The best comedy performers and series develop their own comic language and syntax, with unique joke structures and, perhaps, a few choice catchphrases. FX's animated superspy sitcom Archer fits this bill, with its double-stitching of scene to scene, high-minded academic references to contrast its pop-culture parody, and low-minded abandon when it comes to scatology, raunch, and violence. Archer's back on two fronts with the home-video release of Archer: The Complete Fourth Season and the premiere of Season Five. Clearly, Archer is coming for you. Phrasing. Boom!
In Season Four, the show's basic "James Bond meets Arrested Development" vibe remains intact, with wacky spy-themed plots that suggest Mel Brooks' Get Smart were it to step into the postmodern. The season begins as if resolving a cliffhanger, though Season Three made a clean break. In season opener "Fugue and Riffs," written and directed by Adam Reed, top ISIS agent Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) has full-blown amnesia, leaving his coworkers to find him and gently restore his memory, lest his fugue state become permanent. In a high-concept crossover gag, Archer believes he's the proprietor of Bob's Burgers; Bob's Burgers is, of course, the other animated sitcom starring H. Jon Benjamin. As usual, Archer's psychological problems can be traced back to his vaguely unwholesome relationship with his mother, Mallory (Jessica Walter of Arrested Development), who recently married a car dealer named Ron Cadillac (Ron Liebman, Walter's real-life husband).
Obviously, anything goes, and the more (self-)referential, the better. Archer refuses to take seriously any of its plot developments, especially the status of the lower appendages of ISIS agent Ray Gillette (Reed). Last season, Ray pretended to be paralyzed, revealed he wasn't paralyzed, then was actually paralyzed; the flip-flopping continues in Season Four, when the demented Dr. Krieger (Lucky Yates) offers Gillette bionic legs. Like Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 for the age of "friends with benefits" (or, in this case, frenemies with benefits), Archer and fellow agent Lana (Aisha Tyler) have sort of a thing going, despite Lana's long-suffering reluctance to go there and her romantic entanglement with another co-worker, accountant-turned-field agent Cyril Figgis (Chris Parnell).
Hip guest stars continue to give the show infusions of creative energy. Anthony Bourdain shows up to be the center of an amusing reality-TV parody—"Bastard Chef"—complete with inside-baseball references to snappy "bumpers" of Bourdain's nasty Lance Casteau berating his staff (the ISIS team undercover). Timothy Olyphant (of FX's equally terrific Justified) turns up as an enemy spy who's gay for Archer, and in another episode, Olyphant's Justified co-star Nick Searcy plays a bumbling border patrol agent. The FX party continues with Dayton Callie (Sons of Anarchy), and the two-part season finale "Sea Tunt" features Eugene Mirman (Bob's Burgers), Kristen Schaal (Flight of the Conchords), and Jon Hamm as the megalomaniacal manager of a sealab.
Archer's animation encourages its penchant for weirdness, whether it be a sexual seafood fetish that's rampant in the ISIS offices, Archer dressing as Father Guido Sarducci to go undercover at the Vatican, or a snakebite-induced hallucination of James Mason (voiced by guest star Peter Serafinowicz). Picking up after the bombshell-dropping finale, Archer has only become more adventurous in its current season, proof that there's plenty of life left in the show.
Fox delivers Archer: The Complete Fourth Season in a two-disc Blu-ray set that should please fans and maybe make a few new ones. A/V specs are consistent and impressive, with vivid color, deep black level and every detail the imagery has to offer (the occasional shimmering line presents only a rare distraction), as well as lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes that pack surprising punch and offer thoughtful placement of effects; especially as animated sitcoms go, Archer delivers some serious firepower on a fairly consistent basis, along with more nuanced directional effects.
Bonuses are slim this time out, but rewarding all the same. "Fisherman's Daughter" (3:28, HD) is a very amusing short that seems suspiciously like a fully animated deleted scene.
"Archer Live!" (20:03, HD) is a total treat, though it's too bad Fox either couldn't or wouldn't present the entire event. What's here instead is a generous sampling of highlights (with a few talking-head clips) of the Archer Live! event that included the cast's live readings of scenes, a variety of entertaining stunts, and plenty of loose joking around. Given the relatively small number of extras, it would've been cool to see the event from start to finish, but we'll take what we can get.
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