Archer: The Complete Second Season

(2011) *** 1/2 Unrated
286 min. FX. Cast: H. Jon Benjamin, Jessica Walter, Amber Nash, Judy Greer, Lucky Yates, Chris Parnell, Adam Reed.

/content/films/4279/2.jpgFX's spy spoof Archer nods to James Bond, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and, improbably, the 1973/1976 Burt Reynolds two-fer that is White Lightning and Gator (Chuck Norris who?). The animated Archer shares with the 1965-1970 live-action sitcom Get Smart roughly the same ratio of silliness and satire, which is to say heavy on the former and light on the latter. But if Adam Reed's cartoon betrays nostalgia in its pop-cultural points of reference, then it reflects its time in audacious attitude, with jokes mostly reliant on sex, violence and other offenses to delicate sensibilities (would you believe...cancer jokes?).

The thirteen episodes of Archer's second season, aired on FX, keep it fresh by taking a number of tacks. The season begins with a sex farce, "Swiss Miss," in which Sterling Archer (series M.V.P. H. Jon Benjamin), the man from ISIS, must fend off the advances of a sixteen-year old German girl (guest star Kari Wahlgren) under his protection. In large part, the series is an absurdist workplace comedy, with plots involving budget cutbacks or even a potential buyout by rival spy agency ODIN. Aptly described by one character as a "hostile work environment," ISIS is home to Archer's mother Malory (Jessica Walter); his sexy ex Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler), a highly capable agent; sex-addicted comptroller Cyril Figgis (Chris Parnell); openly gay agent Ray Gillette (Reed); rubber-cement-addicted secretary Cheryl Tunt (Judy Greer); undersexed HR director Pam Poovey (Amber Nash); and lab-bound mad Doctor Krieger (Lucky Yates). (At home, Archer has his own "Alfred" in Woodhouse, a British valet played by TV vet George Coe).

The more office-bound stories also presumably enable the show to occasionally throw its resources into complicated action sequences, of which Season Two has a few, most notably a snowmobile chase in the opener, a car chase set within the Monaco Grand Prix, and the hilarious spy-jinks of "White Nights," a Russia-set spoof of the 1985 film (with an apology to Die Hard). Like The Simpsons, Archer functions on an unlikely, if not impossible, chronology: though set in modern times, the swanky style is entirely '60s-based (though Archer's deadpan square-jawed squareness evokes Max Cannon's '50s-riffing alt-weekly comic strip Red Meat), and the episode "The Double Deuce" claims, elaborately, that Woodhouse is a WWI vet (perhaps he knows Mr. Burns).

/content/films/4279/1.jpgSeason Two guest stars include Clarke Peters (The Wire, Treme), the late Charles Napier (The Critic), Joan Van Ark (Knots Landing) and Darren Criss (Glee), as well as special guest stars Jeffrey Tambor, Rachael Harris (The Hangover), Ona Grauer (Stargate), and Running Wilde's Peter Serafinowicz (doing his best Michael York). The presence of Walter, Tambor, and Serafinowicz betrays Archer's strong attitudinal connection to the work of Arrested Development and Running Wilde creator Mitch Hurwitz. Content-wise, Reed likes it out on the edge, as evidenced by the episodes “Stage Two” and "Placebo Effect," essaying the jerky dingbat antihero Archer's bout with breast cancer. Despite the high degree of difficulty, "Stage Two" is probably the season's single-funniest episode (in a run-off with "White Knights")—not because of its subject matter, but for its verbal and rhythmic acrobatics, which get a "10" even from the East German judge. More than the situations in this situation comedy, the sprint of wits is where Archer lives.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 12/27/2011

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Archer looks beautiful on Blu-ray, blazingly brilliant in color and sharp as a tack in contrast and detail. That well-nigh flawless image shares disc space with value-adding lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes that are crystal clear and surprisingly muscular when any action kicks up (also the snappy, snazzy music).  The handful of bonus features don't take long to consume, but they're fun. Most are bonus shorts: the insane parody trailer “Archersaurus – Self-Extinction” (3:09, HD), viewer Q&A “Ask Archer” (4:58, HD), Army shoutout “Semper Fi” [sic] (1:47, HD) and self-reflexive joke on series star H. Jon Benjamin “L’espion Mal Fait” (5:19, HD). The closest thing to a behind-the-scenes feature is the enjoyable “ISIS Infiltrates Comic-Con” (13:39, HD), preserving the Q&A panel with Amber Nash, Judy Greer, Chris Parnell, Aisha Tyler, H. Jon Benjamin, and creator Adam Reed (Parnell and Greer wish they weren't there, seemingly, but the rest are game to answer lame questions).

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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