The first season of FX's 'Archer' took me by surprise, with hilarious/insane episodes coming in rapid succession, with little down time. It proved to be the best way to get a viewer hooked on a show, with no tedious slowdowns for character development that we pick up as the series rolls on anyways. After the experimental teaser of a season, the renewed series was upped from a ten episode slate to thirteen for season two (while the next season is already slated for sixteen new stories!), and normally that's where fans turn all mushy and ecstatic and whatnot. Sadly, I'm not on board with the overall quality of this second season, which felt like a notable and obvious step backwards. Was the added strain an issue? Were the writers already running out of jokes? Of course, there's still a real gem of an episode sprinkled here and there in this second season, but there are more than a few episodes I probably won't be viewing again, for a handful of reasons.
The entire dysfunctional crew of ISIS secret agents and support "drones" are back with a vengeance! Whether they're on assignment protecting an heiress from potential kidnappers, teaching movie stars proper technique and vernacular for future roles, or once again seeking out stolen discs with invaluable, incriminating data on them, the job will always get done, though the route taken to completion is one of the most awkward dances imaginable from this horribly unprofessional bunch. Personal issues, like a bastard child, family inheritance, or even cancer add even more distractions, and when the world's greatest spy, Sterling Archer, heads to Russia to confront the head of the KGB (who may be his father), all bets are off!
This batch of 'Archer' episodes isn't as even or as fast moving as those found in the first season. With a couple of two part episodes, as well as numerous ones focusing on single members of the cast not named Archer or Lana, there are plenty of odd tangents being explored as well, and while sometimes they're memorable, there's not too much going on that rivals the ridiculous espionage and intrigue found earlier in the show.
While we start out on a high note, with constant sex jokes featuring the Paris Hilton-esque Anka and her obsession with Archer (which leads to nothing but misery, accusation, and penis stitches for our hero), we're quickly dragged down in the second episode, where Malory attempts to sell ISIS to rival company ODIN, due to her financial difficulties caused by a Ponzi scheme, on top of an already tough economy, and while the stories with Trinette (the escort) are always a gem, for some reason her appearances here with the wee baby Seamus are hardly gut-busting. The drag continues with the fourth episode, which features environmental terror, though it's fun to see Archer living his Burt Reynolds-like dreams, if only momentarily. Then, sadly, this season's primary Cyril episode is a real boner, with a great gag (the computer virus) lost and underutilized due to the story of his undependability and borderline uselessness.
It takes eight episodes for this season to really get moving, and it runs like the wind, never looking back. When Archer (Sterling, not Malory) is diagnosed with breast cancer, the door to hilarity is instead opened, as we see the selfish superego suddenly knocked back a peg, dealing with his own mortality, as well as a doctor who can't quite figure out if the surgery was a success or a failure. In the very next episode, which may be the best in the entire season, Archer discovers his chemo medicine is counterfeit, and goes on a rampage, seeking out the bastard who has been supplying cancer patients with sugar and IV-drip Zima instead of the real goods. As soon as Archer gets on the real meds, his deterioration is beyond funny, as he can't put down the doobies or stop vomiting, yet he still wants to blow the holy hell out of all the sick bastards who jeopardized his life for personal gain. When Carol/Cheryl has her dirty family secret revealed, the door is open for more hilarity, as she tosses her best friend Pam to the wolves, almost literally, in order to escape a kidnapping attempt, while the final two episodes feature the rivalry between ODIN's Barry Dillon and Archer, one that may finally come back to bite Archer on the ass for all the times he screwed his counterpart (though, not literally).
This season has some great callbacks, one to the opening shot of the show, as Archer realizes he should have taken the interrogation training a bit more seriously, and then to previous moments this season, as the suave dunderhead mistakes a foil wrapped leftover dish shaped like a swan (one that he regularly gets, himself) for a robot leaking oil (sweet and sour sauce), and then refusing to admit that the kidnappers using a voice modulator are actually human, not robots who must obey the rules about not hurting actual people. It's these fun moments, where the usually quick witted, razor sharp hero trips and lands face first, that make the show what it is, though there are only a few this time around. The extremely elaborate plans and how often they backfire, it's a real treat to watch. The dialogue remains amazingly hilarious, including a 'Family Feud' inspired interrogation sequence that is one of the funniest damn things I've ever heard, in real life or in entertainment media.
