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Paul Asay
Emily Tsiao
Kristin Smith

TV Series Review

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.

A Very Vacuous Bond

Archer was formerly employed by the International Secret Intelligence Service (or ISIS—though this name was dropped by creators in later seasons due to the terrorist group of the same acronym), an outfit normally located in the Bahamas by his conniving, boozy mother. And for the past several seasons, he’s been in a coma (resulting from several gunshot wounds), and his coma-dreams took him to the year 1938, a noir-esque Hollywood and even space. But now he’s awake again, working with the CIA and ready to save the world!

Well, not really…

You see, Archer’s not that keen to save innocent civilians or to protect the free world. But he does like the typical spy perks: well-tailored tuxes, futuristic gadgets, bottomless bottles of liquor and, of course, the never-ending parade of buxom women who fall under his sway.

This makes things awkward for his team, given that Archer’s ex-wife Lana Kane works there too. It’s not hard to see why the two might’ve divorced, even though they still hook up occasionally: 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, Lana’s sometimes lover and the agency’s comptroller, seems to have a number of serious and often embarrassing phobias. Pam, the bi-sexual former head of human resources, uses various drugs, drinks like a fish and directs “amateur tentacle porn.” Ray, an openly gay intelligence analyst, tries to find where his true passions lie. Team manager Cheryl is a sadomasochist who sets fires and freely shares her disturbing, dark thoughts. 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, drug use 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.

Episode Reviews

Oct. 7, 2020: “Best Friends”

When several attempts are made on Archer’s life, Cyril suspects his new valet, Aleister, is responsible.

Someone gets killed with a sword. A man gets shot and we see him bleeding. Several people are shot at. A man is knocked out with a gun. People are tackled. Archer shoots Cyril several times with a beanbag launcher. Archer falls through a window but manages to catch himself before hitting the ground. A truck crashes into a haberdashery. An explosion causes an elevator to fall (though nobody is hurt). Several human clones are flushed down a drain. We hear that two of Archer’s previous valets wound up in the hospital from their training with him. Someone jokes about llamas going extinct.

Several people of both genders seem to be in love with a man and make suggestive comments toward him. Some characters wear revealing outfits. People drink alcohol throughout the episode. People lie about being attacked and getting injured to get out of work. A woman says her marriage isn’t happy. We hear a few uses of the s-word as well as “h—,” “d–n” and “d–mit.” We also hear several misuses of God’s name, sometimes paired with “d–n” or “d–mit.”

June 12, 2019: “The Leftovers”

Archer and the entire ISIS team are stranded in space and forced to eat eggs secreted by a rat-like creature in order to survive. The eggs cause each person to realize, and act on, their deepest desires.

Archer and his ex-wife, Lana, have sex multiple times. (They talk about their sex drives, how many times they’ve had sex, kiss, make noises and lie naked under sheets). A gay man lounges shirtless, in a robe, and discusses how much he values his sexuality. Two men are forced to stand in their boxers. Jokes are made about scads of sexual acts, inclinations, fetishes and diseases.

Archer threatens to “stick my foot up your a–,” to an incompetent co-worker. A woman makes a joke about eating her fellow co-workers before they starve to death. People are threatened at gun point. A ship explodes. A man compares his food to feces.

God’s name is misused three times and Jesus’ name once. A man addresses a group of people as “MF’ers” and uses “freakin’” as a stand in for the f-word. Other profanity includes one or two uses of “s—,” “a–,” “d–mit,” “d–k” and “h—.” Archer shouts “screw you” and tells various people to “shut up.”

A man assures his friends that his room is filled only with “contraband.” Men and women consume hard liquor. Cigarettes lie on a coffee table.

Archer: 3-28-2013

“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.”

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Emily Tsiao

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her husband indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.

Kristin Smith

Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).

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