Archer: More than your average bond parody
Twelve seasons isn’t bad for a show that has spent its entire life competing for attention and affections against modern animated giants like Family Guy and South Park. The tragic death of Jessica Walter, the beloved voice of the titular hero, makes it look like a comedy spy-saga archer will be putting down its tactical turtleneck. Walther-PPK may also be on the horizon as Season 12 looks to be the show’s final swansong. It’s not likely that Sterling and his co. will be gone forever, but it is fitting to reflect on a show that has quietly been one of the most beloved animated shows of the past 20 years.
Commentators, critics, and fans have always wished to label Archer an outright parody. It is a mockumentary of the spy genre that aims at James Bond and his neck-snapping, jet-setting escapades just for laughs. While this is not necessarily false, it puts Archer alongside Leslie Nielsen’s Spy Hard and Austin Powers. To make affectionate spoofs that draw directly from the source material, then add a few slapstick gags to it, is to underestimate the breadth and depth of a world that lives and breathes as a sentient entity—a world which subverts and satirizes the films and shows that inspired it. After a few episodes, you will begin to appreciate the richness and complexity of the Archer-verse.
Sterling Archer is the title character. His codename, Duchess’, does not come from random selection or as an honour due to his seismic covert operations. It comes from the name of his mother and boss’s, dearly deceased Afghan Hound. Surprisingly, Archer looks like James Bond. He is a romanticised masculine archetype who is known for being the ‘world’s most dangerous spy. His hair is so thick, his barber charges him twice, and is irresistible to almost every member of the opposite sex.
But Archer’s idealized appearance hides a deeper dysfunction that continues to unfold as the series progresses. This includes his bully-ridden childhood at boarding school, his inability to have a father, and his strained relationship with Mallory, his mother. The latter is a hyper-extension to the maternal figure of the spy genre. This could be Bond’s ‘M’ or The Avengers’ aptly-titled “Mother,” during the Brosnan/Dench eras. Mallory’s constant presence in the son’s lives can be comically rich as well as dramatic. She suffocates him and his fragile ego. In the first episode, Archer’s series lover and co-agent Lana Kana says: “I dumped you because you’re carrying around a 35-year-old umbilical cord.”
Archer is, therefore, the intersection of a male fantasy figure and the more grounded and real turmoil of how such figures might actually live. Although Archer appears to be attractive, smart, athletic, and exceedingly desirable, as a person, he is narcissistic and maternally dependent. He is also a high-functioning alcoholic and a risk to himself and those around him.