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ARCHER - SEASON ONE - DVD/2 DISCS/ANIMATED COMEDY TV SERIES/2012
Me and my girlfriend spend most nights keeping the neighbours awake.
We're both really into TV comedy and we get our fix in bed every night, not missing our nightly laughfest for ages, it only taking a break when we worked through The Killing. That show wasn't *that* funny.
The same can't be said for Archer - an animated US comedy show thats finally made its way to a UK DVD release after what seems like a lifetime since it first aired in the US a couple of years ago. The series is still airing in the US, its just started its third season, but this DVD captures the ten episodes, each 25 minutes in length across 2 discs - that originally aired on FX in the US in early 2010.
Season 1 and 2 have been aired in the UK, but unfortunately on Channel 5.
Now, Channel 5 have acquired some amazing US TV. Breaking Bad and Ugly Americans - two more hits from the US were snapped up by the broadcaster, as well as Archer but as the channel still has a lot of negativity surrounding it means spotting shows is something you really have to go out of your way to find. As I don't switch over to Channel 5 that often, I don't ever catch any of the ads for up and coming shows - its only by chance or recommendation you'll discover one of these great show just watching the channel. Luckily my TiVo helps me out a little here by recording shows it thinks I like. I was pretty happy to see my TiVo had automatically started recording new episodes Adventure Time last week.
So, to cut my rant about Channel 5 short - its a hidden gem for US TV, hidden under a reputation of Red Shoe Diaries.
Archer is a cartoon, a very good looking cartoon that clearly has a huge number of people working on the visuals alone. Not to mention the writers and voice artists - this is a big show. However, like Matt Groening - this show has one, overbearing brain behind it. In the case of Archer is stalwart of modern American animation Adam Reed.
Adam Reed has become a name in US comedy, specifically in animation. More specifically in animation aimed at adults. Even more specifically Adult Swim.
-------A little bit about Adult Swim------
Adult Swim is an American TV programming block, that functions just as much on TV than it does on the web. It was developed in early 00s as something to show on Cartoon Network during the night, when the kids were in bed and the 'adults could swim'. It quickly made a name for itself - commissioning and airing some really interesting comedy. And some even more interesting stuff that is hard to pin down as comedy, but defiantly unorthodox television. Its boomed in the mid 00s with some of the shows getting films, ratings at their highest and some of the comedy brandings creeping into popular culture and into other shows. The rules Adult Swim have been breaking over the past 10 years have served as the a green light for some US comedy writers to take more chances. The broadcaster have most worked on animated TV, but occasionally and more and more recently worked on live action comedy - with Tim and Eric being on of their biggest hits so far. So much so, Tim and Eric themselves features in an episode of the Simpsons recently.
In the early days of Adult Swim, there were three big shows that were typical of the humor and styling of AS (Adult Swim) - Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Space Ghost Coast To Coast and Sealab 2021 - Sealab 2021 being created by a duo well known around the network - Matt Thompson and Adam Reed. That was about 10 years ago, and although Reed has gone it alone with Archer - the sense of humor is still the same brand that set Adult Swim a-buzzing.
------A little bit about FX------
Archer is made a and broadcast in the US by FX. FX exist in the UK, but the broadcasting is much different over here. The don't have as much a focus on comedy as their US counterparts - modern horror drama like True Blood and The Walking Dead. Both shows are interesting, a bit daring and forward thinking - but only hint at the stuff FX US pumps out, and although they arn't as daring as Adult Swim they are not worried about causing a little fuss - with shows like Its Always Sunny In Philadelphia and Louie being both risky comedy wise. Adult Swim is mainly comprised of episodes of shows only 10 minutes long, and Sealab was no different - so with Archer being much longer and much, much more expensive - FX seems like a natural home.
-----BACK TO WHO-----
You can't mention Adam Reed without explaining is Adult Swim history. The tone he helped set with Sealab 2021 has been echoing ever since is first aired in 2001.
The same can be said for the man behind the voice of Sterling Archer - H. Jon. Benjamin. The voice of this man is instantly recoginisable to fans of US cartoon comedy - hes worked on Dr Katz, Home Movies and Bob Burgers and is a extreme talent. He doesn't usually work infront of the camera (although he has had his own live action show) but he works magic with his voice. He can be hilarious, laid back and hilarious again all within the same joke. He doesn't have a huge range, but what he can do he does very, very well. I read in a interview with a comedy writer who pointed out some of the best actors are terrible voice actors and some actors are just amazing voice actors. H. Jon. Benhjamin is on of the latter - a great, great voice actor.
The show has 6 other main cast members and whilst non are household names - most have been seen on the US TV comedy circuit over the past few years.
Most noticeable is Malory Archer played by Jessica Walters - who was a main cast member of Arrested Development, and Cyrill Figgs played by Chris Parnell - who those that know will find it hard to resist a chuckle just recalling one of his many great onliners as Dr Spaceman in hit US show 30 Rock.
