Nights In

Netflix binge: archer

Right, so you’ve devoured Orphan Black and there’s nothing good on TV apart from New Year’s Eve and New Years Day. What to do? For those amongst you who like your comedy razor sharp, utterly filthy and animated, look no further…

I started Archer with high expectations, mostly due to having the talents of H. Jon Benjamin (Bob’s Burgers) and Jessica Walter (Arrested Development) on board. To be honest, mine (along with many others’) interests were piqued when the name of the fictional spy agency in the show made headlines: the international secret intelligence service. Or ISIS, if you didn’t get that right away. Season six of the show is about to air, and the name change is all the politically correctness that we’ll get.

Archer centres on the unfortunately-named spy agency ISIS and their idiotic “master spy”, Sterling Archer. Think James Bond if he’d been dropped on his head, and then totally over-protected by his mother all his life. When he’s not attempting to spy on Bad Guys in various exotic locations, he’s cosying up to the women in his office. His ex-girlfriend Lana (Aisha Tyler) proves time and time again to be the competent spy, but the head of ISIS (Jessica Walter), as Archer’s Mom, hinders that somewhat…

If you like your spy shows deliberately set in a certain time or place, Archer is not for you. Deliberately confused, the show mixes 1960’s attire with references to the Cold War, but also features mobile phones and computers. This is, of course, deliberate, and it’s just another part of the details that make Archer such a great show. According to creator Adam Reed, the show “cherry-pick[ed] the best and easiest [elements] from several decades” and often this is played for laughs on the show – which brings me to my next reason why it’s great.

Archer is straight-up painfully funny.  It’s whip-smart humour – a world away from the comforting giggles Bob’s Burgers provides. Part of what makes the (black) humour so good is the self-aware nature of it. Characters don’t know what year it is, for example. Another is that the characters become increasingly more stereotypical until it’s almost farcical – like Pam, the ditzy secretary who turns out to be a sex maniac. On that note, Archer is not for the easily offended either – while the show satirises the White Straight Male archetype, it’s often played for somewhat cringeworthy laughs. Sterling Archer’s contempt for the women at ISIS who aren’t his mother makes for toe-curling watching, but more often than not he gets his comeuppance. Delightful.

Comedy is all well and good, but a show won’t hold if it’s a series of gags, one after another. Archer revels in having not only sterling jokes, but solid plotlines and surprisingly well fleshed-out characters. The women aren’t the “sexy lamps” of many a Bond film; Archer himself is both suave and stupid. The plots become more convoluted, technical and serialised as the series progress, meaning it’s something worth getting invested in, unlike most adult animations that tend to wander aimlessly, making us giggle. Archer is a breath of fresh air in many respects – comedy, characters and competency make it a winner. Seasons 1-4 are on Netflix now, hopefully with the reboot – Archer Vice — to follow in 2015.