Archer: Season 2 (US - BD RA)
Gabe revisits the adventures of his favourite sociopath secret agent...
Back in the ‘90s, Matt Thompson and Adam Reed’s 70/30 Productions were partially responsible for the early success of the Adult Swim network, thanks to their popular underwater spoof Sealab 2021. Sealab started strong, but after about a season the joke started to wear thin, and after two seasons Thompson and Reed seemed to lose interest in the show entirely. Like most of Adult Swim’s first generation shows, Sealab stopped being funny, and turned into an almost hateful Dadaist attack. 70/30’s second show, Frisky Dingo, was a serialized spoof of current affairs and comic books. Unlike the largely one-shot Sealab, Frisky Dingo’s first season was both character and plot driven, and a clever statement on the concept of superheroes and villains. The show’s second season was even better, and stands as one of my favourite satires of the American political process ever produced for film or television. The second season ended with a stinger of a cliffhanger, but the show was canceled, and 70/30 Productions disbanded. Soon after, however Adam Reed went to the Fox owned FX channel with a new Flash animated series – Archer.
Archer follows Sterling Archer (H. John Benjamin), a capable, suave, and incredibly sociopathic secret agent. Archer works for his domineering, equally sociopathic mother, Malory Archer (Jessica Walter) at the International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS), a private spy firm based in New York City. Archer’s cohorts include: ex-girlfriend Lana Kang (Aisha Tyler), another capable agent with an actual conscience, ISIS’s nebbish, addictive personality-stricken accountant Cyril Figgis (Chris Parnell), possibly psychotic secretary Cheryl/Carol/Carina/Cristal (Judy Greer), condescending, sex addicted HR director Pam Poovey (Amber Nash), kinky mad scientist Doctor Krieger (Lucky Yates), openly gay and good-natured intelligence analyst Ray Gillette (Adam Reed), and Archer’s pathetic and abused man-servant/butler Woodhouse (George Coe).
‘I'm from Germany, where the age of consent is 14.’
‘What is it, the Alabama of Europe?’
‘In many ways, yes…’
The second season starts with Swiss Miss, which doesn’t exactly feel like a welcome back to the series as much as the next episode in the first season. However, there are plenty of callbacks to things that happened between seasons, and introduces the theme of ISIS being low on funds, which continues throughout much of the season. The majority of the story revolves around Archer being accused of sexually harassing Anka (Kari Wahlgren), the spoiled 16-year-old daughter of a famous German dignitary Malory is courting for funds, who happens to be sexually harassing him when no one is watching. It’s kind of like One Froggy Evening with a little blonde nymphomaniac. It’s not exactly a standout episode, but has some good laughs, and it features a reasonably impressive action sequence.
‘So, Krieger's a doctor.’
‘Not the medical kind!’
‘Not even the other kind... technically.’
A Going Concern sees Malory admitting that ISIS is out of money following a ponzi scheme, and attempting to sell the company to rival private spy agency ODIN. Archer develops a delightfully convoluted scheme with the staff to break down negotiations. This is another somewhat interchangeable episode that revisits character issues and rivalries covered in season one. My favourite ongoing gag is the throwaway fact that Cheryl is fresh from a trip to Jamaica, and constantly smoking pot and referring to how ‘un-irie’ the situation is. She also calls Cyril ‘Pilbo Baggins’, which is a good one-liner.
‘The mochachino ones are the cutest. And I guess he'd be half gay too. Can you say ‘best dancer ever?’’
The season continues to flounder a bit with Blood Test, which sees a hooker from Archer’s past appearing with a baby she claims belongs to him. ODIN is put in control of the pending DNA test, and the ISIS team throws a surprise baby shower for ‘The Wee Baby Seamus’ just to piss Archer off. This episode features more callbacks and previously covered character development, but doesn’t repeat itself too much, and does have some amusing back and forth dialogue. Listen to the left stereo channel for several ‘me too!’ replies from Krieger.
‘This must be what it’s like to have sex with me!’
‘How can an airboat be selfish?’
Pipeline Fever is the first really great episode of the season. Here, Archer and Lana are sent to the Louisiana Bayou to prevent an eco-terrorist from bombing America's largest natural gas pipeline. They spend most of their time bickering through their sexual tension, and Archer makes continuous reference to Burt Reynolds’ movies (specifically Gator and White Lightning). Meanwhile, the ISIS crew tries to green-ify their office. Archer and Lana’s interactions are among the best character-based comedy in the show’s history, and strangely sweet in that way only Adam Reed can achieve. The episode also features an off-handed reference to Alien Resurrection, and briefly covers Lana’s entry into ISIS.
‘I can do baby or geezer murder mystery, but I can’t do both!’
