Tuned In: "Archer" aims for adult humor, character development
To be a fan of FX's adult animated comedy "Archer," one must appreciate absurd humor, silly office politics, spy movie conventions and a good sex joke, because that's all part of the package in this sly animated series that begins its 13-episode second season Thursday at 10 p.m. on FX.
Starring: H. Jon Benjamin, Aisha Tyler.
Created by Adam Reed, who writes all the scripts, and executive produced by Matt Thompson -- the same team responsible for Adult Swim's 2006-08 series "Frisky Dingo," a similar show that used superhero rather than spy stories for its backdrop -- "Archer" hits the comedy bull's-eye with smart, provocative writing.
In the season premiere, "Swiss Miss," Archer (voice of H. Jon Benjamin) has to protect the underage daughter of a potential Swiss investor in ISIS, the spy agency run by his mother, Malory (Jessica Walter, "Arrested Development"). Archer has a reputation with the ladies but once he learns the age of his charge, he's hands-off, except that she keeps coming onto him and other ISIS team members keep catching him in unintentionally compromising positions.
"I can't be alone," Archer says. "That's when she strikes like a slutty little ninja!"
Actress Aisha Tyler ("Ghost Whisperer"), who voices buxom spy Lana Kane, said it's the writing that drew her to "Archer."
"I read about three pages of the pilot for this show and said 'Yes' because it was so funny and it was so filthy," she said, laughing, at an August press conference in Beverly Hills, Calif. "I felt as if the heavens had opened and a pony had fallen into my lap and then the pony was a script for this show. ... It has that combination of what we used to call, 'the thinky and the stinky.' It's an intellectual show and it's also really, really dirty, and it's for grown-ups."
In its first season, "Archer" began to evolve into a serialized comedy with relationships changing over time, something not as often seen in animation where characters tend to remain the same (Bart Simpson never ages on "The Simpsons," after all).
"The show works best when it does have overarching storyline, and the characters have to learn something," Mr. Thompson said. "I love the shows like 'The Simpsons' and 'Family Guy' and stuff, but that's not this show. I hope that you won't come back a year later and say, 'I am completely bored by Archer. He's just doing the same thing over and over again.'"
For the show's new season, Archer discovers he has an illegitimate child and viewers will learn more about Archer's father. Archer may also get a femme fatale Russian spy girlfriend.
"The way I always think of him is he's the guy that is naturally born and can do absolutely anything he wants," Mr. Thompson said of the show's sometimes dense, sometimes tactically smart title character. "If he wanted to, he could be an Olympic swimmer, but he chooses to have a lot of drinks and lay around a lot, and that makes him naturally somewhat unintelligent sometimes. But then, as soon as he feels like he wants to be intelligent, he just gets off his [rear end] and does something."
To draw the show, producers cast models for all the roles. Illustrators use pictures of the models as a guide when animating the series. Pam, the ISIS human resources director who's been described as "a sturdy lesbian," is based on one of Mr. Thompson's friends and voiced by actress Amber Nash.
"I live in Atlanta and she does, too, and she's a wonderful woman," Ms. Nash said. "She owns a home furnishings store. ... So I see her all the time and she's like, 'Pam, it's me, Pam.'"
Perhaps what makes the show most distinctive is the way "Archer" balances its comedy with action scenes. Thompson said both are necessary.
"It does walk a line. It can't be a regular comedy script. Adam Reed writes all the shows but he and I talked about it a lot and it's tricky because if you write a script and it doesn't have some tension and doesn't have consequences, [it doesn't work]," Mr. Thompson said. "We've tried to get some other writers to write the show and we always get these really funny scripts that have nothing to do with the show. No tension, no drama. It has to be a balance between comedy and telling a spy story."
In addition, the show uses the "Frisky Dingo" conceit that its backdrop -- the world of spies -- is only a portion of the whole package.
"It was largely about superheroes and really about the minutiae of office work and I think a lot of those components 'Archer' shares," Thompson said. "When it's really working, it's about the mother-son relationship, it's about espionage and it's about boring office politics. When the show can do all three of those things, it really works well."
First Published January 23, 2011 12:00 am