Movie Metters tend to like outrageous things, and “Archer” seems to be especially popular with our audience.
When I reviewed Season 1 of “Archer,” the animated spy spoof that airs on FX, I called it a curious blend of office humor and James Bond parody, with a little “Arrested Development” thrown in for good measure. It was outrageous, irreverent, and laugh-out-loud funny.
By Season 5, it’s still as outrageous and irreverent as ever. But funny? Not so much. Amusing is a better word for it, because by now, the characters’ schtick has gotten a little too familiar. It’s as if the writers started to think that outrageous situations and behavior were enough to generate laughs—so much so that they neglected the dialogue. And really, there’s still so much potential here:
Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin, “Family Guy”) is the highly skilled but self-involved playaholic secret agent working for ISIS—a private International Secret Intelligence Service. Much of the humor revolves around the office, and yes, you’ll be reminded of Steve Carrell’s bunch—though this group is considerably edgier. After all, half of them are agents, while the rest are support staff who clearly know too much. Even when they’re in the field—which is pretty much the entire season—there’s still that office banter.
The lead female agent is Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler, “The Boondocks,” “24”), Archer’s ex-girlfriend who has a habit of dressing and acting like she’s a Bond Girl with weapons, even if she’s just hanging around the water cooler. This season she’s pregnant, and that gives the artists plenty to work with. Then there’s Pam (Amber Nash), the full-figured HR director who in earlier seasons used a dolphin puppet to make a point, and this time around is a cocaine addict. She’s even more over-the-top (perhaps too much so?) this season than in previous ones. Then there’s geeky Cyril (Chris Parnell), the wheelchair-bound (and this season mostly naked) Ray (Adam Reed) and superscientist-doctor Krieger (Lucky Yates). And of course there’s ISIS head Malory Archer—who just happens to be Archer’s domineering mother. Fans of “Arrested Development” will delight in the fact that Jessica Walter, who played the matriarch of the Bluth clan, is the mother here, and is readily recognizable in her character’s poses and sarcastic comments. Her son, really, is a combination of the savvy Michael, the momma’s boy Buster, and the screw-up Job from “Arrested Development”–but with the savoir faire, devil-may-care and self-absorbed attitude of that French spy, OSS 117.
Like OSS 117, Archer says whatever comes into his mind, even (especially?) if it’s politically incorrect. But so do the others, and his mother can be especially brutal. Bond had a certain class, even as he bedded enemy agents, but Archer? He’s not above seducing and sleeping with a woman who’s on her honeymoon, or swinging both ways. Bond drank martinis that were shaken, not stirred, but Archer is no snob when it comes to liquor. Give him a bottle of anything and he’ll slog it down. Even rubbing alcohol. But he can be deadly when you least expect it. Just don’t stand too close.
The main plot this season turns on the ISIS acquisition of a buttload of cocaine that they try to dispose of, while at the same time fleeing prosecution for operating a spy agency that’s privatized and not connected with the government. The through-line this season isn’t nearly as compelling as previous ones, and you’d think that a buttload of cocaine would liven things up more than it does. But the writers tend to grab for low-hanging fruit and the whole drug-lord fugitive thing seems like one big forced joke that’s worthy of an episode, maybe, but not an entire season.
Given the drop-off, some fans may be tempted to take a pass on Season 5, but that would be a mistake. Some of the characters develop in ways that are carried forward into Season 6, and besides, even tepid “Archer” is more outrageous and fun than most of what we see animated on TV. I mean, how else can you describe a show in which one character turns cokehead, another takes a turn as a country singer, Kenny Loggins shows up to performe “Danger Zone,” a woman gives birth while training an automatic weapon on everyone, and South American dictators figure prominently?
The animation and backgrounds are so striking that fans will be glad that it’s presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio, stretched to fill out every square inch of a widescreen TV. Colors are bold as the characters and the edges are precise enough so you can see the wide swaths of inking used. In other words, “Archer: Season 5” looks super in HD.
The audio is just as rich: a booming English DTS-HD MA 5.1 that regularly involves the effects speakers and handles all the shouting and overlapping dialogue with precise channeling. The bass rocks when it needs to, and the mid-range tones and treble are just as clean and clear and powerful. Subtitles are in English SDH, Spanish and French.
There aren’t a lot of bonus features to go with these 13 episodes, and I have to admit that I didn’t care for what’s here: a “Midnight Blues” music video by Cherlene Tunt (Greer, in character), an in-character interview with Tunt on “Wake Up Country,” and “Old Pam Poovey Had a Farm, The Musical” featuring Nash in character. The three of them are deleted scenes, really.
“Archer: Season 5” is still entertaining, in large part because of the character history that’s brought to the table and because of the incredibly captivating animation and art design—a combination of hyperrealistic backgrounds and “Jonny Quest” style characters. But “Archer Vice” isn’t as funny as previous seasons. Pictured below is the Blu-ray cover, so don’t be confused by the close-up of Archer on a protective slipcase that you’ll see on the shelves.