Shiny Shelf

Archer: The Complete Season Two DVD

By Mark Clapham on 26 March 2012

Good elements for a workplace sitcom: a high pressure situation to drive comedic plots, a cast of colourful characters with contrasting agendas, and a delusional, titanically self-absorbed main character.

It’s a formula that has worked for plenty of comedies from ‘Fawlty Towers’¬† to ‘The Office’, and while animated comedy ‘Archer’ may be set in the world of espionage its the character conflict that makes it funny.

Superspy Sterling Archer is James Bond, an already egotistical and selfish character, turned up to eleven in terms of swollen ego but also forced to deal with exactly the kind of banal realities – a bossy mother, snarky co-workers – that don’t exist in 007’s glamorous bubble.

The series avoids the easy laugh of making Archer incompetent, and instead he’s every bit the efficient action hero and irresistible to women that Bond is, but also exactly the kind of insufferable jerk you’d expect someone with those abilities to become. It’s a contrast perfectly expressed in H Jon Benjamin’s vocal performance, which is both seductively deep and whinily petulant.

Writer/creator Adam Reed has surrounded Archer with a strong cast of supporting characters at spy agency ISIS, including Archer’s boss (and mother) Malory Archer (Jessica Walter) and various bitchy, deranged and bitchily deranged colleagues.

With the possible exception of fellow agent and sometime love interest Lana, all the staff of ISIS have their own selfish fixations that drive them, from accountant Cyril’s sex addiction to scientist Krieger’s unsavoury personal experiments, and many of the plots and sub-plots of the show are driven by the tensions these personal vices create. They’re the petty character clashes of any workplace, but writ fantastically large and especially funny when contrasted with the world-threatening odds of ISIS’ espionage work.

The animation is sharply retro, with a classic comic strip style but modern animation technique that fits with the show’s deliberately vague setting, which combines a general 60s Cold War atmosphere with 80s computers and modern mobile phones.

It’s a great show to look at, evocative of ‘The Man from UNCLE’ and other period spy pieces, and that atmosphere is delivered straight enough to appeal to fans of the genre. There’s also¬† just enough tension – as well as gags – in the action scenes to make them exciting as well as funny.

‘Archer’ is a very dense show: in the course of this thirteen-episode second season Archer discovers he has a child, recovers from cancer, and goes on a quest to find his father that ends in a particularly unexpected way. Rather brilliantly, instead of having the throwaway approach to continuity taken by virtually every animated comedy since ‘The Simpsons’, ‘Archer’ turns throwaway references into running jokes – after Archer gets an ill-advised tattoo in one episode, it appears every time he takes his shirt off. It’s a contradictory, ahistorical fictional universe, but strangely consistent too.

In spite of that level of attention to detail, ‘Archer’ never gets bogged down by that kind of thing, with snappy pacing and super-short episodes that, watched on DVD, just fly by one after another. Espionage fans who like the tongue-in-cheek side of the genre, and who are up for some sharp and sometimes harsh laughs, will tear through this season in no time. It’s smart fun.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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