One of the things I like most about Archer is that it doesn’t devolve into a lazy James Bond parody with cartoonish super villains and wacky gadgets. For all its quirkiness, it’s actually a fairly realistic representation of a spy agency.
At its root, it’s not a spy show, it’s a workplace comedy. It just so happens that that work place is a spy agency. If anything, it’s more of a parody of Gray’s Anatomy, as the employees of ISIS are constantly sleeping with each other in various combination.
Sterling Archer, the protagonist is not a particularly good spy. You get the impression that he only got the job because his mother is the boss. If there’s one nod to the Bond series, it’s Archer’s tendency to sleep with random women, though he’s never portrayed to be a particularly good lover. Sterling is played by H. Jon Benjamin, who has voiced characters in virtually every animated show of the last ten years (most recently Bob in Bob’s Burgers). As such, when you first hear him, it’s hard to accept him as a super spy action hero, but he grows on you over time.
Sterling’s mother, Malory, is played by Jessica Walter, who also played Lucille on Arrested Development. She’s pretty much the same character here; a selfish unsupportive mother with vices, but it’s a part she plays well.
The series airs on the cable channel, FX, which allows some partial nudity and swearing. But it uses them appropriately. I never felt like the show was being outrageous for the sake of being outrageous, like Family Guy sometimes does. In Archer, when a character takes her clothes off, it reveals something about the character, or it increases the effectiveness of a scene.
Archer’s strength lies in its characters. The cast is diverse and interesting, and the the interplay between them a multifaceted web of conflict. Archer used to date the female agent Lana Kane, who is dating (but not serious about) the comptroller Cyril Figgis (so Archer doesn’t like him), who is being blackmailed into sleeping with Cheryl, who sleeps with everyone (so she’s jealous of Lana for being the sexiest woman in the office), etc.
The animation is limited. Like a collection of still drawings with minor movements (like an arm raising, or mouth opening) but the still drawings are solid and pseudo realistic enough to make the show look better than its budget.
Archer is a show that takes the hard road and is better for it. It skips parody in favor of character- based comedy, and it doesn’t rely on the spy comedy genre cliches.