''Archer'' is an American adult animated sitcom
created by Adam Reed
. The show follows the exploits of a dysfunctional intelligence agency, led by Sterling Archer
(voiced by H. Jon Benjamin
) and seven of his colleagues—his mother Malory Archer (Jessica Walter
), Lana Kane
), Cyril Figgis (Chris Parnell
), Cheryl Tunt
), Pam Poovey (Amber Nash
), Ray Gillette (Reed) and Dr. Algernop Krieger (Lucky Yates
). ''Archer'' history is distinguished by continual reinvention, evolving from the standard setup of a workplace sitcom mocking spy film to an anthology
with self-contained mythologies. The show returned to its spy parody roots post-tenth season.
Reed conceived ''Archer'' shortly after the cancellation of his Adult Swim
comedy ''Frisky Dingo
''. His experience vacationing in Spain, and the influence of media franchises such as the ''James Bond'' series
, shaped his vision of the show. Some of the hallmarks include pop culture reference-heavy humor, rapid-fire dialogue, and meta-comedy
. ''Archer'' limited animation
style draws visually from mid-century comic art. Actors record their lines individually, and the show regularly employs a recurring cast for supporting characters. Since its premiere on September 17, 2009, 118 episodes
of the show have aired. New episodes of ''Archer'' have been broadcast on sibling network FXX
''Archer'' has received positive reviews from critics and won awards, including three Primetime Emmy Award
s and four Critics Choice Award
s. It has also received 15 Annie Award
nominations, among others, for outstanding achievement in animation, writing, direction, and voice acting. The show has spawned various forms of licensed merchandise, including books and an album, resulting from sustained success.
Characters and settings
''Archer'' follows the exploits of eight dysfunctional secret agents
and supporting staff of the International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS), a fictional New York
–based intelligence agency. The group consists of Sterling Archer
, the show's narcissistic, womanizing protagonist;
Malory Archer, the retired agent-turned-ISIS director and Sterling's snarky, emotionally distant mother;
[ Lana Kane, Sterling's love interest and mother of his infant daughter, and by far the most professional field agent at ISIS;] Ray Gillette, the agency's openly gay bomb specialist; [ Pam Poovey, the head of the agency's Human Resources department who is often ridiculed by her peers;] [ Cyril Figgis, a mild-mannered accountant-turned-agent;] [ Cheryl Tunt, Malory's delusional, psychotic personal assistant;] and Dr. Algernop Krieger, a bizarre, morally bankrupt scientist with little regard for the well-being of his test subjects.
The show features an array of supporting characters, several of whom gained expanded roles in subsequent episodes. Major supporting roles in ''Archer'' include Slater, an arms dealer and agent for the CIA; Katya Kazanova, head of the KGB and Sterling's former love interest; and Barry Dylan, Sterling's nemesis who, after seeking redemption, becomes his friend.
Events in ''Archer'' early seasons transpire in an anachronistic, Cold War-esque universe. By proxy, the real time history is frequently referenced, though the comedy's timeline is intentionally vague. This strategy allowed producers the freedom to source elements they felt best fit the in-canon universe. [ In the show's more contemporary episodes, ''Archer'' eschews its spy comedy roots to advance Sterling's character arc.] Each season has a unique mythology of events that highlights the group's incompetence, where they are forced to undertake a series of strange tasks in highly unusual circumstances. The main storyline climaxes when Sterling falls into a coma. From seasons eight to ten, ''Archer'' is reimagined in three self-contained universes, coinciding with a deeper exploration of Sterling's psyche.
Syndication and streaming
The cable television network Comedy Central previously owned exclusive US broadcast syndication rights for ''Archer''. Comedy Central began airing the series on their network on March 2, 2015, in one-hour program time slots. In the United Kingdom, Viceland owns exclusive cable syndication rights for ''Archer''s first five seasons.