The Wee Baby Seamus returns for The Double Deuce, which revolves mostly around Archer and his abused butler Woodhouse investigating the mysterious deaths of Woodhouse's famed WWI Royal Flying Corps. This episode is sort of a spoof of the Batman stories where Alfred’s war/spy/whatever past comes back to haunt him, which itself is a long-running war story trope ( Simpsons did it), and is a pleasant departure in scope and storytelling for the series (the scenes of young Woodhouse on WWI battlefields are pretty impressive for relatively cheap Flash animation). It’s also a surprisingly touching episode in a backhanded, bizarro fashion, and the office b-story is plenty amusing, especially the throw-away gags about Malory’s parenting style.
‘So hey, how ‘bout I take a crack at it. I bet I could kill that pesky ol’ worm.’
‘How, by disappointing it to death?!?’
Following The Double Deuce, which redeems the oft-abused Woodhouse, Tragical History works to redeem the show’s other most commonly abused character – Cyril. Following a particularly demeaning night at the bar Cyril helps a mysterious computer security expert named George Spelvin (Peter Serafinowicz) inject a hilarious virus into the ISIS mainframe in hopes of appearing to be a hero when he defeats said virus. Unsurprisingly, things quickly get out of hand, and Cyril isn’t entirely redeemed in the end. This is another strong episode, and a particularly fast paced one. It’s also refreshingly forward moving, following a couple of strong back-story episodes, and ends with another very funny action sequence.
‘Where's my journal?’
‘I maybe kind of sort of took it?’
‘Why would you do that?’
‘Did you think it was meat?’
In Movie Star a, erm, movie star named Rona Thorne (Rachael Harris) appears at ISIS and starts shadowing Lana in preparation for her new role as a spy. The staff slowly unravels in her presence – Malory monopolizes the staff for her screenplay, Lana’s ego grows as Rona flatters her, Archer develops a hilarious scheme to embarrass her, and the b-staff bickers while trying to sneak Rona’s stolen diary back into her flat. Here Reed and his writers revisit some of the celebrity themes so common in Frisky Dingo, find a fun twist, and they’re on point with more fast paced comedy.
‘My entire laboratory is at your disposal.’
‘Thanks I'll let you know if I need a hybrid pig-boy.’
Stage Two is where the preverbal shit gets real. Malory gets some bad news on a routine mammogram, and in true Archer fashion the ISIS crew worries more about their own mortality, and it turns out Archer himself is the one suffering from breast cancer. Many, many comedy writers have attempted to cast cancer in a funny light, and most of them have failed. This episode manages to successfully spoof everything that goes along with the bad news, from the sad moments, to the sappy, feel good stuff lesser writers tend to hide behind, all with surprising affection. The episode ends with a particularly novel cancer joke where Archer gets good news/bad news/good news/bad news, and acts accordingly, treating his friends either well (when he thinks he’s dying), or in the normal, crappy fashion (when he thinks he’s going to be okay).
‘Krieger’s father's was a Nazi scientist.’
‘And JFK's father was a bootlegger.’
‘What!? That's like comparing apples to Nazi oranges.’
Placebo Effect is a straight continuation of Stage Two. Here Archer learns that his that his expensive chemotherapy drugs are actually sugar pills and Zima, then goes on a violent, vengeful rampage. Lana tags along out of general guilt, and films the whole thing with a Super 8mm camera. Things get especially darkly funny as Archer continues his rampage under the effects of real chemical therapy, which leads to a lot of vomiting, which in turn, leads to pot smoking. The b-story features Cyril trying to prove Krieger is a Brazilian Hitler clone. This episode was personally cathartic (really funny timing on the release date), potently badass despite its jokey nature, and possibly the best of the entire series.
‘I'm not negotiating with a cyborg.’
‘That's just a voice modulator.’
‘You don't think cyborgs have that technology!?’
El Secuestro switches gears and focuses on Pam and Cheryl(/Carol/Carina/Cristal), two characters that don’t get a whole lot of a-screen time in the second season. Pam is mistaken for Cheryl by a van of bumbling kidnappers and held hostage. Turns out Cheryl is the wealthy heir to a railroad empire, and for a ‘small fee’ Malory puts ISIS on lockdown to protect her. What’s more important here is that the writers adore Pam (more than Malory, who only agrees to save her because Cheryl insists on it), and giving her a more centric place in an episode plot breeds comedy magic. Still, we could use even more Pam than this. The Pam-blank spots are balanced with some extra time with Ray and Archer, who are sent on a relatively pathetic rescue mission. Best joke: The kidnappers tell the ISIS ops to drop their weapons or they’ll shoot Pam, and the ops slowly raise their guns in response.
‘I have a plan that doesn't involve you stealing my toiletries.’
‘You're not using them.’
‘Yes, I am.’