This season of 'Archer' has a lot of random stories focusing on the bizarre members of ISIS (and even Archer's servant, Woodhouse), and these peculiar twists both make and break the season. Every single bit featuring Krieger is a gem, to say the least, from joke allusions to ones with actual visual payoffs, while Ray, Pam, and Malory do little worthy of even a sarcastic guffaw. There are also times that even the voice actors seem a little bored with the material, too wobbly and uneven compared to other episodes to not notice. The show is still an entertaining watch, one that I'm dying to get my hands on the minute the third season hits Blu-ray... it's just that this batch of episodes is too uneven, too darned hit or miss for my tastes. Fans of the first season should keep slightly lowered expectations going in, but in the end, more 'Archer' is still good 'Archer.' Unlike 'The Simpsons.'
The Disc: Vital Stats
Fox brings this second season of 'Archer' to Blu-ray across two Region A marked BD50 discs. There is a season play mode that helps you keep track of your point in the season, and functions quite well with the disc swap. The two menus are identical, though the real extras are only found on the second disc.
Presented in 1080p, the second season of 'Archer' is a miniscule, tiny as can be step forward from the already excellent picture quality found on the first season's Blu-ray release. It isn't enough of an improvement to move into the rarified "five star" video score territory, but this is, most definitely, one of the best looking TV on Blu-ray releases...ever.
Colors are amazingly solid, without a single hint of banding to be found. Textures in backgrounds are phenomenal, the clarity in the finer lines, the light fades and contrast (like in Malory's greying hair) all top notch. The episode in the swamp, the way the water looks is absolutely phenomenal, with the lightest reflections looking painted on by a master artisan. Blacks are solid, though a hair short of truly inky. There's a rare bit of light artifacting visible in skin very rarely, though the episode with WW1 flashbacks features a few issues in the uniforms. There's minor as can be aliasing in finer lines in a distance, while there is also some diagonal lining and stairstepping in the thicker character outlines. There's only one moment with any pulse effect, and it's a brief shot. These errors are very few and far between. This release proves that the Warner Bros. cartoon show on Blu-ray releases would benefit from breathing room. 'Archer' is spread out luxuriously, like the roomiest first class seats available, not cramped back in coach between Kevin Smith-like passengers.
The audio for the second season of 'Archer' is a big step forward from the first, enough so to earn a dramatic boost in scoring. Dialogue is strong, stocky, and powerful, with fantastic dynamics and some very awesome intentional distortions. Ambient effects are light, but really shine from the start, like the portable music player on the jailbait temptress in the first episode making you wonder if you have a cell phone in the room going off...regardless of if you own a cell phone or not! The rears get light noise, but it's mostly appropriate, and while rooms don't always feel as busy as they look, there's at least something put behind you from time to time. The airboat localizes fantastically, while the exterior shots (outside the cleaner front for ISIS) feature some great movement and localization. Gunshots (at point blank!) have the most amazing high pitch and ringing, and bass is appropriate for explosions and other heavy pops. The episode with the hacked computers is an audio gem, too, with the pirate and parrot gag really coming from all (or random) angles, truly selling the hilarity. I noticed some light distortion in dialogue, particularly in the car scene mid-rampage, that can't be explained by the chemo drugs. With some more expanding of the ambiance, I could see this show earning higher marks in the future. A major step forward from the previous season, this one's a gem in the audio department!
'Archer' remains the best show on television you're either not watching...or haven't even heard of. While the second run of episodes isn't up to the amazingly high bar set in the premiere season, these thirteen episodes have some really funny stuff mixed in throughout, and while only a few episodes are top notch, there's nothing funnier than a cancer-riddled Archer laying down his "Terms of En-rampage-ment" on those who crossed him. This Blu-ray release is even better than the first season's Blu-ray, with slightly improved (and still top notch) video, and a major improvement in the audio department. Fans of the show may be divided on this season, but they should definitely pick it up. Curious parties, pick up the first season and see if you like it before treading these waters.