In Canada, the show is syndicated nationally on Adult Swim (previously Teletoon's Teletoon at Night block from 2010 to 2019), and new episodes are aired in tandem with the American broadcast. Endemol Shine International distributes ''Archer'' internationally.
In 2014, Amazon Prime and Hulu purchased online streaming rights to ''Archer'' as part of multiyear licensing agreements with 20th Television. Beginning in 2018, Hulu retains exclusive streaming rights to the show in the US via a new licensing agreement with 20th Century Fox.
Before the creation of ''Archer'', Adam Reed worked on animated comedies with executive producer and longtime collaborator Matt Thompson. The pair later became renowned for their work on a number of Adult Swim television projects, chiefly ''Sealab 2021'' and their follow-up ''Frisky Dingo'', which aired for several years.
After the cancellation of ''Frisky Dingo'' in 2008, Reed took a vacation to Spain to brainstorm ideas for a new project. His experience traversing the Vía de la Plata, and people-watching in Plaza Mayor in nearby Salamanca, enabled him to conceptualize his vision of ''Archer''. Reed recalled in an interview, "So I sat on the Plaza Mayor for three days—drinking either coffee or beer or gin, depending on the time of day—surrounded by these Spanish women who seemed both unaware and completely aware of their beauty. Occasionally they would glance over—and catch me gaping at them—and just smile at me like, 'I know, right?' And for three days, I couldn't even splutter ''Buenos dias'' to any of them—not once. And thus was Sterling Archer born—he would've absolutely sauntered over to a table full of those women and sat down and ordered an entire case of cava or whatever." Nevertheless, he believed developing a sitcom with the theme of global espionage was inevitable given his proclivity for adventure-driven comedy. [ The ''James Bond'' franchise, ''OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies'' (2006), and ''The Pink Panther'' franchise were Reed's inspiration as the series, then under the working title ''Duchess'', began taking definite form.] [
By August 18, 2009, following Reed's pitch to FX, the network commissioned six episodes for ''Archer''.] FX initially commissioned the project as a companion series for their situational comedy ''It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia'', but the network ultimately delayed ''Archer'' premiere to the following January because of the demanding production schedule, and ''The League'' became ''Philadelphia'' companion show instead. Despite this, the pilot, "Mole Hunt", aired as a test screening on September 17, 2009, following the season five premiere of ''Philadelphia''. The pilot was not featured in program listings or otherwise promoted by FX; rather the network merely informed select television critics of the broadcast.
FX moved ''Archer'' to FXX's broadcast lineup in 2017 as part of an aggressive strategy to increase the network's output of animated programming. FX had planned the move before the show's seventh season, in conjunction with the debut of ''Cassius and Clay'', but momentarily dropped their endeavor after ''Clay'' abrupt cancellation. FXX renewed ''Archer'' for a twelfth season, scheduled to premiere in 2021.
Scriptwriting an episode consumes three weeks of the production schedule.
As the comedy's main writer, Reed typically creates the first draft during pre-production, which he submits to his team of producers and art directors. From there, they analyze the script for each character, cast guest stars, and create basic concept designs, before Reed develops a final script to submit to FXX. [ The extent of Reed's oversight diminished when FXX expanded Thompson and executive producer Casey Willis' creative responsibilities for new episodes. A typical ''Archer'' episode goes through a page of dialogue per minute.]
