There is great truth to the sentiment that what appears simple and childish on the surface often hides the most profound and universal ideas of human goodness.
A cultural example of this phenomenon comes in the guise of the animated show, Archer. A show centred around the trials and tribulations of the men and women of the fictional independent, New York-based spy agency, ISIS (International Secret Intelligence Service).
That the show is both popular and critically acclaimed is self-evident. It has received an audience score of ‘9’ on Metacritic (based on 375 ratings) and an audience score of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. Critically, it has been nominated for fifteen Annie Awards, and has won the Prime-Time Emmy awards, four Critics’ Choice Awards, and two Gold Derby Awards.
Archer’s popularity comes from two places. First, it’s exemplary use of meta-comedy, referenced-based humour, and use of rapid-fire dialogue that creates comedic elements which are, at the same time, crude and witty, nihilistic and meaningful. And second, its ability to create well-rounded characters who, despite their insufficiencies, are always willing to help one another.
It is the second part of this equation that I would like to focus on.
The primary example of this is displayed in the show’s protagonist, Sterling Archer. A man who could accurately be described as an immature, self-centred, narcissistic, and egotistical man-child. Archer is clearly a man who suffers from an abundance of emotional deficiencies. His abandonment issues stem from the lack of love he received as a child. His constant need to overcompensate for his insufficiencies, typically through drink, women, and sheer stupidity, is the result of being bullied at school.
As a consequence, Archer is a socially inept alcoholic and sex addict. And when combined with his narcissism, results in the kind of man who behaves recklessly not because he is fearless, but because he genuinely believes himself to be impervious to harm.
This is actually the primary joke of the show. Archer is not the “world’s most dangerous secret agent” because he is highly competent. Rather, he is the “world’s most dangerous secret agent” because his ineptitude makes him a danger to everyone around him.
Then there’s Archer’s boss and mother, Mallory. In many ways, she is worse than her son. She is, like her son, narcissistic and self-centred, and perhaps a little too fond of the bottle. However, unlike her son, who is capable of showing some humanity in spite of his self-centredness, Mallory is an emotionally cold, unloving, and hypocritical woman. She berates her employees but frequently embezzles money from her own company (usually for one materialistic splurge or another), and she’s perfectly willing to exploit the talents of her staff for her own personal gain.
Finally, there is Cyril Figgis, the mild-mannered and softly-spoken accountant who is, perhaps, the worse of the lot. Crippled with self-doubt and frequently the target of Archer’s provocations, Figgis is a man brimming with hatred and resentment. He is a man who abuses power once he gets it and fails to accept either advice or help from
What makes Archer a compelling show is that these characters are willing to help and forgive one another in spite of all their insufficiencies. Even Mallory Archer and Cyril Figgis are prepared to help their colleagues when they get into trouble, albeit begrudgingly. Sterling Archer may be a self-centred buffoon, but he’s the first person to come to his friend’s aid when they get in trouble. Heck, he even describes Pam Poovey, the overweight human resources manager, as his best friend.
This is why Archer is compelling to watch. It reminds us that human beings are not perfect, but they can still find it within themselves to help one another.