Brow Beat

Gateway Episodes: Archer

“El Secuestro” (The Kidnapping) is the episode of Archer that will get you hooked.


Picking a gateway episode of Archer, which has its Season 5 premiere tonight, is like trying to identify the biological father of lead character Sterling Archer: There are too many choices.

In four seasons, Adam Reed’s FX show—a James Bond spoof crossed with theater of the absurd, featuring possibly the best voice cast anywhere—has showcased a giddy progression of plots and characters, including space pirates, regular pirates, a tattooed baby, a Russian brain implant, dozens of Burt Reynolds references, Burt Reynolds himself, and the most disturbing mommy issues in TV history—thanks to Archer’s drunken mom Malory, voiced with deliciously evil gusto by Jessica Walter (whom you may know as Lucille Bluth).

But if you put Archer’s underwear gun to my head, I’d pick the second season’s “El Secuestro” (The Kidnapping) as the ideal introduction to Archer, which is not only a spy comedy, but a workplace comedy. It’s kind of like James Bond in an animated version of The Office, but weirder and dirtier. At the spy agency ISIS, paperwork and health plans are just as important as grappling hooks and double agents, and this episode offers examples aplenty of the show’s espionage, bureaucracy, and ever-present, joyous battiness.

The plot: Human resources manager Pam is kidnapped by masked thugs who think she’s the secretary Cheryl, who, we learn in this episode, is the descendent of a railroad-building, mega-wealthy family. The gang half-heartedly tries to get Pam back while whole-heartedly trying to get their mitts on dimwitted Cheryl’s cash. There are many revelations, which I won’t spoil, except to say that Pam is not a woman any person, team of terrorists, or group of mixed martial artists should ever kidnap or attempt to intimidate.

It’s the little moments that make Archer genius. My favorite bit in this episode might be Archer’s off-screen interaction with Cheryl’s pet ocelot, Babou. Archer (voiced by the wonderful H. Jon Benjamin)* is frequently dumb, arrogant, drunk, or all three, but sometimes he turns into the Muppet Babies version of himself, giving voice to the inner child that his dubious mom semi-terrorized. Archer finds Babu adorable, and that is itself adorable (to viewers, if not to his co-workers). As Archer puts it, “Look at his little spots! Look at his tufted ears!” In typically unfocused Archer fashion, he is more concerned with getting toys for the under-stimulated ocelot than getting Pam back from the kidnappers.

The episode features many trademarks of the show, such as Pam’s badassery, Archer’s fear of cyborgs, Lana’s competence, Cyril’s incompetence, Malory’s alcoholism, Cheryl’s compulsive lying, and Brett’s tendency to bleed all over the carpet after being accidentally shot. Along the way, there are plenty of examples of the show’s quick conversations and quotable dialogue. Cheryl, trying to comprehend Cyril’s financial woes, gripes, “The IRS? Jesus, how many Irish gangs are there?” Pam, hung over, laments, “My head feels like a bunch of monkeys fighting over a bucket of marbles.” The following conversation, mid-firefight, is typical of Archer’s ultra-dry wit:

                                Cheryl: (Screaming.)

                                Archer: Shut up! That vest is bulletproof.

                                Cheryl: Oh. (She gets shot in the arm.) Ow!

                                Archer: But it is, you know, a vest.

Alas, you’ll have to keep watching Archer to discover the wonderful Dr. Krieger, who isn’t in “El Secuestro.” ISIS’s demented version of Q drives a van, creates unholy animal-human hybrids, and is engaged to an anime hologram. Krieger is also, pound for pound, the nicest genetic clone of Adolph Hitler currently on television. So keep watching.

Check out the Gateway Episodes for The SopranosSex and the City, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and more.

* Correction, 1:55 p.m.: This post orginally misplaced the initial in a remarkably talented voice actor’s name. It is H. Jon Benjamin, not Jon H. Benjamin.