''Archer'' uses the standard setup of a workplace comedy, where "subversively unlikeable" characters play off bawdy, reference-heavy humor, rapid-fire dialogue, and interaction-based drama. Early episodes parody spy film and routinely mock cliches of the genre. By the end of the fourth season, however, Reed questioned the longevity of the comedy's spy premise and began contemplating a new direction for ''Archer'', impelled by the then-growing associations of ISIS with the identically initialled jihadist group. Newer seasons experiment with the standard format of an anthology, each with self-contained mythologies of arcs, settings, humor, and personas. Reed said, "Once we started making them, and having a good time making them, e thought'what are some other things we can do now that the boundaries have sort of been passed?'" [
Cultural references on ''Archer'' cover a wide spectrum of society and the human condition, in film, literature and music for example.] Some—chiefly references to literature—are obscure, and the audience often may not notice them in a single viewing. Reed cites his time as a university English major as the primary forebear for the show's literary references. [ ''Archer'' also develops a unique self-referentiality through character-based jokes, catchphrases, and running gags that evolve over multiple episodes.] [ For example, Sterling or another character may yell "phrasing" in response to any sexually suggestive remark. Neil Genzlinger of ''The New York Times'' argues that ''Archer'' uses "a caustic brand of humor that isn't for everybody but that has brought the show a dedicated fan base."]
''Archer'' animation style mirrors the aesthetic of ''Mad Men'' and mid-century comic art in the style of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, among others.
[ Line work is pronounced by thick, bold outlines, in contrast to the very fine, thin line work characteristic of prime time comedies such as ''The Simpsons'' and ''Family Guy''.] Production of the comedy involves a workforce of 150 specialized artists from Reed and Thompson's Atlanta-based company Floyd County Productions, quadrupled the workforce that oversaw its freshman season.
''Archer''s production process uses Adobe software—Photoshop, Illustrator, and After Effects—as well as visual effects programs such as Toon Boom Harmony and Cinema 4D for compositing and animation. [ This begins with storyboarding, typically after a script has been approved,] and lasts around 11–13 weeks per episode. Four episodes are produced in tandem at any given session, generally in staggered phases. [ In the initial stages of animation, art director Chad Hurd and producer Neal Holman storyboard set pieces with a team of artists based on specifications in the script.] After a series of design revisions and reviews, these skeletal designs are then rendered as 3D models in Autodesk 3ds Max, employing a variety of animation and special effects techniques. [ The illustration team takes various screenshots of the 3D models once they have been completed, and the resulting images are enhanced by specialized artists in After Effects.] [
The characters are composed in Illustrator using referential material, among them photos of models and actors in costume.] [ Because ''Archer'' is produced using limited animation, characters are rendered as digital puppets, and not hand-drawn on paper and digitally composited for traditional cel animation.] Costumes may or may not be reproduced depending on their animatability; too much detail can hurt a character's animatability. [ These body pieces are then separated into basic components and layers, much like an action figure, and rigged in After Effects.] [ Consequently, one given pose can turn into a range of others, which, according to producer Bryan Fordney, creates "the illusion of more animation on screen than what is actually present."] [ A similar technique is used in the animation of a character's face—head illustrations are divided into basic components that can be turned "off" and "on" in sequence, lending the appearance of facial movement and expression.] [ Source code is often implemented to ensure better automation and a more fluid range of motion.] [
Once compositing begins, compositors enhance the visual palette of artwork from three or four departments until it "looks like it was made by a single artist."] For elaborate scenes like action sequences, artists develop several composites, which are then superimposed on stock footage using special effects. [
Title sequence and music
Holman cited ''Catch Me If You Can'' (2002), ''The Incredibles'' (2004), ''Kiss Kiss Bang Bang'' (2005), and the work of Saul Bass as strong stylistic influences in the creation of ''Archer'' title sequence.
[ When he was developing the original sequence, the rough draft version consisted of style frames with roiling flame silhouettes of the characters coalesced on a charred, black background. The crew initially struggled to develop an opening theme they believed was compatible with the premise of ''Archer'', but once the show's eponymous theme song had been completed, Holman felt his idea was too melodramatic and went in a different direction.] He created the finalized version of the sequence from several segments, each reviewed by the producers, because of the demanding production schedule. The standard opening of ''Archer'' has gone through six iterations—a replacement of shots at the start of the show's sixth season, and brand new sequences for its fifth, seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth seasons.
