Adult Swim created a new language for cartoons. From the style of animation (which combined old school cell animation with new digital technology) to the nonsense plots that would often run for fifteen minutes or less, it’s a formula that has become something of a standard – until then, animated shows often went The Simpsons route. Archer, the FX adult cartoon show, is a mixture of both, but with a lot of that Adult Swim style. It’s no surprise that creator Adam Reed also worked on Space Ghost Coast to Coast and Sealab 2021.
The show stars H. Jon Benjamin as Archer, the would-be Bond spy for ISIS, a spy organization run by his mother (Jessica Walter). There he works with fellow spy Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler), desk girls Cheryl Tunt (Judy Greer) and Pam Poovey (Amber Nash), and with Lana’s former lover Cyril Figgis (Chris Parnell). The show mixes spywork with the clash of office mates, most of whom are functionally insane. Our review of the second season of Archer on Blu-ray follows after the jump.
As was established in the first season, there’s a dynamic that’s already there and it’s maintained in this season. Archer (Benjamin) is kind of a dick, but someone who was raised poorly by his mother (Walter), so you have sympathy for him, but only so much. His mother is vain, and Walter plays her as a subtle variant on her Arrested Development character, Lucile Bluth. The sole voice of reason is usually Lana, who has to put up with Archer’s annoying habits, and reminders that they used to be lovers, though it seems Cyril was no better when it came to pathos. And Cheryl and Pam – like Adam Reed’s gay helper Ray Gillete, and Lucky Yates’ mad scientist Dr. Kreiger – are used mostly as punchlines.
Though for the most part the show has very little continuity, there are a number of running elements in this season. Archer has to submit to a paternity test, he also is still wondering if his father is the Russian head of KGB Maj. Nikolai Jackov (Peter Newman), and still hates Barry Dillon (Dave Willis), who is a rival spy – even though Archer has gotten some revenge on him (as is mentioned, he previously sodomized his ex-fiancée). But perhaps the most interesting element of the show is how it gives Archer breast cancer. Though there are some funny elements to this, it’s also got some weirdly touching elements too, even if they involve Archer getting really, really high.
It also suggests the problem with the show, which is that it’s great when it does engage in continuity and when the episodes build on each other, but more often than not they hit the reset button, and it’s like nothing matters. After a while, you want to latch on to things a little more than this second season allows you to. Still, they’re getting better at building the world.
But the jokes are funny, and they’ve figured out a lot of the tricks of doing a season, from giving supporting characters spotlight episodes (Parnell gets a good episode where his competence is questioned, Archer’s butler gets an origin story), and they’ve enriched the characters with stronger backgrounds. And the world is fascinating in that the show reflects some modern technology mixed with the cold war aesthetic. In some ways the show feels like it’s set in the 1980s, or sometimes the 1960s, while maintaining a contemporary feel. That works for the show, and our continuing love affair with convert ops. Though as a show it rests slightly above “good time-waster,” it feels like they’ve really pulled it together, and my guess is that Season Three (which just premiered) is that much stronger.
Fox’s Blu-ray presents all thirteen episodes of season two over two discs with every episode in widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 Master audio. As this was made on a computer, the transfers are as they were done, so it looks perfect. HD does this material well – there’s no fuzziness or soft edges here.
All of the supplements are on disc two, with almost all of them jokes. The first extra is “Archersaurus – Self Extinction” (3 min.) which tells of how the original pilot starred a dinosaur. “Ask Archer” (5 min.) has the main character taking questions from fans, “Semper Fi (2 min.) has Archer saluting real troop members, “L’espion Mal Fait” (5 min.) gives Archer an elaborate dream sequence where he looks like H. Jon Benjamin, and finally there’s “ISIS infiltrates Comic-con” (14 min.) which lets Reed and his actors talk about the show to the fans.