Sterling Archer is the titular character and main protagonist of the American animated comedy series Archer. For the first four seasons, he is a special agent of the intelligence agency ISIS (International Secret Intelligence Service), working at the agency's main headquarters in New York City. After ISIS is shut down by the FBI, Archer takes on new roles as a drug dealer, CIA contractor, and private investigator in seasons five, six, and seven respectively. Archer was created by Adam Reed, who began working on the character shortly after the conclusion of the television series Frisky Dingo. The character is voiced by actor H. Jon Benjamin.
|First appearance||"Mole Hunt"|
|Created by||Adam Reed|
|Portrayed by||H. Jon Benjamin|
|Occupation||ISIS agent (formerly)
|Family||Malory Archer (mother)|
|Significant other(s)||Lana Kane
|Children||Seamus Sterling Magoon-Archer (legal son, biological father: Cyril Figgis)
AbbieJean "AJ" Malory Kane-Archer (daughter)
Influenced by Ian Fleming's vision of James Bond, Archer has been described as pompous, misogynist, egotistical, and attractive. The character is highly promiscuous, often verging on hypersexual proportions, and is a heavy alcoholic. His habitual use of alcohol can be seen as a parallel to Bond, who was an ardent drinker and smoker throughout much of the James Bond novels. A portion of the show's plot has been devoted to Archer searching for his biological father, which has resulted in growing tensions between him and his mother Malory Archer.
Throughout the series' run, the character has received positive reviews from critics. Among their points of praise is Benjamin's voicework, citing his delivery and distinctive monotone voice as highlights of the show. For his portrayal, he has been nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance and an Annie Award for Voice Acting in a Television Production.
Sterling Malory Archer was born in Tangier, Morocco in 1948 (in the episode "Once Bitten" Archer states the Guatemalan CIA coup of 1954 as coinciding with his 6th birthday) as the only child of Malory Archer, a retired special agent and the CEO of the International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS). As an adult he is a blue eyed, black haired Caucasian male who weighs 184 pounds and is 6'2" in height. He is named for the sterling silver baby rattle then-barman (later valet) Woodhouse gave his mother shortly after she gave birth to him, explaining that "a clapped-out Arab whore traded it for a pint" at his bar. For most of his life, Archer believed that his biological father died when he was 3 years old; however, Malory reveals that John Fitzgerald Archer was a fake identity she created, and the true identity of Archer's father is the subject of more than one episode. Russian colonel Nikolai Jakov receives the most screen time, but it could also be O.D.I.N. director Len Trexler or, less likely, American jazz drummer Bernard "Buddy" Rich. In one episode, Malory also mentions a black-haired, blue-eyed Italian activist with whom she had been in love. In the season 4 episode "Once Bitten" Archer remembers a suppressed memory during a cobra-venom-induced hallucination of his father secretly visiting him on his sixth birthday. The unknown man gives Archer a stuffed alligator (hinting at a connection with his fear of them). The man's face is never seen and the reliability of this memory cannot be verified, though the flashback does indicate the man doesn't have a foreign accent, likely ruling out Jakov and the Italian activist, and the man didn't sound like Len Trexler. Archer is brought out of his delirious state before he can see the man's face. Archer spent all of his primary and secondary educational years at a boarding school for over fifteen years, "or, whatever, the normal number", as Archer describes, where he tried out and participated in the school's lacrosse team. As a result of his lacrosse prowess, Archer was offered a scholarship to Johns Hopkins University, his top choice college. However, due to a gunshot wound he sustained, he was not able to attend. Although not explicitly stated, it appears Archer graduated from Georgetown University.
Archer mainly comes off as extremely narcissistic and unremittingly sarcastic. Reed's main objective in creating Archer was to make him "as dickish as possible", yet also have him possess sympathetic characteristics. The character has been described as "misogynistic", "suave", "bumbling", "inept", "handsome", "vain", and "nasty". Archer is a functional alcoholic, and often uses his position as a secret agent to have sex, which often results in him being the subject of scrutiny. Pam Poovey, the Human Resources Director of ISIS, has claimed that most of her work consists of managing sexual harassment complaints against him. "On Archer, the arrogant, thickheaded superspy puts the moves on any curvy woman he encounters," affirmed Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly in his review of "The Man from Jupiter". Despite being a dependable agent on his own terms, Archer displays frequent bouts of incompetence while attempting to complete laborious tasks.
