TV Spotlight: Archer

In the first of a new series on RhettMedia, TV Spotlight aims to emphasise some of the hidden gems that may have flown underneath the televisual radar somewhat while also looking at particular aspects of shows and what makes them either a success or a failure. While this will hopefully bring the shows into a wider awareness, the series will also look to ask pertinent questions about certain shows and their on-air status, with a special concerning Fox’s averagely received Alcatraz in the workings over the next few weeks. This first edition of TV Spotlight though will focus on FX’s cartoon adult comedy Archer.

When you think of cartoon comedies on television, the mind tends to focus mainly on family-based settings, with The Simpsons, Family Guy and American Dad! perhaps the most prominent of examples. These particular shows base their narratives around the lives and times of dysfunctional nuclear American families, wherein the episodes tend to be both self-contained and barely mentioned in future instalments, leaving their specific universes resolved of any problem that arises in the episode by the its end. In this sense, the cartoon comedy earned a very different reputation to that of your typical hour-long dramas and even the majority of modern sitcoms, and with it came the niche ideal that the writers could plug well-established characters into a multitude of situations and leave the characters largely unchanged, without having to deal with the concept of storyline arcs.

What has enabled this is the significant advantage that cartoons offer the writers in that the timescale is virtually infinite as there is not the problem of aging actors which allows for Bart Simpson to remain believable at 10 years old through the impending 24th and 25th seasons of Fox’s inimitable series. However, this phenomenon marks the genre with the problematic issue of keeping the show in question fresh and appealing to audiences. Although characters can be plugged into any scenario imaginable, there is a discord between the events of each standalone episode and the concept of character development which marks the modern understanding of quality television.

With this in mind, FX debuted the new show Archer in 2009 and it is slowly gaining a cult following for both its similarities and advancements of previous examples of the cartoon genre. Created by Adam Reed, the show itself focuses on the titular Sterling Archer, a secret agent in the mould of every spy stereotype you can imagine, and his various adventures within the context of his work at spy agency ISIS. This leads him through many difficult and dangerous missions alongside his co-workers at the agency, and the humour of the series lies mainly within the ineptitude of all of the characters at the agency. Archer is characterised as an immature man-child who, despite being talented in his profession, is hampered by his general ignorance, crude frat-boy sense of humour and his playboy-like indulgence in alcohol and women. In this sense, Archer as a show puts a spin on the spy genre, with mature humour and a cutting sardonic edge and is different from its peers insofar as it lacks the family-friendly appeal that The Simpsons, Futurama and even occasionally Family Guy are renowned for. With a sense of humour and style that reflects a more evolved South Park, Archer is a show that is far more complex and cultured than it seems on first impressions.

Where the show shines is that there’s a more developed, intelligent structure to the series in regards to its story-telling ambitions. Every episode is more or less typically self-contained as is the curse of cartoon comedies, yet throughout its present three season run, there has been definitive evidence of storyline arcs, call-backs to past events on the show and actual character and relationship advancement, something almost unheard of in the genre. The dialogue throughout is razor-sharp, both in humour terms and in content terms, as a set-piece between two characters will seamlessly segue into an ongoing conversation between other characters. In this manner, it bears more than a passing resemblance to cult favourite Arrested Development, a similarity exaggerated by the main cast inclusions of the superb Jessica Walter and the underrated Judy Greer. As with Arrested Development, Archer is a show that is better than it has any right to be, and its confidence in its own excellence is infectious and truly translates onscreen to the audience.

What truly makes it stand out in the genre is that there is a more linear structure to the series that is absent from other cartoon comedies, in that although you can watch the episodes out of order, there are often references and call-backs to previous situations that you will miss if you do so. In this sense, Archer is an anomaly in the cartoon world in that its appeal lies strictly with adults and the existence of storyline arcs and character development means that this is a show extremely confident within its own abilities and a show looking to mark its genre as capable of being appreciated as quality television in a way that has never been done before.

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~ by jrhett on May 9, 2012.

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