'Archer' review: Spying is easy, comedy is hard

archer-fx-320.jpgIf you're a fan of Adult Swim -- and specifically "Frisky Dingo" and "Sealab 2021" -- then you might want to move over to FX Thursday night (Jan. 14) to check out the channel's new animated series "Archer."

If you're so inclined, though, do yourself a favor and don't let too many episodes pile up on your DVR. "Archer" is at times very funny, but a little of it can go a long way.

The show comes from Adam Reed, who co-created both "Sealab" and "Frisky Dingo," and follows the exploits of international superspy Sterling Archer, an agent of the International Secret Intelligence Service, or ISIS. And by "exploits" I mean petty office politics, an ex who's both repelled and still drawn to him and one mother of an Oedipus complex. Occasionally he does some actual espionage work too.

"Archer" has a great voice cast that includes H. Jon Benjamin ("Home Movies," "The Venture Bros.") as the title character; Aisha Tyler ("Bedtime Stories") as his ex and fellow spy, Lana; Jessica Walter ("Arrested Development") as Archer's mom and boss; Chris Parnell ("30 Rock") as ISIS comptroller Cyril Figgis, Lana's new not-quite-boyfriend; and Judy Greer ("Love Happens") as the lovelorn, Moneypenny-ish Cheryl. Or Carol. She changes her name a lot. Walter especially is fantastic in her role, which is essentially Lucille Bluth as the head of a spy agency. She gets one shockingly hilarious line after another.

The central idea of "Archer" is that while they may be globe-trotting spies, the employees of ISIS can be just as small-minded and incompetent as your own co-workers, loved ones and friends -- none moreso than Archer himself. Reed then adds layer upon layer of visual and verbal jokes that don't so much walk the line of good taste as don't even bother to see where the line is. "Archer" is about as R-rated as a cartoon on ad-supported cable can be.

After a while, though -- as was the case when I was digesting the five episodes FX sent out for review all at once -- what's jaw-droppingly funny at first turns the corner toward wearying. In smaller doses, as you'll see "Archer" most weeks (two episodes, including the one FX previewed sans promotion in the fall, air Thursday), it will work pretty well.

The show fits right in with FX's comedy style as embodied by "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" -- when it's hitting, it can make your sides hurt. It also holds to the "Always Sunny" ethos of never really reining it in. It's fun, but it's best in moderation.
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"Archer" premieres at 10 p.m. ET Thursday on FX.

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Photo credit: FX

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