GQ's Dennis Tang proclaimed that as Archer progresses over time, the character's abrasive qualities have become less notable, as Archer becomes more affectionate with his peers. This is indicative of revelations such as channeling a love for ocelots and revealing anxieties such as a fear of alligators, crocodiles, and brain aneurysms. Although Reed agreed with such sentiments, he concluded that Archer was still a "total douche". "I think that remains the trick," he resumed, "to make him as dickish as possible but still sympathetic. I think we get glimpses behind his façade accidentally, like I'm sure he wouldn't do that voluntarily, but you see moments of his sad childhood, and unguarded moments with an animal, or his total adulation of Burt Reynolds. I think those help the times when he's an utter dick, you go, 'Eh, well, he didn't have it so easy'."
Archer displays an unusual knowledge of popular culture and references it frequently. His favorite celebrity is actor Burt Reynolds (and his favorite film is Reynolds' Gator). This also extends to Archer's fear of both terminators and Predator. Archer also frequently attempts (and fails) to come up with one-liners appropriate to situations he finds himself in. He is also fond of creating elaborate voicemail pranks to irritate his coworkers, particularly his mother. After being referred to as possibly autistic in S4E08, it has become more emphasized that Archer has a natural talent for mathematical calculation. This shows through his ability to convert numerical values between different measurements within a few seconds, as well as being able to count and memorize how many bullets remain in, sometimes multiple, various magazines on the spot. These qualities are most emphasized in episodes S4E08, S4E12, and S5E04.
Archer has complex relationships with many of his coworkers. He has an ambivalent dynamic with his mother, who was often negligent of him during his childhood; in turn, this resulted in Archer developing feelings of maternal abandonment—or so-called "mommy issues". Some of these issues have translated into sexual tension, as evident when Archer gets an erection from the thought of Malory being dead and when he shouts her name during sex with Lana. Archer initially has an estranged relationship with Lana, who ended their multi-year relationship six months before the start of the series "because of the thirty-five-year-old umbilical cord." However, after Archer's battle with cancer, Lana becomes more affectionate with him—something that she "didn’t have before [...] She’s softened quite a bit towards him." The ISIS spymaster frequently uses his cunning wit and sarcasm to degrade his peers, as well as to hide his insecurities. "I think it’s because he has someone lower on the totem pole than he is," concluded Reed, who felt that in the instance of him collaborating with Lana and Cyril Figgis in "El Contador", Archer bullies Cyril to appear as an equal to him.
Archer is introduced in the pilot episode "Mole Hunt", as a special agent for the intelligence agency International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS). He attempts to make amends with a resistant ex-girlfriend, Lana Kane, who ended their relationship six months prior because of an affair. The situation is further exacerbated by Cyril Figgis, who is Lana's companion at the time. Concurrently, he had a brief relationship with secretary Cheryl Tunt. Lana's drive to get revenge on Archer for cheating on her is fairly evident throughout the initial half of the first season, even going as far as to shoot him on multiple occasions. Unbeknownst to Archer, Malory has been keeping in contact with Nikolai Jakov and Len Trexler, one of whom—despite serving for rivaling agencies—could possibly be his real father. By "Dial M for Mother", he becomes suspicious of Malory's sly tactics, which prompts her to affirm that the identity of Archer's biological father is unknown.
Much of the second season of Archer is devoted to the character identifying his real father. Archer travels to Russia to find out whether Jakov is his biological father, only to be stranded and kidnapped by agents of the Soviet Committee for State Security (KGB). Worried about her missing son, Malory sends nemesis Barry Dylan to rescue Archer from the KGB—Barry is later severely injured after falling from grabbing onto Archer's legs for dear life. Although unsuccessful at finding out the DNA results, he meets Katya Kasanova, a former KGB spymaster looking to enter into ISIS. Eventually, the couple get married; however, the marriage is interrupted by Barry, who is now a cyborg revitalized by the KGB (in a parody (one of dozens in the show, all with different targets) of The Six Million Dollar Man). Following a growing disdain of Archer after previously destroying his femur and having anal sex with his (now ex-)fiancée, he attempts to murder him. Katya unsuccessfully attempts to kill Barry by jumping off of the roof of Archer's apartment building, sacrificing herself in the process. During the search for his father, Archer develops breast cancer after being exposed to high doses of radiation. Although the group thinks that he has entered into remission by the latter half of "Stage Two", the following episode concedes that the tumor has progressed into stage-two breast cancer. Treatment for the tumor (aside from the copious amounts of marijuana he was using) consisted of sucrose pills and Zima, according to an evaluation commenced by Dr. Algernop Krieger, causing Lana and Archer to tackle a local Irish gang that has been smuggling anticancer drugs in lieu of the sucrose pills and Zima solution. In the same episode, it is revealed that archer filmed his massacre of the Irish gang and edited it into a movie called Terms Of Enrampagement.
