Sterling Archer and the crew from ISIS are back in this hilarious fourth season of Archer, the animated comedy broadcast on the FX network. The show has grown better with each season, refining its comedic formula to perfection. One of the smarter comedies operating today, Archer’s obscure referential humor and outrageous dialogue likely sails over the heads of anyone older than the Gen X crowd.
Archer’s true value lies in the incredibly talented voice cast it has assembled, delivering non sequiturs and random gags in the funniest manner possible. H. Jon Benjamin is the best voice actor working today, turning Sterling Archer into one of the most memorable characters currently on television. One of the best gags of season four is in the opening episode, a riff on H. Jon Benjamin’s other primary cartoon at the moment, Bob’s Burgers on the main Fox network. Sterling Archer wakes up from amnesia thinking he’s the main character from Bob’s Burgers. Archer’s staff went as far as bringing over the voice actress from that show to briefly appear in the episode. It’s that type of meta-humor that works very successfully here in animated form.
Most people don’t walk into a fourth season of a show without some prior knowledge of its characters and backstory. You may not immediately get Archer’s humor if you jump into the fourth season without having some familiarity with prior character development. The actual plot is not that important to it; Archer is not a show driven by intricate plotting. Most of it involves highly improbable and silly developments. Each character’s wacky personality does need to be understood in some prior context, from Sterling’s mother, Malory Archer (voiced by Jessica Walter), to every other member of the cast like Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler). Sterling Archer is the world’s greatest spy, working in the spy agency ISIS, directly under his mother’s leadership.
Sterling is a big send-up of James Bond, if James Bond was more interested in getting loaded and enjoying the fringe benefits of being a world-class spy. Sterling enjoys the perks as he lives his ISIS-provided lifestyle of international intrigue. It’s a strange setting for a modern cartoon, using many of the stock clichés and concepts from classic spy movies. Where it deviates is the outrageous dialogue and crazy set-ups, from killer robots to an underwater sea laboratory threatening to destroy the world from inside the Bermuda Triangle. Archer tosses in so many disparate elements from Pop culture, ranging from a visit to the Vatican to references of old Seventies’ shows like Shazam. This is about the only show on television that will reference both Oliver Cromwell and Gambit the X-Men character, in the same episode.
Season four has a couple of running gags, including Lana’s relationship with Cyril Figgis (Christopher Parnell). Cyril is the accountant for ISIS that becomes a field agent in over his head, often to funny results. Malory marries Ron Cadillac, the biggest Cadillac dealer in the New York tri-state area. Sterling Archer has a very unusual relationship with his new stepfather. Some actors appear to voice guest spots, including George Takei and Timothy Olyphant. Pam remains the character with the dirtiest mouth on television, reaching new lows of depravity in her lines. Archer has so many funny supporting characters that it would be difficult to list them all in a single review.
One of the best-written comedies currently on the air, Archer is can’t-miss television at the moment. Season four continues its tradition of insane storylines and over-the-top comedy.
Probably the most consistently reliable studio in terms of delivering satisfying video quality, Twentieth Century Fox delivers Archer: Season Four in a remarkably clean 1080P presentation. This Blu-ray set easily surpasses the show’s lesser broadcast version, rendering an impressive picture that is a true pleasure to watch in Hi-Def.
Archer is animated in a very distinctive style with thick line-art and brilliant colors. The character designs are not overly detailed, allowing the personalities to be determined by the gifted voice actors on the series. The animation’s limited fluidity and stilted movement will never win awards, but the impressive clarity and vibrant palette certainly leap off the screen in vivid fashion.
Fox’s technical parameters for this season of Archer are excellent. Its thirteen episodes are divided between two BD-50s, encoded in AVC at an average bitrate of 28.32 Mbps. The 1080P video is framed in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, identical to its broadcast version. This is an utterly flawless picture with impeccable black levels.
The clarity and definition are truly great, setting Archer in a vivid world of exotic locales. The transfer is completely unprocessed, likely pulled directly from the original animation master in digital form. Picture quality simply doesn’t get much better than this for animation on Blu-ray, short of the very best theatrical releases.
Archer: Season Four is presented in a solid, if unspectacular, 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. The surround mix is surprisingly aggressive for a television production. The world of Archer is wrapped up in the sounds of violence, from grenade explosions to machine-gun fire. Its Foley effects for those sounds lack some of the pop and clarity heard from theatrical fare. It does not feel like much of the show’s budget goes to delivering a knock-out audio presentation. The dialogue is rendered with the utmost precision, vital to a series that relies on quick retorts and comedic lines.
Animation tends to have a huge advantage over live content in terms of sound fidelity, due to every audio element being recorded in a studio stage. Archer’s 5.1 mix displays some of those advantages, though it lacks the refinement and impact of better sound design. There are moments of strong directionality and panning. Subtler cues occasionally come from the surround channels.
Fox provides three subtitle options: English SDH, Spanish, and French. All three subtitle options appear in a white font.
Twentieth Century Fox includes a couple of special features for Archer, a bit disappointing for a show involving so many talented, funny people behind the scenes. What does get included on first pressings is a truly spectacular, die-cut laminate slipcover that folds out and includes a removable mustache on Sterling Archer’s face. One of the most unique slipcovers released in recent memory, collectors will be sure to go crazy for it.
Fisherman’s Daughter (03:28 in HD) – A hilarious send-up of anime tropes, starring Krieger and his virtual, anime-inspired wife that speaks in Engrish. The short is most likely a deleted scene that got cut from broadcast for time and some objectionable content involving tentacle pornography. This is actually one of the funnier scenes from the season and should have been included somewhere.
Archer Live! (20:03 in HD) – Most of the voice actors behind Archer appear on stage and interact with fans, from a get-together held on January 12, 2013 in New York City. H. Jon Benjamin steals the show in a funny bit in which he attempts to steal a kiss from a female fan. This is a light, jovial featurette, edited to highlight the voice cast having fun with the crowd.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.