Review: Archer Season Two
January 27th, 2011
In December, as the semester wound down, I took the opportunity to catch up on a show that I honestly hadn’t given much thought to when it premiered.
As I am now aware, I really had no excuse to avoid FX’s Archer – which returns for its second season tonight at 10/9c – the first time around. Its cast features numerous people who I enjoy (like Chris Parnell, Judy Greer and Jessica Walter), the spy genre seems like something with plenty of comic potential, and people I usually trust on Twitter, and in the world of television criticism in general, approved of the show.
However, I didn’t watch because it plays into two categories which I am less likely to actively seek out. The first seems particularly strange considering that I was raised on The Simpsons, but animation has not been a part of my more critical relationship with television. I stopped watching The Simpsons at around the same time I started watching everything else under the sun, and since I didn’t have access to Adult Swim or the Cartoon Network it wasn’t as though I was in a position to test emerging shows out at random. I just sort of stepped away from the form, not out of a lack of appreciation so much as a lack of habit. The other reason, meanwhile, is that I don’t tend to lean towards the particularly vulgar – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is low on my catchup list because its brash nature just doesn’t fit my general comic sensibilities, and so Archer’s reputation for being particularly “rude” meant that I did not necessarily rush out to see how it was working.
Perhaps it was that I was in the midst of finishing papers and in need of an outlet for expletives and insensitivity, or maybe I’m just being saltier as I get older, but mainlining the first season of Archer along with the first seven episodes of the second season was a whole lot of fun. While the show may be aiming for offensive in quite a few circumstances, it always seems primarily concerned with being smart – in its second season, in particular, the show manages to maintain a sense of excess despite having become a tighter, more well-oiled machine between seasons.
The result is a show that makes me laugh a great deal, and one which always leaves me wanting more (which is both a blessing and a curse, as always).
Archer, like many traditional sitcoms, just sort of ends. Episodes of the show rarely come to any sort of larger resolution, in many instances because things have spiraled so far out of control that to attempt to resolve things in a more complete fashion would cause some form of hernia. The absurd nature of some of the series’ storylines makes this particular style perfectly acceptable, but I’ll admit that I always felt as though I wanted to see more. I sort of wanted to see how the mess created by an episode might be cleaned up, and always felt just a little bit disappointed when the next episode would just pick up as if the previous episode had (for the most part) not happened.
In fact, I have a hard time imagining what it would be like to watch this show week-to-week. Don’t get me wrong: the seven episodes of the second season which I’ve seen are all very funny, and despite their largely standalone nature they each create a compelling comic scenario or three which gave me great pleasure. However, when an episode just sort of ended without any sense of resolution, I was able to move onto the next episode without any hesitation: I watched the first season over the course of just a few days, and did the same with the seven episodes FX sent to critics, and thus never had that seven day (or more) period where there was no new episode of Archer (and had gorged on so much of the show in such a short period in time that the delay between the screeners and the eighth episode in two months won’t be so bad). I know the show works when mainlined, but I really have no idea how it would work within a more traditional schedule.
This makes it seem as though I’m dissing the show, suggesting that individual episodes are mere tasting portions and never feel like enough of a meal to satisfy viewer demand, but two things. First, that’s actually a great way to build a fanbase: who wouldn’t want to leave their audience wanting more, and to build unhealthy anticipation for the next episode (or season)? And, secondly, I actually think that S2 ups the ante a bit in terms of building the show’s comic depth. The first season was strong, but certain elements did feel like the show finding its legs. This season there is a real confidence in the storytelling, and the result is that the show feels incredibly familiar while also feeling just a tad bit more versatile. Pam is more integrated into the core group, with Amber Nash getting a deserved place in the opening credits, Ray Gillette (voiced by creator Adam Reed) becomes more prominent, and Woodhouse (George Coe) even gets a back story.
Through it all, though, the show never stops to offer any reasoning or explanation for any of it. Even when a more substantial ongoing character element (which I’ll allow you to discover for yourself) is introduced, its return is not the sign of some sort of seismic shift. The show treats such changes with a general sense of disinterest, clearly demonstrating an understanding of the benefits of adding depth while simultaneously suggesting that it doesn’t give a frak about depth. The show still moves at a breakneck pace, it still delights in taking its characters to the limits of sexual depravity possible on basic cable, but there is still plenty of evidence that Reed and co. understand the delicate balance necessary to make the show work.
I don’t think I could write about this show weekly even if I had the time – Todd VanDerWerff will be doing the honors at The A.V. Club, so I hope that that will do for those who are interested in such coverage. For me, each episode goes by so fast that I’m more like to sit back and enjoy, to tweet a couple of basic reactions (or drop in on Todd’s comment section) and let the episode stand on its own merits. While I think that there’s nuance here, nuance that might not be apparent if you simply skim the surface of the series, let this review be my acknowledgement of its presence.
And let my continued viewership be my acknowledgement of how funny Archer can be.
- I truly believe that the only reason Amber Nash wasn’t in the opening credits last season was because her name doesn’t have a place for the bouncing ball to go. The (slightly) adjusted credits find a way to make it work, but I remember being really entertained when I first realized how convenient it was that each name had a letter where the ball could go.
- Whenever I see the word “Yep,” Aisha Tyler’s voice creeps into my head. Such a vicious earworm of a line reading, that is.
- Do people have a favorite episode of Archer? The episodes all sort of blended together for me, to the point where I think the two seasons became one in my head, but I’m curious if those who have had more time to ruminate on the season have one episode in particular which stands out.
- I presume that only the nerdiest among us will follow this logic, but H. Jon Benjamin : Animated Comedies :: Nolan North : Video Games.
- For more on Archer, do check out Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan’s chat with creator Adam Reed – Mo and Ryan are always great with special guests, and Reed is no exception.