Distraught by his fiancée's death, Archer retreats to French Polynesia to recuperate from the frenetic pace of his occupation. Rip Riley, a former ISIS agent, is recruited by Malory to pursue him and return Archer to New York City. After a futile attempt, Lana and Ray Gillette are sent to rescue Archer and Riley, who have been kidnapped by pirates. Ultimately, the duo are captured by the pirates and put into a dungeon, where Riley, Noah (a doctoral candidate in anthropology who was enslaved by the pirates after they captured his research vessel), and Archer are being harbored. Malory prepares to administer a ransom for the group, but later declines to extort money to the assailants after being insulted by Archer. Now temporarily severed from ties with the International Security Intelligence Service, the group steals a helicopter and escapes from the pirate fortress.
FBI agents shut down ISIS as it turns out it was not sanctioned by the U.S. government to perform acts of espionage whatsoever. Throughout the fifth season, Archer and the rest of ISIS are selling the ton of cocaine they have stored in order to make enough money for early retirements, which they fail throughout the season. In the season finale, Malory succeeds in having ISIS reinstated as an official agency by cutting an affiliation deal with the CIA. At the same time, it is revealed that Archer is the father of Lana Kane's newborn daughter, conceived through in vitro fertilization from semen stored when Archer was being treated for cancer.
In season six Archer and his co-workers are reinstated but not as ISIS agents, instead as freelance agents working for the CIA, which Archer is not happy about. In the first episode, which takes place six weeks after the end of season five, Archer has been residing in Thailand because he was shocked that Lana used his sperm, but then he finally comes home after a mission in Borneo. For the rest of the season, Archer tries (and the most part failing) to be a part of his child's life and in episode eight goes with Lana to meet her parents, who, even though they don't think much of Archer, still consider him part of the family. In the finale, the CIA hires Archer and the others to save the life of a brilliant scientist by shrinking down and destroying a lethal blood clot in his brain. Even though they manage to destroy the blood clot, they regrow inside the doctor, killing him; as a result the CIA disavows them and leaves them with nothing. As Archer and the others are on the side of a highway, Archer manages to rally the others, saying that they're better off without the CIA, but when his mother questions about what they're going to do, Archer puts on a pair of sunglasses and says "I actually have some thoughts on that".
In season seven the whole party starts a detective agency in Los Angeles and their story is followed as they are subjected to the machinations of actress Veronica Deane.[episode needed]
In season eight, Archer survives the gunshot wounds received by actress Veronica Deane, but is in a coma for three months. In his coma-induced dream, he imagines himself as a Private Detective and all of his co-workers, friends and associates as characters in a 1940s-esque film noir setting known as "Dreamland".
After the cancellation of the television series Frisky Dingo in 2008, Reed took a year off from work and travelled to Europe and Morocco for leisure. He would often observe the general atmosphere of the environment around him. "I was in Europe and Morocco for most of the year," Reed recalled, "bumming around with a backpack and a scruffy beard, and sitting in cafes writing in my journal, seeing all these wealthy people and beautiful women, walking around, looking all European. I kept thinking about this world that I wasn't invited to going on behind me in these gorgeous buildings. I was like, 'I know there's some awesome cocktail party on the roof of that building, and I am walking around with a Hot Pocket.' So I kept thinking about, y'know, James Bond would totally be at that party, and would not be eating this Hot Pocket."
Hoping to become innovative in the spy fiction genre, Reed continued his endeavors at home. He read all of the James Bond novels, which were given to him several years previously by an acquaintance. Reed quickly alluded to the misogynist nature of the covers of the novels, which he described as Pulp Fiction-esque covers of Bond "assaulting a woman somehow while playing cards". Although the Archer creator wanted the title character to embody an obtuse, yet sympathetic personality, he was still apprehensive on modeling it after James Bond until viewing GoldenEye (1995); in the film, Reed was immediately captivated by Judi Dench's portrayal of M—the head of the Secret Intelligence Service. "I was spinning my wheels on that," Reed remarked, "and then it clicked when I was watching the James Bond reboot with Judi Dench as M, and then I thought what if M was James Bond’s mother, and what a weird dynamic that would be, and what if they were both horrible people."
