We wouldn’t blame you if you somehow managed to miss the small cultural phenomenon that is Archer, the animated series on FX that’s taken the world by storm with nearly six seasons of quality animation entertainment. Aptly described by some as “James Bond meets Arrested Development,” Archer follows the globetrotting exploits of Sterling Archer, the world’s foremost super spy and occasionally well-intentioned jackass. Employed by his overbearing alcoholic mother (voiced by the spectacular Jessica Walters) and with a team of ragtag agents and support staff as his compatriots, Archer does his best to keep the perils of the world at bay while drinking, screwing and shooting his way into the hearts of viewers everywhere. Smartly written, pop culture laden and idiosyncratic to a tee, Archer is one of the best series on TV that you probably aren’t watching, which is why we here at Goliath have put together a list of the series 10 best episodes, so as to educate our beloved readers on the comings and goings of Archer, code named “Duchess” (his boss really, really loved that dog).
10. “Training Day” (Season 1, Episode 2)
It’s a testament to the strength of the show that one of Archer‘s best episodes comes extremely early on. The show’s second episode, “Training Day,” remains one of the most highly rated and often quoted in the series, and it sees protagonist Archer taking a mild mannered accountant named Cyril Figgus (voiced by Chris Parnell) under his wing, both in an attempt to train him as a spy and/or get him killed in the process (Cyril happens to be dating Archer’s ex, Lana). A hilarious episode that seeks to provide endless laughs while further introducing the audience to the series supporting characters (all of whom eventually become primary characters in their own right), “Training Day” features guest vocals from Maggie Wheeler (Janice from Friends) and is an excellent follow-up to the series’ so-so pilot.
9. “El Contador” (Season 3, Episode 5)
One of the stronger creative decisions Archer makes over the course of its six seasons is to expand the scope of its focus to the tertiary characters of the show, as individuals like Cyril, Pam (Amber Nash), Cheryl (Judy Greer) and Doctor Krieger (Lucky Yates) become fixtures of the show’s main rotation, and all offer something unique and hilarious as the show progresses. In “El Contador,” the fifth episode of the show’s third season, this is put on display as Cyril and Krieger take center stage in dual narratives. In one, Cyril is forced to spontaneously go undercover with a dangerous drug cartel, in the process working to save Lana and Archer from being hunted by a crazed kingpin; and in the other, Doctor Krieger convinces the remaining staff at the International Spy Service that they must undergo a drug test, and in the process administers to them a powerful hallucinogen which gets out of hand very quickly. It’s all classic Archer, and it leads to a vast series of shenanigans that are sure to have viewers in stitches.
8. “The Wind Cries Mary” (Season 4, Episode 2)
One of the very best things about Archer is the guest appearances. Despite their faces not actually making their way into the show (it is animated, after all), many of the bit or temporary roles on the show are taken up by famous individuals who we imagine are happy to offer their voices to a program this hilarious. In “The Wind Cries Mary,” the second episode of the show’s fourth season, Justified actor Timothy Olyphant guest stars as Lucas Troy, a former colleague and close friend of Archer’s who has allegedly gone rogue, killing a series of secret agents and obtaining plutonium to sell to a third world country. It’s up to Archer, Lana and Cyril to stop him, but things become complicated when Troy reveals that his feelings for Archer aren’t strictly platonic. It’s exactly the kind of screwball comedy viewers have come to expect from the Archer writing room, and with some of the funniest exchanges in the series history, it’s a great watch for anyone.
7. “Space Race” (Season 2, Episodes 12/13)
We’ve been liberal in allowing double episodes to find their way onto this list (this won’t be the first multi-episode entry), but Archer does them so spectacularly that we didn’t really have a choice. “Space Race,” which is the final two episodes of the show’s second season, sees Archer and the gang headed to rescue the crew of the International Space Station after a mutiny on board has left certain individuals imprisoned, and others headed to Mars in an effort to terraform the planet and start up a new colony of human life. The episode, which guest stars Bryan Cranston (of Breaking Bad and Malcolm in the Middle fame), is consistently rated amongst the highest in the series, no doubt due to the hilarity of seeing Archer and his compatriots rush through their astronaut training only to suffer through the perils of zero gravity and space piracy (not to mention a healthy dose of Barry the vengeful cyborg, a half-man half-robot with a serious grudge against Archer).
