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Best animated comedy on TV: Archer combines spy thrills with Arrested Development flair

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Austin Photo Set: News_ryan_archer returns_jan 2013
Courtesy of FX

Thursday night on FX will see the premiere of the fourth season of what is perhaps the best animated comedy series to air on either network or cable television.

While most American viewers find their comedic pleasure with Fox’s Sunday animated lineup of Seth MacFarlane franchises and a dilapidated Simpsons, fans hoping for something more out of their animated comedies need only turn to Fox’s sister channel (unless Bob’s Burgers is on, but more on that later).

For the unfortunately uninitiated, Archer details the inner workings of the spy agency ISIS and its "devastatingly handsome" top agent Sterling Archer in an anachronistic time setting where the Cold War never ended. While the series offers up its fair share of globetrotting espionage thrills and action sequences, the true allure stems from its spotlight on the personal conflicts experienced between Archer and his coworkers at the spy agency.

 For the unfortunately uninitiated, Archer details the inner workings of the spy agency ISIS and its "devastatingly handsome" top agent Sterling Archer in an anachronistic time setting where the Cold War never ended.  

And these are conflicts that basically write themselves, thanks to well-developed characters that are a must when someone wants to write award-winning comedy. Like “The Gang” from It’s Always Sunny in Philadephia, you fall in love with them despite their epic flaws and mental hang-ups, whether it’s glue-eating masochistic secretary Cheryl or the always quotable Dr. Krieger (who may happen to be one of the Boys from Brazil).

A focus on personal dynamics is what prompted show creator Adam Reed to draw the parallel with the widely acclaimed series Arrested Development. Central characters act as one big dysfunctional family that tries to get along to complete the mission at hand, while also trying to avoid each other’s attempts at backstabbing and childish name calling.

Arrested Development parallels

Of course the series can also draw parallels with Arrested Development as it is home to former AD alums Jessica Walter and Judy Greer and features guest appearances by Jeffrey Tambor and David Cross. One could even see Archer as a halfway house for the actors before they make their triumphant return to new episodes of Arrested Development, so it’s not hard to notice a bit of a crossover in the series’ fandom.

Credit should still be given to creator Adam Reed for improving the series with each season, solidifying it as a certifiable hit. Reed has built a following of fans since his work on Sealab 2021, one of the early iconic series from Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming block. He further crafted Archer’s future comedy style of references, callbacks and witty dialogue with his sadly short-lived series, Frisky Dingo.

Luckily for fans, the wait wasn’t too unbearably long before Reed landed back on his feet and on a new network. Though Archer didn’t start out at its current level of quality (and had less than decent ratings), FX believed in the show and allowed Reed and his team to find the best recipe for success.

 Comedy and storytelling have always been done well by the show’s writers, but they have also excelled when employing unbelievable guest voices. 

Comedy and storytelling have always been done well by the show’s writers, but they have also excelled when employing unbelievable guest voices, whether it’s Bryan Cranston as a eugenics-minded space station commander or Burt Reynolds in a special badass appearance as Burt Reynolds.

Season four will have even more stars to offer. Justified's Timothy Olyphant lending his voice as a fellow secret agent in an upcoming episode; Ron Lieberman, the real-life husband of Jessica Walter, will also make a surprise appearance; the culinary world will have a representative when Anthony Bourdain (and his love of casual vulgarity) graces the show.

The most interesting thing to come out of this new season could be the growing connections between Archer and Bob’s Burgers, two animated comedies that have improved in quality since their premieres and are now at the top of the game.

H. Jon Benjamin provides the lead voices in both shows, so expect a special nod to his network series when Archer premieres this Thursday. Benjamin’s Bob’s Burgers costars, Eugene Mirman and Kristen Schaal, will also be there to further solidify the link between the two awesome animated series.

And for fans of Reed’s past work, expect an overt nod when the ISIS team makes a visit to a sea lab in a future episode, although this may prove to be a spoiler that the lab won’t survive before the end of the episode.

Tune into Archer, 9 p.m. Central time Thursday on FX, for some of the best insults to grace our television screens.

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