There’s just about a million things to like about Archer (FX). At its core, it’s a wish-fulfillment fantasy about the glamour and badassery of being a super spy. Sterling Archer is the kind of hypermasculine asshole that’s a staple of current television programming, but his egomania, “epic poonhoundery,” and mistreatment of subordinates (his butler Woodhouse, the “drones” at ISIS) are as much sources of parody as they are of identification. The Oedipal tensions between Archer and his beyond-overbearing mother*/boss Malory undercut Archer in the best ways, from his being code-named “Duchess” (after Malory’s dead cocker spaniel) to having to introduce her to his knocked-up prostitute. The show’s sometime-between-1960-and-2011 setting is a stroke of genius, allowing for a mixture of Mad Men style, fabulous European locales, and simplistic Cold War geopolitics (more comforting than you’d think, given the current state of American foreign relations) with cutting-edge technology and contemporary pop culture jokes.
All this and more — about the fully rounded supporting characters, the madcap action, the tightly packed jokes, the sharper-than-a-double-edged sword dialogue — have been said before. But the show’s arguably most overlooked satirical target is one of its funniest: Archer and Malory’s snobbery. Like hipsters, Archer mère et fils are name-droppers, hair-splitters, condescenders, and I-did-it-firsters. In one episode, Malory laments the destruction of her Steuben glasses, while a running joke revolves around Archer’s claim to being the first person to realize the turtleneck’s tactical potential and his indignation when other spies adopt it. Even Lana, Archer’s ex and rival, who is usually a foil to the Archers, fantasizes about having live-in Parisian servants who curtsy. But because the show takes place in a gray zone of sometime-between-1960-and-2011, the Archers are more correctly WASP elitists than Williamsburg authenticity obsessives.
Archer is a nostalgic trip through an acerbic but ultimately nonthreatening version of mid-century elitism, a snobbery familiar in its form but pleasantly hazy in its content. Malory and Archer’s pre-PC sensibility meshes well with the show’s darker jokes about sex-choking and Hitler-cloning (the actual jokes are much funnier than they sound), while contrasting deliciously with the supporting characters’ modern sensitivities. Plus, the show hilariously confirms what we all know: rich people are wretched pukes. But like the best shows about snobbery, Archer allows us to indulge in the pleasures of snobbery while looking down at the snobs, because the best kind of snobbery is the laziest kind.
(* AKA a smothermother.)