James Bond seems like the perfect action hero-spy -- lethal, suave, great with women, smart -- but what if he was also a dick? This is more or less the basis for Archer, an animated comedy about a dysfunctional spy working for a dysfunctional spy agency.

Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) is the chief spy at the International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS), able to kill and complete missions with no problem. Except that he's amazingly selfish, often drunk, a chronic womanizer, and very juvenile. It doesn't help that ISIS is run by Malory Archer (Jessica Walter), Sterling's mother. Malory loves to make Sterling miserable (she gave him his codename "Duchess," after her favorite dog) and also loves to drink and get laid; in addition, she has a secret relationship with KGB Colonel Nikoli Jackov (Peter Newman).
The rest of ISIS isn't much better. Agent Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler) is Sterling's ex-girlfriend, who finds herself stuck on missions with him (and often shoots him). Lana is dating wimpy, clingy ISIS comptroller Cyril Figgis (Chris Parnell), who's jealous of Sterling. Pam (Amber Nash) is the human resources leader who's a hopeless gossip with a crush on Lana. Ditzy secretary Cheryl (Judy Greer) changes her name every week and likes to get strangled. And technical genius Dr. Krieger (Lucky Yates) is dark and creepy.

Archer uses the same type of animation (one or two characters will move a little and stand out against a flat background) and humor (lots of pauses, very politically incorrect) as creator Adam Reed's previous shows Sealab 2021 and Frisky Dingo. With Archer, it seems to work better. The voice talent is absolutely terrific, especially H. Jon Benjamin's laid back delivery as the title spy to Jessica Walters as the harpy of a mother who can be as bad as her irresponsible son. The dialogue is often risque, fairly bizarre, and very funny:

Lana: Have you noticed anything weird about Conway?
Sterling: Other than the fact that he's not circumcised?
Lana: Wow. Okay. Glossing over how you know that...
Sterling: We touched penises.
Lana: No! Glossing! Glossing!

The spy setting also provides lots of opportunities for comedy, such as when Sterling is sent to seduce a male enemy agent, the ISIS support staff pickets outside the secret headquarters, or rival agency ODIN hires away Sterling and Lana. And there's plenty of twisted goings-on inside ISIS, as when everyone gets caught up playing "marry, bang or kill."

Archer: The Complete Season One has the first ten episodes of the series plus a few extras: a behind-the-scenes look at the animation, plus a version of the pilot with a very different version of Sterling Archer. Archer can be as juvenile as its characters at times, but it's a demented comedy that just happens to be very funny too.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch

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