‘Archer’ Review: Move to Hollywood Gives Spy Sitcom Fresh Targets

“Archer” returns for its seventh season Thursday, looking better than ever


In its seventh season, “Archer” remains as reliably funny and lovably immature as ever.

An action-spy spoof that’s expanded to become a caustic office comedy, Adam Reed’s creation continues to tinker with its formula just enough to keep Sterling Archer’s blowhard adventures from losing their cheeky novelty. This season’s relocation to Los Angeles is merely the latest inspiration for a show that sometimes goes a long way just on its sturdy catchphrases and surly character interactions.

If you’ve never been on this animated series’ wavelength, the new season won’t convert you. But this sitcom’s loyal following will swallow every inch of it. (Phrasing!)

As the season premiere begins, the New York spy agency formerly known as ISIS has been converted into the Figgis Agency, a private detective firm for Hollywood’s rich and glamorous clientele. The show quickly dispenses with references to “Sunset Boulevard” and “Chinatown,” and moves into a mystery that seems likely to last. It involves a beautiful, enigmatic actress and a computer disc with highly personal information.

But judging from the four episodes made available by FX, the twists and turns will be merely amusing background noise to the show’s delightfully bitchy interplay between Sterling (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin) and his coworkers: his on-again/off-again lover Lana (voiced by Aisha Tyler), the buttoned-down Cyril (voiced by Chris Parnell), and Sterling’s nitpicking, boozy mother Malory (voiced by Jessica Walter).

With Reed serving as the show’s head writer since the series began, “Archer” has had a remarkable tonal consistency. The characters evolve over time but never go so far afield that they lose believability — at least within their deliberately ludicrous framework. Everybody at the Figgis Agency is funny in his or her precise way, and no one’s so one-note that any character’s presence gets to be a drag. (Even gossiping office workers Cheryl/Carol, voiced by Judy Greer, and Pam, voiced by Amber Nash, are so well-developed that they’re always fun to have around.)

But “Archer” begins and ends with Sterling, the playboy spy whose desire never to grow up has been slowly eroded by time and circumstance. Benjamin — who gives a warmer, more beleaguered vocal performance as the harried dad in his other animated series, “Bob’s Burgers” — portrays Sterling with a cocky, temperamental edge that’s consistently, delightfully undercut by his own stupidity or the refusal of those around him to put up with his suave secret-agent posturing.

Hitting on beautiful women while the mother of his child, Lana, is in the same room, Sterling is a troubled narcissist still dealing with an emotionally fraught upbringing. (We learn more about it when a bully from his prep-school days hires him for a most unconventional job.) There’s just enough sweetness in Benjamin’s voice and soulfulness in the character’s eyes that it’s hard to dislike this drunken, smug misogynist.

The show’s visual design has grown more sophisticated, far removed from the rougher early seasons, which got laughs from the characters’ hilariously stiff movements. The show’s newly polished aesthetic heightens Reed’s litany of sex, drug and pop culture jokes.

“Archer” doesn’t do traditional setup/punch line bits but, rather, lets fly with sarcastic observations that detonate on all sides. (It’s a wonder the Figgis Agency finds time to do any spying amid the clever burns, snotty comebacks and crass name-calling.) Los Angeles is a convenient addition to the show’s collection of punching bags — its ultra-restrictive preschools and mansion-on-the-hill extravagance get theirs. And the guest stars, including Keegan Michael-Key, J.K. Simmons and Patton Oswalt, are impressive.

But there’s still plenty of room for old running jokes like Sterling’s annoying outgoing voicemail messages and the gang’s enthusiasm for yelling “Phrasing!” whenever anybody says anything that could be misconstrued as sexual innuendo. What a bunch of idiot jerks they are. It’s great to have them back.

“Archer” airs Thursdays at 10/9c on FX.