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Published: Wednesday, 1/13/2010

New animated series about a crude spy is edgy but not for kids

BY MIKE KELLY
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE

With all due respect to James Bond, he is officially no longer the coolest secret agent around. Mr. 007 has been replaced by a guy who is "known from Berlin to Bangkok as the world's most dangerous spy."

Who is this new super-duper man of mystery? The name is Archer. Sterling Archer. And the lantern-jawed, well-chiseled stud is squarely at the center of a clever and very adult new animated series called Archer, which premieres Thursday night at 10 on cable network FX.

A word of caution: this half-hour show might be a cartoon, but you don't want the kids checking it out, because it's definitely R-rated. Much of the dialogue is lewd and crude, there are explicit sexual situations, and there are occasional acts of graphic violence as well - people get shot, poisoned, and tossed into car trunks willy-nilly.

The series is set at an international spy agency called ISIS, where espionage and world crises serve mostly as background noise for the real action, which consists of dysfunctional and disgruntled colleagues trying to undermine, betray, seduce, and make each other look like complete idiots.

The suave master spy, Sterling Archer (voiced by Jon Benjamin), is a self-absorbed, irresponsible cad who cares little about anyone, except maybe his cold-hearted and domineering mother, Malory (Jessica Walter, from Arrested Development), who happens to run the spy agency and serves as Sterling's boss. She's also the one who assigned her son the less-than-studly code name of "Duchess."

Sterling's obsessive love-hate relationship with Mommy is a continuing thread that runs through the series. Another character describes the spy's unhealthy attachment to his mother as "dragging around a 35-year-old umbilical cord."

As heroic as Archer can be, he's also an unrepentant jerk. While he's racing through the city late one night, someone starts shooting at his car.

"Who are those guys?" asks Archer's frightened passenger.

"How should I know?" Archer replies, then rattles off some sinister possibilities: "KGB, the Stasi, Shining Path, this guy I know named Popeye. I have enemies, OK?"

"That's because no one likes you," his passenger explains.

In the premiere episode, Archer is suspected of padding his expense account to cover the cost of high-dollar call girls, gambling losses, and other suspicious outlays associated with his globe-trotting lifestyle. The only way out of the predicament is for Archer to break into the spy agency's computer and doctor the numbers on his expense sheets.

To accomplish that, he tries enlisting the aid of a number of colleagues, including Lana (comedian Aisha Tylor), a sexy fellow spy and Archer's former lover; Cyril (Chris Parnell), the agency's nerdy comptroller and Lana's current beau, and Cheryl (Judy Greer), the boss's secretary, who has a serious crush on Archer.

Series creator Adam Reed (the guy behind Adult Swim network's Frisky Dingo and Sealab 2021) has borrowed elements of every spy spoof from Get Smart to Austin Powers to The Man from U.N.C.L.E. to Burn Notice to Mad magazine's Spy vs. Spy. He's stirred them all up and spiced the whole stew with a richly raunchy, politically incorrect attitude that somehow manages to be both solidly adult and completely juvenile.

It's as if the foul-mouthed little punks from Comedy Central's South Park grew up, were issued automatic weapons, and told to go out and create anarchy in the world.

Archer obviously won't appeal to everybody, but the often-edgy shows from basic cable's FX rarely do - consider Nip/Tuck, The Shield, Sons of Anarchy, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Rescue Me. Archer's target audience would seem to be mostly males, particularly those who might be open-minded - or debased - enough to find humor in completely inappropriate places.

Whether or not the bawdy, sometimes hilarious series can stretch that demographic enough to survive longer than its scheduled 10 episodes remains to be seen. I just hope it stays around long enough for viewers to figure out one of the more bizarre catchphrases used by its main character: "Johnny Bench called."

He mumbles it at least twice in the show's first episode, and I for one have absolutely no idea what it means.



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