Bright Lights Film Journal

You Had Me at “Farrier”! Matt Thompson and Adam Reed Supply Cheap Thrills for the Socially Challenged in Archer

Like a straight, poorly drawn, less fluid Ambiguously Gay Duo

Did you ever buy a scarlet cummerbund and matching tie, figuring that you might actually be attending black tie (or, rather, "scarlet tie") affairs on a regular basis? Did you ever think that everything in your life would fall into place once you got a Jaguar and, you know, learned how to drive? Well, I can't help you to score the invites, or to get your hands on a Jag, but I can help you fill up an empty hour or two with a funny, "adult" cartoon series with a visual style that's at least a decade ahead of Clutch Cargo.1

Matt Thompson and Adam Reed are the geniuses behind both Sealab 2021 and FriskyDingo, neither of which I have ever seen, because I'm not really into the "adult cartoon" thing, not even the granddaddy of them all, The Simpsons, which always made me laugh but never held my attention. But Archer hooked me from the get-go with a "farrier" joke — a "farrier" being a (very) old-time blacksmith or veterinarian (from the Old French "ferreor," "he who fits with iron," from the Latin ferrum ("iron"), which Webster's is willing to push back to the Akkadian (!) parzillu) — so I'm pretty much off to the races with it.2

Archer, if you're still with me, is a James Bond clone, a fifties dude up to his chiseled buttocks in post-millennial bullshit, political correctness gone wild. First of all, the mother he works for is, you know, his mother,3) which leads to frequent difficulties,4 plus he has to be nice to "gays," that is to say, "homos," who seem to be everywhere these days.5 Oh, yeah, and if you dare to lay a finger on some 16-year-old, lollypop-lickin' Lolita who just blew up her training bra, well, it's ten to twenty the hard way.

Archer's mom is the head of "ISIS,"6 a private "Mission Impossible"-style security agency — who wants to work for a government salary, right? — that foils a variety of unsavory or at least unseemly plots, involving rogue arms dealers, would-be kidnappers of billionaire Eurotrash debutantes, and the like. Most of the action revolves around the dysfunctional ISIS "family" — Mama Malory Archer (voiced by Jessica Walter), a promiscuous, vodka martini from Steuben crystal swilling balls-busting, pearls-wearing, Social Register drama queen str8 out of a million gay clichés;7 Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler), Archer's black (of course), beautiful (of course), brilliant (of course), omni-competent (of course) former (of course) girlfriend; Cyril Figgis (the quasi-indispensible Chris Parnell), ISIS accountant and irritatingly dickish (but 12 inches so) current beau of Lana; Cheryl (Judy Greer), whom Archer will fuck when he's too drunk to make a call to a prostitute, which is not very often; and Pam Poovey (Amber Nash), the office lardbutt/sexual omnivore, who will fuck anyone, or anything, more attractive than herself, which includes just about everyone and everything.

Fortunately, the private spy business pays pretty well, and Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) enjoys a sweet penthouse suite, complete with an aged retainer Woodhouse8 (George Coe), where he can fuck Irish whores to his heart's content, which takes up most of his time.

Yes, times are tough, but Archer still has his rod — in fact, he still has both of them, and when push comes to shove, he's not afraid to use them. Bang, bang, bang, bang, eh? No, it's not art, but until you get your hands on that Jag, and that driver's license, it will have to do.

Afterwords I
The show's official site has downloads, witty banter, chatrooms, and the like. Since Archer is on basic cable — Thursday at 10 on FX — the "nudity" that the show earnestly warns us about at the start of each episode is largely shots of Archer's ass, which is not exactly what I had in mind. Often, Matt and Adam seem more attracted to gross-out gore than nudity, like the time Lana ripped the hand off of some dude, who totally deserved it. If you want real "adult" cartoons, you probably have to go anime. Fists of Desire, anyone?

Afterwords II
The "incorrect" gags on Archer are often predictable, but, trust me, sit through an episode of Brothers and Sisters first and you'll be on the floor.

  1. An online Archer fan describes the animation style as ligne claire ("clear line"), a turn of phrase that was probably never applied to Clutch, but the big guy must still have his fans, because he's out on DVD. (In appropriate Clutch fashion, there are two different sets labeled The Complete Collection, Volume 1.) The Clutch cartoons featured "syncro-vox technology" — an actor's mouth somehow superimposed over a static drawing, to save the ligne claire illustrators the burden of having to illustrate speech. []
  2. I must confess that the "farrier" joke is pretty forced, turning on the eponymous Archer's confusion of that word with "furrier," and how many people know what a farrier is, and don't know what a furrier is? I knew that "farrier" was, you know, rural, but that was all. []
  3. Some seriously layered secret agent in-jokes here. James Bond worked, of course, for "M," which is apparently what Ian Fleming called his mother. And Peel and Steed worked for a dude codenamed "Mother." (Actually, Emma only worked for Mother once, in her farewell episode, the one in which she's replaced by Tara King, played by Linda Thorson. []
  4. "That's classic you, Mother!" is Archer's perennial whine, whenever he finds himself enmeshed in yet another of Mommy's endless Oedipal mind games. []
  5. Seriously, is this the U.S. of A or the U.S. of Gay? It's hard to tell. []
  6. There's probably an in-joke here, somewhere, but I totally don't get it. []
  7. Matt Thompson and Adam Reed can definitely talk the talk when it comes to la vida loca. See the "Honeypot" episode that concluded season 1. Do Matt and Adam live on the same block as South Park gay-boys Trey Parker and Matt Stone? Probably. []
  8. Farriers turn up a lot in the early novels of P. G. Wodehouse (pronounced "Woodhouse"), so I guess this is an in-joke. []