In 10 Words or Less
The best [adult swim] cartoon today (airing on FX though)
Loves: Sealab 2021, Chris Parnell
Likes: Aisha Tyler, H. Jon Benjamin
Dislikes: [adult swim]'s current animation line-up
Hates: Sterling Archer
SeaLab 2021 was one of the classics developed for the [adult swim] line-up, created by the off-kilter team of Adam Reed and Matt Thompson. The show was marked by a taste for bizarre, dark comedy that could show itself in anyway at any time. The anarchic way the series flowed and moved through its stream of black comedy was brilliant, making the show a true cult hit and one sorely missed by its fans, who are no longer really served by today's [adult swim] line-up. Their next project, Frisky Dingo kept the same strange notes, but was packaged in a slick new animation style, with more of a focus on storytelling. Though it was entertaining, it was no SeaLab 2021. No, that would have to wait until Reed brought his new series, Archer, to FX.
Sterling Mallory Archer (voiceover gold H. Jon Benjamin) is a slick superspy and all-around ladies man, but he's also a massive momma's boy and generally a lazy screw-up. But somehow, he's built a reputation as the best field agent at ISIS, the international spy organization that happens to be run by his mother Mallory (Jessica Walter, Arrested Development.) His ever-present bumbling and general stupidity annoys those he works with, especially his ex-girlfriend, Agent Kane (Aisha Tyler). The series is part spy spoof, part family comedy and part workplace silliness, as Archer has to navigate these worlds he'd rather not be a part of, as they take up his time from sexing the ladies.
Though Archer is the star of the show, he's not the main reason to tune-in. In fact, he's something of a straight man, letting his co-stars shine in their reactions to his behavior. Walter is once again amazing as the worst mother on the planet, while Tyler is perfect as the much more capable agent and tremendously put-upon ex-girlfriend, who's having her own relationship issues, dealing with the very clingy Cyril (Chris Parnell), the agency's nerdy comptroller and her rebound boyfriend. One "Yup" from her can make you laugh (and when Walter imitates her its even funnier.) Meanwhile, always hovering nearby are Pam and Cheryl (Amber Nash and Judy Greer), the big-mouth HR rep and masochistic secretary respectively, who inject their own bit of crazy into every situation. Greer as Cheryl is incredibly ridiculous, looking to sleep with every man or maybe just get choked to orgasm by one of them, but she's a memorable one to be sure.
If it's not obvious, this series is very adult, with shocking dialogue and behavior coming as a regular occurrence (one scene with Archer's sexy immigrant maid being a "Whoa" moment.) There is sex everywhere, with everyone, and it doesn't come off as gratuitous or anything. It's simply funny, because these people, who work for any agency that's supposed to help the world, are just insanely self-absorbed. That's the key element for the first season's 10 episodes, as they can't look beyond themselves for a moment, but if they did, they'd do a much better job as spies. Archer alone costs his co-workers their lives, breaks up their relationships and kills innocent people, simply because he's thinking too much about his expensive turtlenecks. Oddly, for a show that does the spy spoof so well, it also manages to be the best workplace comedy since the early days of The Office as common office topics like HR mediation, diversity policies, sexual harassment, health insurance and headhunting are skewered with ease. The show has a little something for everyone, as long as everyone can deal with violent sex and careless murder.
The first season of Archer is split over two DVDs, which are packed in a standard keepcase with a tray for the second disc and some truly awesome cover art. The discs feature animated, anamorphic widescreen menus offering options to watch all the episodes, select shows, adjust the set-up and check out extras. There are no audio options, but subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish and French.
The series' gorgeous animation style, marked by thick black outlines, flat-colored character models and textured, digitally-painted colors, looks great on DVD, without any issues with compression artifacts, and obviously no dirt or damage, since it was all created digitally.
The audio is delivered by Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks that are just fine for this series, presenting clean, clear dialogue and quality sound effects (there's not a lot of music in the show) but there's hardly anything in the way of dynamic mixing, outside of some minor echoes in a few scenes.
The first extra included is found on the first disc, and it's the unaired pilot for the series. To say much about it is to ruin it. Suffice to say, it's bizarre, as you might expect. Many people may not get very far into it, but if you do, there are moments to reward your patience.
On the second disc, there's a six-part "Making of Archer" featurette, running over 21 minutes, which focuses on the visual elements of the series, including 3D, animation, art direction, backgrounds, illustration and storyboards. The presentations (seemingly made by the team or office being highlighted) are all about the showing, with lots of behind-the-scenes images and footage, so you get an idea of how the cartoons are made, but with a lot of parts (like the writing and acting) missing in action.
Also found on the second disc are a short "Unaired Network Promo," which isn't anything great, but it's definitely Archer, and four small deleted scenes. Nothing too impressive, but if you like dongs, you'll find them here.
In an act of pure promotion, this set also includes the pilot episodes of two other FX comedy series, The League and Louie. Both shows are terrific, but this kind of extra is more of a commercial than bonus content. At least the studio recognized that, tucking them into the special features listing under the umbrella of "much more," instead of padding the back of the box.
The Bottom Line
It would be hard for Reed to top the excellent work he did with Matt Thompson on SeaLab 2021, but after establishing a striking new art style on Frisky Dingo, he paired it with a slightly toned-down version of SeaLab 2021's sense of humor and has created a great new series, aided by a fantastic voice cast. The DVDs look and sound very nice and there's a small dose of extras worth checking out for fans of the show. If you're new to the world of Sterling Archer though, but like twisted, dark comedy, you really should give it a look.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.