''Archer'' did not employ a composer to develop a soundtrack in its first four seasons, but instead used a compilation of needle drop stock music. [ By season five, musician JG Thirlwell was hired as the composer for the comedy's jazz-influenced score, brought to the producers' attention for his work on ''The Venture Bros.''.]
''Archer'' has a principal cast of eight actors: H. Jon Benjamin, Jessica Walter, Aisha Tyler, Judy Greer, Amber Nash, Chris Parnell, Lucky Yates, and Adam Reed. Benjamin voices the show's titular character,
Walter voices Malory Archer, Tyler plays Lana Kane, Greer portrays Cheryl Tunt, Nash plays Pam Poovey, Parnell voices Cyril Figgis, Yates portrays Dr. Algernop Krieger, and Reed plays Ray Gillette. [ Reed was expected to play the titular role in the original pilot, but was re-cast because producers felt his voice-over did not service the character's dialogue well.] When Benjamin received the offer, he was surprised since he did not believe his voice was suitable for the part. At one point, Benjamin used a British accent for the character, but Reed insisted he use his normal speaking voice.
Walter was the first significant casting choice on ''Archer''. Producers contracted her shortly after they sent out character descriptions to talent agencies, and they promoted her involvement to recruit actors for the project. Greer agreed to ''Archer'' because of her wish to break into voice acting, although she initially believed the series was too provocative for network TV. Nash did not audition for her part; rather, the actress was approached by Reed and Thompson, whom she had previously collaborated with in ''Frisky Dingo'', while she was recording DVD extras for their program. [ Yates was brought onto ''Archer'' at Nash's request, after Krieger was given a more prominent speaking role.] [
In addition to the main cast, episodes often feature guest voices from a range of professions. Major supporting roles in ''Archer'' are played by George Coe (until his death in 2015), Jeffrey Tambor, Christian Slater, Jon Hamm, Allison Tolman, Dave Willis, Ona Grauer, Keegan-Michael Key, Bryan Cranston, J.K. Simmons, and Simon Pegg, among others.] Some stars appear as themselves, or portray fictionalized caricatures of themselves, such as Slater, Kenny Loggins, as well as the late Anthony Bourdain and Burt Reynolds. [
''Archer'' cast members record their lines individually rather than at group recording sessions to accommodate their work schedules. The producers therefore do not host table reads or rehearsals.] Reed or another producer may be present at a session, or direct actors over the phone in the event they are not together. [ Recording sessions can take place anywhere, but are typically held at studios in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and New York, depending on the actor's home base.]
''Archer'' has been well received by the media. A number of TV critics have complimented the work of the voice actors,
often singling out Benjamin for further praise: [ Tim Goodman from ''The Hollywood Reporter'', for example, viewed Benjamin's acting as the bedrock of ''Archer'', "mixing rants, mumbling, whining and a stop-and-start delivery style that is note-perfect for comedy."] [ Other reviewers cited the writing, the crude sensibility, and characterization among the show's most satisfying attributes: the main characters have been described as "exceedingly well-defined." Chris Barton of the ''Los Angeles Times'' called ''Archer'' "the smartest, strangest animated show on TV this side of ''Rick and Morty'',"] and ''Entertainment Weekly'' journalist Ken Tucker praised the series for its "solid plotting, vividly distinct characters, and some of the most unexpected punchlines and sight-gags in prime time."
''Archer'' artistic reinvention is a principal topic of discussion among critics. Some journalists felt these arcs provide the show greater creative license to explore deeper within itself. [ While the comedy received positive feedback for staying true to form "in the service of something much grimier and at once totally fresh" in early seasons, later ''Archer'' episodes have been subjected to criticism as the tone and emphasis of the show evolves. By the eighth and ninth seasons, some critics believed that despite having greater visual appeal, ''Archer'' too often sacrifices narrative continuity and humor through increasingly predictable and uninspired writing.] [
The series has been included on a number of best of lists. ''TV Guide'' ranked ''Archer'' among the 60 greatest TV cartoons of all time, and the show placed within the top ten on ''Entertainment Weekly'' 25 Greatest Animated TV Series.] Similarly, ''The New Yorker'', in a non-ranked rundown of 2014's most noteworthy programs, called ''Archer'' "good counter-programming for every horrible thing in the news."