FX initially disapproved of Archer's bumbling demeanor, as similar endeavors have previously been done on multiple occasions.[clarification needed] This made it especially difficult on Reed in writing the script for "Mole Hunt", the pilot episode of the series. "It was hard, if a guy’s really good looking and apparently rich and has a great apartment and has really great clothes and dates all the girls and could kick your face off, if he’s also the smartest guy in the room, you’re not going to root for him." Indeed, he would often debate with the executives of FX on the character throughout the first season, but concerns later subsided after Reed asserted that Archer was merely overconfident, and not dumb. "He’s just supremely confident and thinks that nothing bad is ever going to happen to him, so in these dangerous situations where he’s being an idiot, he’s just being willfully obtuse to see what will happen."
All of the main characters on the program were modeled after a select group of local residents of Atlanta. The producers then had them dressed in period clothing. "We just grabbed people around here, and then it was just sort of a fluke that they ended up looking like, to some extent, their real-life counterparts." Archer was designed after an electrician who, according to Adam Reed, was "exactly that handsome and also really nice".
Reed originally wanted to provide the voice of the character, but eventually recognized that his voice would stand out among other professional actors. H. Jon Benjamin—whom Reed was familiar with from his work on various Adult Swim cartoons such as The Venture Bros. and Home Movies—was approached by Reed for the role of Archer while Benjamin was visiting his parents in Tucson, Arizona. Benjamin was given a copy of the pilot script, and later recorded it at a Tucson studio the following week, relating, "So I think I just went in to this—it was in the back of this guy’s house or something. He had a makeshift studio. So it felt dirty, but I don’t think I read the script prior, didn’t get it. I just happen to be visiting my parents and it all happened, so I just went in and read and it worked out well for them, not for my parents." Benjamin was contingent with the role, as he was apprehensive on imitating a spy. The Home Movies actor was a top prerogative for Reed in portraying the character because of his distinctive voice. "One of the reasons I think that you root for him, besides knowing that some of it isn’t his fault, he’s got this terrible mother and a terrible childhood, is Jon’s delivery. It’s so disarming that even the most conceited, hurtful, horrible things that Archer says, when Jon puts voice to them, they come across as not so bad."
The character of Archer and Benjamin's voicework has been well received by critics. Dan Kois of Slate ascribed the character's lovability to his impulsive and callow disposition. "He has the wardrobe, sex life, and armaments of an adult superspy, but the soul (and impulse control) of a child." As Newsday writer Verne Gay affirmed, "Sterling Archer [...] is a suave if hard-bitten boozehound who, nonetheless, knows how to handle weaponry and women—sometimes." James Poniewozik of Time defined Archer as the "bluff" and "lunkheaded" star of the series, while USA Today's Whitney Matheson professed that the character is a callous, albeit attractive individual. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Tim Goodman attested that Benjamin's monotonous delivery of his lines was one of the highlights of the show. "Benjamin has a kind of laid-back, half-drunk, half-outraged banter that never fails to amuse," professed the San Francisco Chronicle journalist. Poniewozik echoed similar sentiments, who avouched that the actor evinced Archer's arrogant predilection. To Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune, Benjamin delivered a unique inflection and attitude that she described was purely "Archer-ian".
Critics have generally applauded the storylines that have involved the character. Alan Sepinwall of HitFix commented that the series shines when the writers "are able to straddle the line between Archer being an ignorant baby and a witty spy capable of being a hyper-competent badass", as palpable in the first part of the third season installment "Heart of Archness". Annotating on "The Man from Jupiter", Paste's Ross Bonaime avouched that Burt Reynolds' character effectively shed light onto the issues that Archer faces, as well as demonstrate a more affectionate side of him. Benjamin has been nominated for two awards for his work as Sterling Archer on the television series. His performance in "Mole Hunt" resulted in the actor being nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance. Benjamin ultimately lost to actress Anne Hathaway for her performance in The Simpsons episode "Once Upon a Time in Springfield". Alongside fellow cast members Jessica Walter and Judy Greer, Benjamin was a candidate for an Annie Award in the category of Voice Acting in a Television Production—the award was given to Jeff Bennett for his work in the Nickelodeon television series The Penguins of Madagascar.
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