Everyone loves the spy genre. There’s a reason why James Bond and Mission Impossible do so well, and it’s because spies are awesome. The problem with most spies though, is that we can’t relate to them. Not only can they do all this awesome stuff, but they’re suave, and refined and sophisticated. That’s where Archer breaks the mold. He may be suave, but he is anything but refined, and he is certainly not sophisticated. This is a spy the common man can relate to, because he is an “everyman” personality, who just happens to be a spy. If things like James Bond and Mission Impossible make you wish you could be a spy, then Archer makes you believe you could be a spy.
The most impressive thing to me about this show is the depth of characters. On the surface, every character on the show is a self-serving, amoral, jerk. Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) is a crass, self-aggrandizing buffoon. Yet he was able to single handedly take down his would-be pursuer (Rip Riley—Patrick Warburton), a shark (by shooting it in the face underwater), and a shipload of pirates. On top of that, throughout the episode, we see glimpses into Archer’s psyche by his outbursts over his murdered wife, and how horrible his childhood was, basically being raised to be a spy. There is a lot going on, and it’s cloaked in this remedial, blue, surface level delivery system that makes it all the more interesting and fun to watch.
The first act (everything before the opening credits) sets up what’s happened the past three months. We’re reintroduced to the old characters, we meet the new guy, Rip Riley Man hunter, (Voiced by Patrick Warburton) and we get the plot of this three part miniseries, which is to get Sterling Archer back to ISIS (the spy organization). It gives us the back-story about the tragic loss of Sterling’s wife, but in keeping with the theme of the show, everyone is very cavalier about the murder. All of the cast, including his mother Mallory, head of ISIS (voiced by Jessica Walters), react and talk about it in very self-serving ways. In response to the secretary stating, “maybe he killed himself” Mallory simply stated, “He wouldn’t do that to me,” giving us a clear view into the dark reality this show is based in.
As the second act begins, we meet Archer for the first time, in a classic state of a person missing on an island for 3 months; he has a full beard and a beautiful woman in his bed. As she leaves, we immediately get to the interaction between Archer and Rip Riley. There is an instant chemistry between Archer and Riley, ala “The Odd Couple” or “Grumpy Old Men,” thanks mostly to the writing team, and voice acting of Patrick Warburton and H. Jon Benjamin. It may surprise you to note that the cast of Archer records all of their voices separately, making the seamless interaction, the back and forth between characters, even more impressive.
One of the things I like most about this show, particularly this episode, is that it goes from being crass and politically incorrect to being emotional and deeply provocative in one swoop. Unless you pay attention, you wont really notice it because the dialogue is being delivered in a very lowbrow form of blunt honesty, but there are some tragic moments in this show. The fact that they don’t put sappy music in those moments, forces the audience to really pay attention to what is happening in the story. This makes the characters relatable in a very subtle way. With this, we’re able to root for characters that on the surface seem unredeemable. Jon Benjamin’s delivery especially makes Archer a loveable oaf that, despite his crude, sexually explicit, no sense of common decency demeanor, mixed in with a certain naïveté (i.e. not understanding that Pirates are a real thing), you have to love the guy.
As the episode progresses, the story starts to become more about the relationship that Sterling and Rip Riley will be having as partners in this journey. We see that Archer, despite his obvious flaws as a human being, is an outstanding spy that is ridiculously good at a job he wants to quit. We learn that Rip was once a member of ISIS, and it’s alluded to that he and Mallory had a physical relationship as well. This will be a topic of discussion within the next to shows.
At the end of the day, Archer is a funny series, showing the darker side of what humor can be. The one-liners and the banter between characters makes audiences feel like they want to be apart of this crew, despite their brutishness and selfishness. They say things that the general public wishes they could say, which makes it a fantasy for people, in a similar vein to watching Curb Your Enthusiasm or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I only hope that the third season will be able to outshine it’s first two, carving in a nice foothold for many more seasons to come.