Paul Asay
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 is employed by the International Secret Intelligence Service (or ISIS), an outfit normally located in the Bahamas by his conniving, boozy mother. But in Season 10, alternatively called Archer: 1999, the ISIS team has left their pseudo-paradise to peruse the final frontier: space. And it turns out that there are just as many morality issues there as there are on land.

You see, Archer’s not that keen to save innocent civilians or to protect the free wor–, um, galaxy. 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 the ISIS 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

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.

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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