtrack was a bit underutilized (with the 5.1 track becoming DTS-HD on the Blu-ray instead of 5.1 Dolby Digital on the DVD), but it supports this dialogue-heavy show beautifully, ensuring everyone’s voices are clear and well-placed even when they’re tossing in asides off-camera (as Krieger does repeatedly during the baby shower of “Blood Test”). There’s a nice “season play” feature, which adds a few small but much appreciated niceties to the ubiquitous “Play All” menu option, and there are sensible chapter stops placed within each episode to allow you to skip beginning or end credits if you want. The first disc of the set contains the first 8 episodes of the season, with the second disc absorbing the remaining 5 and all the bonus features. “Archersaurus – Self-Extinction” takes the poor reception for the “unaired pilot” from the first season home video release and turns it into something far funnier, to the point where I find myself hoping they figure out how to work the gag into the inevitable home video release of the third season. “Ask Archer” has the title character answering questions submitted by readers, and it’s as giggle-worthy as it sounds (especially with the background thread of Archer’s interactions with his manservant Woodhouse). “Semper Fi” has Archer recording a greeting to an Army platoon serving in Afghanistan, with a lot of the humor coming from the fact that they won’t even cut those guys any slack. “L’Espion Mal Fait” is probably the funniest bonus feature, spinning an alternate line of events from “Stage Two” to see what would happen if Archer actually looked like his voice actor H. Jon Benjamin. It’s not pretty, but it’s screamingly funny. Finally, “ISIS Invades Comic-Con” shows highlights from the Archer panel at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con; it’s amusing, but I get the sense that it was a whole lot funnier in person. Archer: The Complete Season Two provides more laughs per dollar than almost any animated DVD I’ve seen all year (with the only serious challenger being Adventure Time: My Two Favorite People). There isn’t a weak episode in the bunch, and the Blu-ray presents them beautifully. In other words, you should get Archer: The Complete Season Two because it is cool and awesome and really freaking funny and I love it.