Archer: The Complete Season Two Review
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Mel Brooks once famously said, “My movies rise below vulgarity,” which is pretty much how I’d sum up Archer. Producer Adam Reed started out at Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network, already famous for some pretty bizarre and risqué animated series, with Sealab 2021 and Frisky Dingo, and he brings much of that sensibility to this combination send-up of James Bond-style spy movies and office-based sitcoms. The animation and action are bold, the dialogue quick and witty, and the humor very, very not-for-kids.

The title character, Sterling Archer, works for a quasi-governmental spy agency called ISIS, which is run by his mother, Malory, and populated by a number of incredibly damaged people, including ex-girlfriend and fellow agent Lana Kane. While Archer may be a consummate action hero, he’s also vain, lecherous, and completely oblivious to everything around him. While there’s plenty of spycraft and explosions, the best parts of the show come from the interactions among the lineup of bizarre supporting characters.

A big part of that success is due to an excellent voice cast, led by H. Jon Benjamin as Sterling. Benjamin’s distinctive tone perfectly suits the character, providing just enough gravitas to keep him from being a complete buffoon. Jessica Walter pretty much imports her character from Arrested Development, playing a mother with severe alcohol and boundary issues, but it works. The rest of the cast members, including Aisha Tyler, Chris Parnell, Judy Greer, and Amber Nash, all turn in big, raunchy performances that frequently beg for a quick rewind, as you’ll be asking yourself “Did he/she really just say that?”

Archer also occupies a unique visual space. The animation style recalls some of the classic ‘70s-era Hanna-Barbera cartoons, but it’s been updated with bolder colors and more fluid movement. The design style echoes that era-bending, as the fashion and technology seem straight out of the ‘60s and ‘70s, though modern-day conveniences like the Internet are clearly available. There’s an impressive level of detail throughout the show, and it benefits greatly from a high-definition presentation.

This second season follows pretty closely the format established by the first. Archer is an episodic comedy series, so there isn’t much in the way of an overarching plot to follow. A few themes are revisited, most notably the identity of Sterling’s unknown father, but there’s little to prevent a new viewer from jumping right in. Most episodes are done-in-one, but there are a couple two-parters, including an excellent storyline that involves Sterling being diagnosed with breast cancer.

Thankfully, the twisted sense of humor that pervades the series also extends to the special features on this Blu-ray set, including a cast interview panel from last year’s San Diego Comic-Con and four animated shorts. The best of these involves Sterling’s nightmare of emergency reconstructive surgery, leaving him with H. Jon Benjamin’s face. As with most episodes, it’s crude, self-aware, and very funny.

As I’ve tried to make clear throughout this review, Archer truly pushes the envelope of what it can get away with, even for a show on basic cable. If that sort of thing discomforts you, then you’ll want to give this show a wide berth. If, like me, you’re just twisted enough to enjoy that sort of thing, then you’ll definitely want to give Archer a shot.

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