Imagine for a moment James Bond in all his suave, chiseled, tux-wearing, gadget-brandishing glory.
Now imagine that 007 has been captured by Ernst Blofeld (that evil, cat-stroking mastermind of Specter) and has been chained to a gurney, with a massive, Plasticine ray gun pointed at his forehead.
"You expect me to talk?" Bond says.
"No, Mr. Bond," Blofeld says. "I expect you to stupefy!"
(You see, the fearsome ray gun is, in fact, a patented stupefying laser—one that, when flipped on, leeches from the victim at least 75 IQ points right along with most of whatever other redeeming qualities he might also possess.)
And then Blofeld flips the switch. "BREEEEEEEEEE—" goes the stupefying laser, at a sound range between scratching on a blackboard and crunching up Styrofoam. Two hours later, Blofeld turns off the laser and releases the superspy. Bond staggers around for a time before, finally, stumbling onto the FX (animated division) back lot. He's promptly given a job.
So might conceivably run the origin story of Sterling Archer, the titular character on FX's crass, crazy, animated comedy. It's espionage as envisioned by Judd Apatow—globe-trotting do-gooding without the hindrance of actually doing good.
Archer is employed by the International Secret Intelligence Service (or ISIS), an outfit conveniently run by his conniving, boozy mother. He's not that keen to save innocent civilians or protect the free world … but he does like the typical spy perks: well-tailored tuxes, bottomless bottles of liquor and, of course, the never-ending parade of buxom women who fall under his sway.
This makes things awkward at ISIS headquarters, given that Archer's ex-paramour Lana Kane works there too. It's not hard to see why the two might've broken up: Lana is an oatmeal island of sanity in this bowl full of milky folly—perhaps the only ISIS employee who didn't have half her brain excised before getting hired.
Certainly her fellow cohorts are of dubious help. Cyril, the agency's comptroller, seems to have a number of serious and often embarrassing phobias. Pam, the head of human resources, smokes pot and directs "amateur tentacle porn." Ray, an openly gay intelligence analyst, spent an entire season pretending to be paralyzed. Office manager Cheryl is a sadomasochist who sets fires and swallows rubber cement. And we haven't yet talked about Mr. Doctor Algernop—ISIS' version of Q—who designs gadgets mostly to fuel his own sexual fetishes.
Archer is slick, self-aware and perhaps as morally vacuous a show as any on the telly today. Its animation recalls Johnny Quest, its style echoes the early Bond movies. Its sense of humor? Well, that's both zany and foul—The Simpsons without heart, South Park without the satirical commentary, Bob's Burgers without the relative restraint and with about 6 gazillion more swear words. It's a stew of office humor, spy spoofiness and inappropriate sex jokes. It's the sort of show the real James Bond (given his penchant for high culture and sly, veiled asides) would find almost criminal.
Which makes me wonder, perhaps, in a bizarre circle of illogic, whether Blofeld's stupefying machine might've actually been powered by Archer episodes.
"The Papal Chase"
To save the Pope from an assassination threat, ISIS plans to send Archer and Pam undercover as a priest and nun. They're tasked with swapping the Pope for Woodhouse, Archer's gay, drug-addicted British valet.
Want to know more? Are you sure? Well, we see (most of) Archer naked, Cyril in a thong and Lana in a sexualized nun habit. (A cross is emblazoned on her panties, and she carries a paddle called "The Redeemer.") Someone makes an obscene gesture with robotic hands. Repeated references are made to prostitution, pedophilia, infidelity (sometimes to vows of celibacy), pornography and homosexuality. When Archer begins to question the Pope on the latter issue, the Pope misunderstands—telling Archer that it's a mortal sin, "but get me out of here alive and I will pardon you for it, my son."
Archer blows up a car with a flare, killing several cartoon characters. Folks get shot, and Pam almost (accidentally) kills the Pope with a mirror. Archer slaps her repeatedly, and she's twice stuck with Woodhouse's syringes. (She makes comments about getting high). Woodhouse is itchy with withdrawal symptoms, so Lana encourages him to shoot up in order to function.
In the 20-minute show, the s-word pops up nearly a dozen times, along with "p‑‑‑," "h‑‑‑," "a‑‑," references to sexual body parts and euphemisms for the f-word. We hear Jesus' and God's names abused a half-dozen or so times each. God's is merged with "d‑‑n."