The ISIS before ISIS — Archer

If you asked anyone about ISIS in 2009, either there would have been a blank reaction or chances were that they had started following the spy agency called the International Secret Intelligence Service (or ISIS, woah !!) on a show called Archer, long before the current ISIS came into picture…


At an international spy agency, global crises is merely an opportunity for its highly trained employees to undermine, betray and royally screw each other. At the center of it all is suave master spy Sterling Archer, whose less-than-masculine code name is “Duchess.” Archer works with his domineering mother, who also is his boss. He also has to deal with his ex-girlfriend, and her new boyfriend.


Archer is a sly, witty spy cartoon for adults. It’s like “Get Smart,’’ but with a sick, sometimes lewd, twist. I like Archer because it succeeds where so many of the snarky animated series tend to fail. Reed and his writers and voice actors balance all the pop satire and raunch with a strong sense of the characters, so that the episodes ultimately rise above all the gags.
In animation, as in every other genre, character matters…

And oh God !! Just have a look at the characters :

1. A glue-huffing pyromaniac secretary with a strangulation fetish

2. An HR manager, who is a “sturdy bisexual” who dabbles in pit-fighting and can fit three pool balls in her mouth.

3. A dapper, occasionally crippled intelligence analyst who is rewarded for his relative competence and general decency by being the butt (phrasing!) of endless gay jokes.

4. A high-functioning alcoholic severely lacking in tact or scruples who runs ISIS with an iron fist.

And of course, a dashing moron with a James Bond complex and a Burt Reynolds fixation, the show’s eponymous “hero”

All employees at the ISIS, they’re Freudian disasters…


Archer is the only show on television that takes for granted a multi-decade, multimedium-spanning, simultaneously high and low cultural literacy among its viewers. Archer’s allusions to movies, musicians and television shows tend to be fleeting and celebratory, while Sterling and the ISIS gang’s propensity to namedrop historically significant yet generally obscure figures in the heat of argument — “Who am I?” snipes Sterling at one rival, “Guglielmo Marconi? The inventor of the radio?” — underlines the braininess at play.

In short, Archer is the work of very smart people who have calibrated their characters’ various stupidities such that we never lose sight of the smartness propping them up.


The eventual rebranding of the show once the other ISIS came into mainstream attention did hurt their momentum to be honest. What started out as a goofy spy series has almost backdoored (phrasing !!) its way into becoming a limited series, with a new adventure and setting every season…

There were suggestions that they would address it and say, ‘Oh, I can’t believe these guys have co-opted our name !!’ . Something South Park would surely do if needed, coming after them and saying, ‘These assholes stole our name’ but that’s not the way the Archer universe works.

In their universe, the other ISIS don’t exist… Although they did try the South Park route in reality though, as the creator puts it, “I was at a meeting with the FX execs and I said, ‘You know, with all this extra ISIS merchandise, you should just make the bad guys buy it.’

Dead silence…




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