For Your Eyes Only

'Archer: The Complete Season Two'

by Ben Travers

25 January 2012

Pull on your black turtleneck and pour yourself a drink -- Archer is back for a second round and he's just as lethal as he was in Season One.
cover art

Archer: The Complete Season 2

(FX Productions, Floyd County Productions, Radical Axis)

Archer, the FX animated comedy about the world’s best and most cocky (innuendo intended) secret agent, is one of the rare shows that came out of the gate in finished form. Instead of evolving over the course of its first few seasons like most comedies, Archer and the gang had an established rapport that only grows funnier with repetition. That recurrence is crucial to both the show’s success and your liking of it. After all, if you didn’t find “That’s how you get ants!” funny the first time, you won’t the second, third, and ninth times, either.

So really there’s nothing I can do to sway you one way or the other after watching, and thoroughly enjoying, season two. It’s very similar to season one – granted, the show mines the darkest depths of comedy with extended storylines involving illegitimate babies and breast cancer – but the jokes, tone, and animation are all nearly identical to the first season.

For fans, this is great news. After all, why mess with perfection? Just throw these vulgarity-spewing comical characters into new, exotic adventures every week and occasionally delve into their past. It’s actually one of the few shows I appreciate for not developing its main character. Archer’s charm is set in his stubbornness. He believes he’s the best, funniest, and most lethal man in the world, and he backs it up almost every week. If he were to develop past this, the show would be over.

So no, I don’t want him to start dating Lana. Nor do I want him to have a real kid—the one that enters in season two is actually the perfect foil for Archer’s talkative, self-centered nature because the child doesn’t force him to abandon it. I want Archer as is for five or six years before either a) the show is canceled, or b) writers to start messing with him to keep the show alive.

Fans will also appreciate the bonus features found on the two-disc set. “Archersaurus – Self-Extinction” is a silly, VH1 Behind the Music-esque short about what it would have been like if a dinosaur was cast as Archer. “L’Espion Mal Fait”, which means translates to something like “The Shoddy Spy”, also takes place in an alternate universe where Archer is left horribly disfigured after an accident. There’s also footage from the group’s comic-con panel, and a (fake?) message to an enlisted man from Archer himself. The best bonus, though, is easily “Ask Archer”, which is exactly what you’d expect – Archer providing hilarious responses to fan mail.

Instead of spending more time deeply analyzing a show whose best qualities are all on the surface, including H. Jon Benjamin’s incredible voice work, let’s start a discussion that’s actually debatable. Where does Archer land on the list of FX comedies? I’m going to make the bold statement that, right now, it’s actually at the top. But let’s break it down.

Archer vs. Wilfred

Would anyone really argue against this? I mean come on. I was barely able to sit through the first four or five episodes of Elijah Wood’s TV remake. For having such a crazily original premise (a suicidal man sees a neighbor’s dog as a man in a dog suit), it’s actually incredibly dull and predictable. The man-dog is a jerk. Elijah is a pansy. Neither seems to learn much from the other, especially considering the dog seems to be secretly sabotaging his “friend’s” life.

Wow. That paragraph made it sound much better than it actually is – easy win for Archer.

Archer vs. The League

What started as a fantasy football comedy as poorly made as it was quickly produced has slowly become acceptably goofy, even if a few characters still haven’t found their funny bones. Leaving no dick joke ignored, The League tries to find charm in its lack of sophistication. Sometimes it works – usually when mumblecore co-founder Mark Duplass and genuinely funny Stephen Rannazzisi share scenes.

But most of the time it doesn’t. Its crude structure, editing, and direction match its crude nature, yes. Yet they’re not as welcome. Many of the group’s intersecting adventures seem forced, and yet somehow also predictable. Archer is almost as crude, but the sharp animation and professional voice work make it all the better. Advantage Archer.

Archer vs. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

OI, I know it’s unfair to compare a show that’s about to start it’s third season and one that’s just finished its seventh. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphis will have the edge on Archer for at least three more years because it’s first five seasons were iconically great. Seinfeldian in its mentality, yet darker in tone and topics, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphis delivered uproarious laughs and scathing social commentary at a furious speed.

Yet in the past few years, it’s become sporadically entertaining. Episodes like “Chardee MacDennis: The Game of Games” and “How Mac Got Fat” start off well with a classic Sunny premise, but end poorly with a whimper instead of a bang. The troop seems to be searching for new things to say, and I’m worried they’ve exhausted their commentary.

So right now, Archer’s week-to-week consistency gives it the edge.

Archer vs. Louie

OK, here’s where I’m really going to piss people off. Before I do, though, let me say this: the first season of Louie would crush the first season of Archer. When I reviewed season one of Louis C.K.’s critical smash, I said the following: “While not an outright masterpiece, Louie has all the signs of something that could become one down the road. If C.K. wants to trim out the few bits that don’t work and streamline his structure just a tad, his show could become required viewing. He may not want to, though. This is clearly his show and it’s just as obvious he has no qualms with alienating those who don’t dig it.”

Well, I was both right and wrong. He clearly did not want to streamline his half-hour episodes in the slightest. He wanted to make them more challenging, more open, and more experimental. He succeeded in that absolutely. But he lost me along the way.

I’m all for original programming. I’m all for experimenting with accepted genres, structures, and themes. I’m not ok with watching Louie sing-a-long with the entire song, “Who Are You” and passing it off as groundbreaking television. Now, his sit-down talk with Dane Cook was absolutely astounding. It broke the fourth wall in a way I’ve never seen before. But for every 11-minute segment like “Tickets”, there’s one like “Country Drive”. In fact, I felt there were probably more like the latter than the former, and it became tiresome to sit through the failures to get to the gems.

In a recent panel for TV critics, C.K. said he wanted his audience to engage on some level with this show. He said they don’t have to be laughing, but they need some form of “extreme” reaction. If he didn’t get that, he would throw in more jokes. I’m glad he’s conscious of his goals and proud of his achievements. Someone SHOULD be out there f***ing with the accepted standards and succeeding. I guess I just want more jokes while he’s at it.

Victor: Archer

Go ahead. Leave your disapproving comments below. I’ve made my case.

Archer: The Complete Season 2


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