Friday, January 20, 2012

Television review: Archer Season 3 Premiere — "The Man From Jupiter"

Posted by on Fri, Jan 20, 2012 at 11:46 AM

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There's a certain freedom that comes with creating an animated comedy for adults. Characters and stories rooted in reality can suddenly veer off into the absurd or impossible without completely derailing the plot, because the viewer has grown up expecting cartoons to be zany. We expect and accept the unreal in animated television — on some level, we're always aware that whatever's happening is taking place in a different world, with different rules. It's this juxtaposition that lets the best episodes of the Simpsons touch our hearts while simultaneously attaining a nearly hallucinatory level of absurdity, and allows a show like Family Guy to beat on the corpses of the same old audience recognition jokes and pop cultural references week after tired week.

A good animated comedy will take advantage of the duality, deftly placing interesting characters in situations that strobe between reality and that other world.

And Archer is an excellent animated comedy.

A kindred spirit to the best of Adult Swim's snarky human-based shows — Venture Brothers, Sealab 2021, etc. — Archer juggles the clever, the surreal and the go-for-broke vulgar without leaning too heavily on any single element. The show's central character, vapid secret agent Sterling Archer (voiced perfectly by H. Jon Benjamin), sends up every single spy-thriller trope yet never loses his edge or his well-developed personality, and the inclusion of mundane real-world problems like having to work for his mother adds a delightfully disorienting feel to the proceedings. The layered mix of passive-aggressive relationships, snappy action, matter-of-fact obscenity and familiar sitcom structure is utterly unique and incredibly funny.

For the third-season premiere, the I.S.I.S. crew is joined by one Burt Reynolds in a story that involves Archer coming to terms with the idea of his hero shtupping his mother. The addition of such a hip/ironic guest star could've been a misstep, but the writers and actors never let Reynolds' presence overpower the show's winning character; in fact, the Bandit fits in like a natural, adopting the combination of heart and provocative hilarity to join Archer's flow rather than dictating it.

If the debut episode is any indication, you can expect another satisfying season from this intelligent, imaginative and button-pushing mix of high and low humor.

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