Sunday, December 17, 2023


Cover of "The Art of Archer" book (2016)

September 2016 was the month my viewing habits changed: I bought a streaming device for my TV, and I began subscribing to Netflix. Initially an easier way to get YouTube onto a bigger screen, streaming made taking up Netflix inevitable, but for me, it was not for their own shows like “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black”, or for their Blockbuster Video-replacing back catalogue of recent films - it was because it was the only place in the UK to see the animated comedy series “Archer”. With the show now ending on its American home of FXX on 17
th December 2023, a date also marking the thirty-fourth anniversary of “The Simpsons”, a show that will outlast us all, I have reason to reconsider continuing my Netflix subscription.

First appearing in 2009, “Archer” is a retro-styled secret agent adventure series crossed with workplace comedy. Sterling Archer, an agent whose intuition is enhanced by womanising and alcohol, is an agent at ISIS, an agency owned and run by his similarly hard-nosed mother Malory. The ensemble originally had rigidly defined roles: Lana Kane, the by-the-book lead agent; Ray Gillette, the gay bomb expert with a transplanted hand; Cyril Figgis, the downtrodden head of accounts; Cheryl (or is Carol this episode?) Tunt, the secretary too rich and neurotic for this reality; Pam Poovey, the boisterous head of HR; and Algernop Krieger, the skilled engineer who built his holographic girlfriend. All have become agents over the show’s fourteen seasons, embroiled in plots and heists that have stretched and fleshed out these characters across different realities and time periods, particularly during three seasons that took place while Sterling was in a coma. It may wear the skin of a James Bond film, but it has the heart of “The A-Team.” 

What attracted me to “Archer” is what animation has afforded it. The retro aesthetic deliberately fudges the time period in which it is set, living in the world of both Sean Connery’s Bond and “Get Smart”, while not being restrained by technology of the time – something exists to help get out of any scrape. That said, there is the satisfaction of recognising the Apple Lisa computers on ISIS agents’ desks, or their building’s establishing shot having a Renault 12 driving past. The humour is very quick and often about language: characters warning each other over “phrasing”, exclamations like “yup”, “boop” and “sploosh”, and even outright saying “I swear to God I had something for this”. But every viewer of “Archer” knows the phrase most often repeated: “You want ants? Because this is how you get ants.” For stories where is victory is often achieved just in time, the pacing and comedic timing of each twenty-minute episode could not be achieved in live-action.

I originally saw “Archer” on Channel 5 in the UK, or one of their extra channels, but after the first four seasons, the show became available on Netflix only, feeling like when “The X-Files” or “Friends” previously disappeared to satellite television about fifteen years earlier. This move to streaming also stopped UK DVDs of the show in their tracks – this is another case of me wanting a copy of a show that is uninhibited by digital rights management. Maintaining access to the show requires maintaining a subscription to a service I rarely watched for anything else. Can The Criterion Collection start releasing TV shows as well please?

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