When one thinks “wholesome,” FX’s animated spy comedy Archer is probably not the first thing that pops to mind. But although Archer is absurd, raunchy, graphic, and often inappropriate, it actually is pretty incredible when you take a critical look at how the writers (and consequently characters) handle narratives involving representation, interpersonal relationships, and abuse.
To begin, the issue of representation: despite its jokes at the expense of minorities, Archer showcases a diverse cast relative to television. For example, Lana Kane is a black woman who doesn’t allow the others’ insensitivities to go unchecked. Ray Gillette is a southern gay man whose experiences as a minister actually resonate with other LGBT southerners who understand what it’s like to develop one’s sexual identity while steeped in a deeply religious environment. And the lead character, Sterling Archer, quite probably has a pervasive developmental disorder or might even be on the autistic spectrum (although this has never been confirmed, only discussed and alluded). This isn’t perfect as far as representation goes, but it’s important that a popular comedy addresses the various dynamics and disrespect that different groups face. Although the humor of the show is often at the expense of the characters, the characters don’t condone bigotry and frequently bigotry is blatantly condemned. This is an important distinction from comedies that rely on bigoted humor without ever addressing the damaging repercussions of that bigotry.
The show also tackles the complexities of interpersonal relationships and strong friendships. Although one wouldn’t think that individuals who frequently curse, lie, and shoot each other are the poster children for powerful friendships, Archer manages to balance the outlandish with the warm hearted in many instances. One example is when Pam revealed that the resulting weight loss from her cocaine addiction made her feel more loved and Sterling explains to her that not only do they love her regardless, but that they genuinely want her to be healthy. They celebrate and mourn together, and although their affection is often twisted and sent awry by their behavior, it’s still very much present.
Finally, Archer addresses abusive relationships quite frequently. Most especially between mother and son, as Sterling frequently discusses and argues with his mother about her narcissism and how it affected him as a child. Although often done so for the sake of dark humor, such discussions connect maternal abuse with future behavior and they also present maternal abuse in a nuanced fashion. Abuse is rarely such an obvious thing, because it’s often presented alongside maternal affection. Mallory Archer is just as quick to shoot her son as she is to tend to his wounds. That’s imperative in abuse narratives, because it explains why it’s so difficult to notice and call out abuse- often the victims don’t realize that it was abuse until much later. Most importantly, and much like with her bigotry, Mallory’s selfish and cruel behavior isn’t condoned by the characters. Quite the opposite, she’s frequently confronted with her own awful actions.
Although most certainly not a traditionally wholesome show, Archer is valuable for its surprisingly intelligent treatment of individuals and interpersonal relationships that make it worth the watch. Imperfect and often gross, Archer has potential for thoughtfulness that can really tug heartstrings. Much like Sterling himself.