Several companion books have been published by HarperCollins' imprint It Books:
* ''How to Archer: The Ultimate Guide to Espionage and Style and Women and Also Cocktails Ever Written'' (January 2012, ), the fictional how-to guide of the daily life of Sterling Archer.
* ''Archer and Bob's Burgers: The Untold History of Television'' (August 2015, ) by Kathleen Olmstead, with information about the actors and production crew, the show's conception, and episode analyses.
* ''The Art of Archer'' (December 2016, ) by Neal Holman, with a foreword by Christian Slater. The book contains commentary on ''Archer'' creative development, concept art, cast interviews, script excerpts, and the original pitch for the series.
''Archer'' success allowed the ensemble to embark on a nationwide tour, ''Archer Live!'', where the actors performed scenes from the show's repertoire. The tour commenced with shows in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New York—sporadic dates were later added to the itinerary.
Live readings may also be held at promotional events such as the San Diego Comic-Con International.
FX released ''Cherlene (Songs from the Series Archer)'', a compilation of country music, on March 3, 2014, through digital media.
The album features a cover of "Danger Zone", with guest vocals by Kenny Loggins, as well as three original tracks composed by Aaron Lee Tasjan. [ Kevn Kinney, frontman of Drivin N Cryin, led music production of ''Cherlene''.] [ Kinney had met Adam Reed a decade earlier, and was hired after a lunch meeting with the writer and Matt Thompson in Atlanta.] [ ] In preparation for his services, Kinney viewed ''Archer'' first three seasons to familiarize himself with Cheryl Tunt—the eponymous character of ''Cherlene''. The album was recorded at Griffin Mastering, Inc. with a group that included Tasjan, David Franklin, and Drivin N Cryin member Dave V. Johnson on instrumentation. [ Jessy Lynn Martens provided Cheryl's singing voice, chosen because of her subdued Southern accent and likeness to Judy Greer's voice.] [ ''Cherlene'' received positive reviews and peaked at number 68 on iTunes' best-selling albums chart.
In June 2016, Thompson and Willis discussed the possibility of a feature-length ''Archer'' film with ''The Daily Beast''. According to Thompson, this discussion happens "once every two years" among Reed and the producers, although work on the project would likely not begin until after the show ends.
They cited Jon Hamm as their ideal choice of actor to portray Sterling if it's commissioned as a live-action adaptation. [
Crossover and other appearances
"Fugue and Riffs", ''Archer's'' season four premiere, is a crossover episode with the Fox series ''Bob's Burgers'', which also stars H. Jon Benjamin as the title character. It features a cameo of the Belcher family and Sterling, in a fugue state, assuming an identity identical to the main protagonist of ''Bob's Burgers''.
John Roberts reprises his role as Linda for the appearance. Reed devised the idea of a ''Bob's Burgers'' crossover because he was a fan of the series. According to H. Jon Benjamin, "He asked me to ask Loren Bouchard, ..so I was the middle man. It went really smoothly. It was around a 15–20 second phone call—then they turned it over to hundreds of thousands of lawyers." [ ''Archer'' also partook in a brief, high octane comedy skit for the late-night talk show ''Conan''.
The characters of ''Archer'' have appeared in other media as part of broad marketing campaigns for the show. ''Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue'' featured Lana, Cheryl, and Pam in a spread for their March 2016 issue to promote the seventh season, while a 2014 ''Esquire'' advertisement showcases Sterling in ready-to-wear from Ermenegildo Zegna and Saint Laurent. Similarly, to promote ''Kingsman: The Golden Circle'' (2017), Fox released an animated short film featuring Sterling's encounter with Eggsy Unwin.]
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