Friday, April 22, 2011

Archer: Season 2

I've not found much love for cartoon TV since the heyday of Adult Swim, so it was only appropriate that Adam Reed's FX spy show Archer would be the one to bring me back into the fold.  I caught up late on the first season, taking it all in over the course of a week (at 10 episodes, hardly an accomplishment) but was ready to go by the time season two kicked in this past January.  Season one was a winner, enough to hook me on the concept and characters, and it managed a handful of truly hilarious episodes on part with some of Aquateen and Sealab's better work.  What I was fully expecting going into season two was more of the same: more of Archer's oedipal workplace struggle with Mallory, more of Cyril's pathetic freefall, more of Cheryl's erotic asphyxiation urges.  What I wasn't expecting was the drastic deepening of plot and character that makes season two of Archer one of (if not the) best seasons of comedy since Arrested Development was on air.

That's right, I skipped over comparisons to Archer's fellow animated shows and right straight for the AD mention.  Yes, it's an easy one since Jessica Walters, Judy Greer and occasionally Jeffrey Tambor are all on board, but no show since (and much as I liked them, I'm including 30 Rock and Community in this) has been more consistent in its hilarity week in and week out.  It's gotten even better this season, and that's because rather than being content with strictly standalone episodes that aim only for laughs, Archer has allowed the complexities of its character relationships, and the often drastic ramifications of its plot turns, to accumulate, creating not only stronger punchlines, but just plain good storytelling.

It's something that happened several times this season.  The introduction of the Wee Baby Seamus turns out to be something that Archer is going to have to live with, and instead of finding a way to disregard the little bundle of joy, the show finds a way to make it a recurring part of his character experience.  Same goes for the developments of "Stage Two" and the even better followup, "The Placebo Effect" - Archer is saddled with some serious baggage this season, and while it is never less than fucking hilarious, it's also not just going to be written off.

Same goes for the entire cast.  It was a treat this season to watch backstories unfold for the majority of the supporting cast, and nearly all of them (save for Cyril's undercooked father issues) really deepened our insight into what makes these characters tick.  Krieger, who this season overtook Cheryl as my favorite character on the show, turns out to have a rather dark and horrific past, but it all seems to so perfectly define who he is that it doesn't seem cooked up just for laughs.  We even got a much welcome expose on Woodhouse and his lifelong relationship with Archer.  These kind of stories are balanced out by the handful of world-traversing missions that Archer, Lana and Gillette embark on with usually mixed success.  Those episodes trade in some of the hearty laughs for amusing action set-pieces, but they are rarely a letdown and keep the show from slipping into a weekly routine.

Character development and plot aside, Archer is still at its heart just a very very funny show.  Jokes comes in all colors here, and can range from physical comedy (often out on missions) to repulsive humor (Pam) to the myriad out of nowhere pop culture references.  Then there are stunts such as Archer's gut-busting Family Feud interrogation of some warehouse goons all while hooked up to chemo, or Krieger's bizarre antics, especially the creation of his digital bride, and his unfortunate mishap with Len Trexler and Rabbert Klein.  If none of that makes much sense to you, then I envy you, because you clearly have a lot of Archer to catch up on.

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