In the first season of FX’s animated spy spoof Archer, producers Adam Reed and Matt Thompson crafted a wonderful, perverted world, rich with running gags and meta comedy. Entering its second season with a healthy cult following, Archer needs to avoid relying too heavily on the first season’s dense catalogue of running gags while still playing to its core audience of fans, who have spent the past nine months screaming catchphrases like “Dangah zone!” at every opportunity. And Reed and Thompson do just that, managing an outrageous sophomore season that largely bails on the running gags and cranks up the insanity without sacrificing the show’s deranged wit and dedication to its increasingly neurotic cast of lunatics.
Set in an oddball alternate modern day with ’60s architecture and fashion, ’80s computers, and KGB agents sneaking around like the Cold War never ended, Archer is a workplace comedy that takes place at the international spy agency ISIS. Archer’s success is still largely owed to how well Reed and Thompson exploit their characters’ various neuroses: there’s pill-popping comptroller Cyril’s (Chris Parnell) self-diagnosed sex addiction, glue-chugging assistant Cheryl/Carol’s (Judy Greer) disturbing erotic fantasies of getting choked to death during sex, and Dr. Krieger’s (Lucky Yates) dedication to building the ultimate virtual sex slave. Then, of course, there’s Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin), capable spy, successful ladies man, and resounding, overwhelming asshole extraordinaire.
Much of Archer’s second season concentrates on fleshing out its cast, delving more into their pasts and finding out how they all got to be such emotional train wrecks. We discover that Woodhouse (George Coe), Archer’s beleaguered, mild-mannered servant, was once a World War I hero (making him something like 110 years old), a world traveler, a possible homosexual, and a dope fiend who shot William S. Burroughs’s wife in the head. Some minor characters get a little welcome face time as well, especially gay ISIS intelligence analyst Ray (Reed), with his bottomless well of sass.
Archer gets fleshed out more too. We see that he’d be a better father than you’d expect if forced into the situation and if he learned to not give alcohol to a toddler, and we also get some explanation as to why he turned out to be such a massive dick (hint: Malory Archer, voiced by Jessica Walter, was a terrible, terrible mother). He’s a huge Burt Reynolds fan; he’s afraid of crocodiles, alligators, and aneurisms; and he has an actual moral compass when it comes to sleeping with an underage nymphet (he does ask, however, that she call him the second that she turns 18).
Archer is sleekly animated, has a cool retro design, and writing that manages to be both smart and bawdy all at once, but most of all, it has a fantastic voice cast. Were it not for Benjamin’s brash, self-confidence as Archer, it would be difficult to like the character. And for a show that mostly concentrates on juvenile sex gags, Archer does, at times, achieve a surprising amount of depth. The ISIS team isn’t deranged for the sake of it; they’re deeply damaged people, and learning little nuggets of their past makes you appreciate their wall-eyed insanity, which is a step up from another of Reed and Thompson’s previous efforts, Sealab 2021, where the crew of Sealab was cracked out of their minds just because.