‘Go look at your pores and then tell me you're using them,’
In Jeu Monégasque Archer, Malory, Lana, and Ray travel to Monaco during Gran Prix week to trade $4 million in untraceable bearer bonds for a secret spy disc (likely featuring Malory in another compromising sexual position). Archer is entrusted with the bonds, and unfortunately rediscovers the joys of gambling. Meanwhile, back at ISIS headquarters, Cyril discovers that the money Archer is holding was taken from the staff's 401Ks. This is another average episode, but it picks up a bit thanks to a lot of character balance. There’s really no lead here, and Ray plays an inordinately large role. The editing is also quite strong here. If it weren’t for the pauses for discussion-based humour this episode would make a good heist-thriller.
‘Of course undercover!’
‘As what? Russia's only black woman?’
White Nights see Archer secretly shuffling off to Soviet Russia (who in the Archer universe we are still at war with) in search of Maj. Nikolai Jackov (Peter Newman), who might be his father. He misses his drop point, and is taken hostage by the KGB. Malory’s only option is to send Archer’s long-standing rival, ODEN agent Barry Dillon (Dave Willis), to rescue him. This is the one episode of the season I missed when it aired, and is among the better mixes of series mythology, character interaction, absurd one-liners and action sequences.
‘What part of "I'm a cyborg" are you people still not getting?’
‘The core concept, I guess.’
The season comes to an end with Double Trouble, a direct continuation of the previous episode. Archer is rescued by KGB agent Katya Kasanova (Ona Grauer), who claims that she wants to defect and join ISIS. Malory and Lana are suspicious, and assume Katya is actual intent on stealing information from Krieger. This episode doesn’t so much end on a shocker or cliffhanger so much as it ends on a snide joke at the expense of the usual season-ending shocker or cliffhanger. I had assumed the thread here would be dropped entirely with season three, but sure enough, it actually plays heavily into the season three premier.
Like Frisky Dingo and Sealab 2021, Archer is a simple, Flash animated series. The characters are simple vector drawings, usually with one colour shade, and no gradient blends. Textures and patterns are also rarely utilized, so the clarity of the animated elements is almost strictly found in the vibrancy and clarity of the colours, and the solid nature of the black edges. On these simple terms I have no complaints concerning this full 1080p, 1.78:1 transfer. The episodes are stretched over two discs, so compression artefacts aren’t an issue, save maybe a bit of low level noise on the darker warm shades. The backgrounds are, for the most part, Photoshop-filtered photographs. This is much more obvious in straight-from-the-Blu-ray 1080p. On television artifacts make the backgrounds appear painted. The filters create some edge-enhancement effects that I’m thinking are unavoidable. The contrast between the more graphic animated character elements and the static, more natural backgrounds is a bit muddier on the DVD release, which also loses plenty of the smallest details.
Archer comes fitted with a relatively modest DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that more than adequately fits the bill. The uncompressed quality makes for a cleaner and generally louder experience than the Dolby Digital 5.1 HDTV airings, which are also a bit more muddled. The mixes are usually quite simple and heavily dependent on dialogue, which sounds nice and clear for the most part. Stereo channel jokes are pretty common, usually when an off-screen character has a sarcastic quip to lob at that on-screen characters. When there is some kind of explosion of sound, it’s usually in the form of literal explosions or gunshots, though there are a handful of aurally expressive car chases. These exceptions to the rule are plenty clear and expressive in terms of movement, but the effects are always pretty low in terms of volume. The music is also consistently a bit low on the track for my liking considering the generally cool quality it adds to the action sequences, but the opening and closing titles sound great.
All the extras are delegated to the second disc of the set, and start with Archersaurus – Self Extinction (3:10, HD), a really strange short episode set up like a mock episode of True Hollywood Story. Here a dinosaur named Archersaurus enacts a series of Hollywood-type fall from grace stories. Ask Archer (5:00, HD) features the title character answering ‘fan questions’. Semper Fi (1:50, HD) features Archer giving a shout out to army troops in Afghanistan. L’espion Mal Fait (5:20, HD) is a short cartoon where Archer’s face and body are replaced with something much closer to H. John Benjamin’s actual face. ISIS Infiltrates Comic-Con (13:40, HD) finishes the extras with a panel at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con.
Archer is spun comic gold, and with Venture Bros on another of its patented long-term production periods, it might be the funniest thing on television right now. The show itself comes highly recommend, though its general look and sound don’t exactly require a Blu-ray copy over a DVD. The 1080p video looks very good, and the unambitous soundscape is sharp and plenty loud, but not necessary for enjoyment by any means. The extras are brief, but entertaining.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 3rd December 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Archersaurus, Self-Extinction, Ask Archer, Semper Fi, L’espion Mal Fait, ISIS Infiltrates Comic Con
Easter Egg: No
Director: Adam Reed
Cast: H. Jon Benjamin, Judy Greer, Chris Parnell, Aisha Tyler, Jessica Walter, George Coe, Amber Nash
Genre: Action, Adventure, Animation and Comedy
Length: 286 minutes
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