Tuned In

TV Tonight: Archer

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Though I’ve fallen behind on The Venture Brothers, I tend to watch more Adult Swim than I blog about here. Partly because so many of the late-night toons are difficult to describe to the uninitiated, partly because people who love them already really love them, and people who don’t, or wouldn’t, tend to tune out when I evangelize for them.

But tonight Adult Swim—or at least the Adult Swim sensibility—is grabbing for a mass audience, or at least a more-mass audience. Spy parody Archer, from the producers of Frisky Dingo, debuts tonight on FX. If you’re a fan of offbeat live-action comedies, I suggest you try it; and even if it doesn’t grab you at first, I suggest you stick with it.

Drawn in a heavy-lined, Flash-animation style, Archer is something like a dirty Get Smart, with equal elements of Arrested Development and Better Off Ted. Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) is an agent with the International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS), which is both a spy agency and something of a family business, headed by his controlling mother, Malory (Jessica Walter). (Another AD connection: Judy Greer voices Cheryl, a secretary with self-esteem so low, she frequently changes her name to “Carol,” or whatever it’s been mispronounced as most recently.)

There’s the requisite amount of spyplay in this raunchy sitcom—you got your poison pen-darts, etc.—but it’s really more about office politics and entanglements. Archer is the bluff, lunkheaded star of ISIS, who’s worked his way up the ladder and through the directory of female staff. (Benjamin perfectly captures his arrogance, even if it is weird at first to hear the voice of Home Movies’ Coach McGuirk coming from a handsome spy.) But he’s saddled with an insulting code name (“Duchess”), an awkward relationship with an ex-girlfriend (Aisha Tyler) who’s dating the accountant (Chris Parnell), and a too-tight apron-string connection to Malory. And James Bond never had to file a complaint with human resources.

The first episode is, maybe to grab the young-guy audience, heavier on the sexplay and lighter on the laughs. But two or three episodes in, the characters and dynamics come together, and the show really begins to kill. Literally and figuratively, but mostly figuratively.

Chuck is still around but Better Off Ted looks like it will not be with us much longer. If you want your action parody and office sitcom all in one, Archer may well be the spy you’ll love.