The show has a few other great voices and has had some great guest - most noticeably Burt Reynolds in a recent episode, and each voice actor brings something to the cartoon - really bringing their character to life.
Archer works at a spy agency, known as ISIS. Sterling Archer is one of the two spies working at the agency, ran by his mother, Malory Archer. The other spy at the agency is the sassy, comically endowed and in contrast to Archer, competent, female spy Lana (voiced by Ashia Tyler).
Sterling is not a very good spy. Not that he can't kill a horde of henchmen, break into a bank or takedown a drug lord. He can do all that, and does - but hes also an alcoholic, an idiot and so self obsessed its unreal. His self obsession often getting in the way of job, in a recurring joke he will often stop shooting enemies to complain his black turtle neck is damaged. This is where Adam Reed injects his magic. He takes heightened situations and environments and plonks them right into the real world - spinning real world events and chores along impossibly outrageous situations. You hear just as much complaining about how much paper work their is at a spy agency, as well as how their budget restrictions mean no one can have spy cars. Don't mention the prospect of getting ants at the agency.
The set up is simple. Each episode opens at the agency with a new dilemma for the gang, with Archer usually the centrepiece of this. The either have a mission to undertake, a birthday to plan for - or have to try and cover up a sex tape. Whilst the premise is simple, its the jokes that elevate this show to essential viewing.
These are not typical comedy characters - and don't make for typical comedy. All are either selfish or out of their depth, have their priorities wrong and are very Seinfeldian. Seinfeld is often credited for taking the emotion out of sitcoms with their famous say 'no hugging, no learning' and this is has clearly been influential on Archer - be it consciously or not. Either way, its there.
Comedy wise, the jokes come from every angle - you get bombarded with them. Some visual, some disturbing - always hilarious. Archer never take the easy option, its jokes are usually clever and thought out - and when they are not they are sharp and dangerous. A trick Adam Reed has used in his other shows (Frisky Dingo being made between Sealab and Archer) is create a world of comedy within his shows. Archer may often make a reference, that will be reference throughout the show in a way you'll have to pay attention and set into the grove of the comedy styling as a viewer. One big example of this is when Lana does something 'dangerous' and Archer to undermine her lets her know should call Kenny Loggings as she in the 'Dangerzone', in reference to the song from the Top Gun soundtrack, written by Kenny Loggings. Later in the show Archer will simple say 'daaaangerzone' in a high pitched voice to imply Lana is doing something thats 'dangerous', without any real sense of danger (like when she realizes that despite once being a couple the slept together as single people, Archer letting her know she was entering the 'DAAAAAAAAAANGERZONE)
Each character has their own comedy voice, and while Archers is the loudest - all have something to offer. Whats great about the show is that each character feels like a person rather than just a collection or animated pixels on the screen. They all have their own sense of humor, own call backs and in jokes - and this all works to make Archer a real joke fest.
The first season does have a vague arc that ties the episodes, but you don't need to watch it in order to make sense - however watching from the start is essential for the humor. The tone of the show is set in the first episode, and really builds as the 10 episodes pass.
A few other trick are played to make Archer great. Its set in a time place that is not really that fixed. They try not to make that many reference that set the time and date, but are not scared about using the medium of animation to do crazy things - like tech that could never logically exist. Sometimes the writers play on the notion of 60s/70s spies, and with Archer seeing being a spy as filmy set in this notion - being a suave James Bond esq ladies man, but are not worried about making more modern references to help land jokes.
The show also looks stunning. Its high end and clean, with lots or really nice digital stuff. The makers use usual cartoon skills and cutting edge tech to make some of the set pieces to look brilliant - with lots of the action scenes looking stunning.
The DVD comes with some great extras - deleted scenes and some behind the scenes stuff, usual fare there - but also a pilot episode that serves as one big joke. They set it up to make you think it contains a pilot episode that is actually just the first episode with a velociraptor playing Archer - the makers reveling this was their first attempt at the show, but the network wanted a younger person cast in the lead role. This is quite funny, and is a nice touch - the makers having a little jab at TV producers. The DVD also has a couple of episodes of Louie and The League - two other great FX shows that you can get a taste of
Archer is premium comedy - it really sets a high standard within comedy. The jokes are tight, visually its great and other shows struggle to measure up. I watch lots of comedy shows every week, and Archer is one of the highlights - I usually save it to last as to not make the other usually funny shows look unfunny. It really makes you laugh in places you didn't know you could laugh, hitting you with jokes you just don't expect. Its refreshing, and assuring to see a show being made that is doing something with a tested formula in an interesting way. Shows not everything has to be reproduced or copied and people that can think different are working hard to make their name.
This DVD has just lander in the UK and you can pick up this season on Amazon for about £12 and is worth picking up, and if you like comedy its gets an overwhelmingly big thumbs up from me. It will make you laugh, and cry - with laughter.