6. “The Double Deuce” (Season 2, Episode 5)
Poor Woodhouse. Archer’s old timey butler (voiced by the late George Coe) never quite gets treated like he ought to, but “The Double Deuce,” the fifth episode of the show’s second season, makes sure we know just how amazing a life Woodhouse had led. An episode whose plot revolves around the idea of a tontine (a sort of bet/pot made by soldiers in the war, whoever lives the longest collects whatever money is in the account after everyone else has passed), “The Double Deuce” sees Archer investigating the suspicious deaths of Woodhouse’s old army regiment. Things go awry when the few individuals left begin to pay Woodhouse a visit, and it’s up to Archer to make sure his beloved but mistreated butler is safe. An episode which also helps to soften the character of Archer (if ever so briefly) by displaying a little more heart than we’re used to, “The Double Deuce” features some of the most hilarious conversations in the show, highlighting the whip smart and lightning fast writing the show has become known for.
5. “Un Chien Tangerine” (Season 4, Episode 10)
Sometimes in Archer, the plot devices used by the show are so ridiculous and extravagant they provide laughs in and of themselves. This is the case in “Un Chien Tangerine,” as Archer and Lana are sent to Tangier, Morocco, to retrieve an fellow agent, only to find out he’s of the canine variety. A hilarious set-up made possible by Mallory’s insistence on hiding information from her operatives, the plot for this episode ranks among the best that Archer has managed to cobble together over the course of its six seasons; it’s just plain funny to watch Archer pal around with a giant pooch while gunning down rogues and doing his best to make Lana extremely, extremely angry. An episode complete with Allen Ginsberg references and a “he thinks he’s people!,” “Un Chien Tangerine” is most definitely season four’s strongest episode.
4. “Skytanic” (Season 1, Episode 7)
Archer doesn’t really start to hit its stride until the beginning of season two; before that, the show is very clearly trying to establish its footing and figure out what kind of comedy it wants to be. That said, the first season is not without its charms, and viewers get a glimpse of what kind of show Archer will become in “Skytanic,” the seventh episode of the show’s first season. An episode which sees Archer and the gang enjoying the high life while trying to stop a bomb from detonating on a new luxury airship (a zeppelin, really), “Skytanic” does much to flesh out the character of Ray Gillette, Archer’s co-agent and the show’s only homosexual character. One of the earliest instances of the constant bickering and in-jokes that will go on to provide most of the major laughs in Archer‘s trajectory, “Skytanic” truly is a hilarious watch that highlights Archer’s twin capacity for incredible feats of spydom and even larger feats of buffoonery.
3. “Pipeline Fever” (Season 2, Episode 4)
One of the great coups in Archer history is the guest appearances made by Burt Reynolds. The fact that they got him to voice an animated version of himself is amazing, but it’s made even funnier by Archer’s hilarious obsession and idolization of him. This is central to “Pipeline Fever,” the fourth episode of the show’s second season, which sees Archer playing out his Gator fantasies in a southern bayou as he and Lana work to stop a deadly eco-terrorist from blowing up an oil pipeline. All the while, Archer does his best to confront his overwhelming fear of crocodiles and alligators and Lana just wants a drink of water (as it turns out, Archer only carries beer on his spy missions). Back at spy HQ, Archer’s mother Mallory is dead set on decreasing the company’s carbon footprint, so as to receive ecologically inclined tax breaks from the government. Hilarious spy schemes all around, and Archer’s confessions of his three greatest fears ranks as one of the series’ funniest moments (spoiler alert, alligators and crocodiles are number one and two).
2. “Placebo Effect” (Season 2, Episode 9)
One of the most ridiculous and downright hilarious 22 minutes of television in recent memory, “Placebo Effect” is the ninth episode of Archer’s second season, and it’s very possibly our favorite episode in the entire show’s history. When Archer contracts breast cancer (yes, you read that right) and finds out the Irish mafia has been swapping out his cancer pills for candy in an elaborate scheme, he goes on a violent rampage to discover who is behind this terrible conspiracy. We mean it when we say watching a cancer-stricken Archer slay Irish mafia members in increasingly creative ways should be a sad thing, but damn if it isn’t jaw-droppingly funny here. Between the man’s self-medication and his stylish fashion improvisation (“Lana, did you see my scarf?”), Archer knows just how to make us howl every time.
1. “Heart of Archness” (Season 3, Episodes 1-3)
This three-part miniseries ran between the conclusion of season two and the beginning of season three, and it sees Archer abandoning his mother and compatriots after his wife, Katya, is killed. While drowning his sorrows and bartending in an unspecified tropical island, Archer is retrieved by a bounty hunter sent by his mother, only to escape and accidentally become king of some very unsavoury pirates. We had no choice but to put “Heart of Archness” at the top of this list, as it’s got some stomach pain-inducing moments (you will be laughing that hard), along with an awesome guest appearance by Patrick Wharburton.