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This review contains spoilers.

You’re now a criminal. Good one, bad one, that’s up to you.

While I really enjoyed Breaking Bad, I’m generally sceptical of spin-offs. I gave this one a go because I like Bob Odenkirk (if you haven’t seen it, check out his sketch comedy series Mr Show with David Cross) and because I have great faith in Vince Gilligan as a writer (other people apparently had faith as well – according to IMDb, Better Call Saul had the highest debut rating in cable history, with 6.9 million viewers watching the first episode). I’m happy to report that this is a spin-off series that really works – both as an interesting and revealing prequel to Breaking Bad, and as a show in its own right.

Better Call Saul takes place in 2002 – six years before Breaking Bad. Saul (Bob Odenkirk) is not yet Saul Goodman but James McGill, a scam artist turned small time lawyer struggling to make an ‘honest’ living. James McGill used to be ‘Slippin’ Jimmy,’ a con artist with a serious talent for ripping people off. But after his big-time lawyer brother Chuck (Michael McKean) bails him out James decides to turn over a new leaf. He studies hard, earns a law degree, and becomes a lawyer himself.

As this reviewer for The Independent notes, Better Call Saul has lower stakes than Breaking Bad. But it doesn’t matter. Saul is a quieter, funnier, and stranger kind of series, and so the dramatic moments (when they do come) resonate perfectly. The writing is excellent – scenes feel well paced and carefully structured. The performances are also top notch: Michael McKean is wonderful as the genius lawyer with a (somatic) electromagnetic sensitivity. Rhea Seehorn is also great as Kim Wexler, McGill’s close friend. While there is some hint of romantic possibility between James and Kim, it is not the focus of their relationship, and this is really refreshing. She is first and foremost a good friend, someone who grounds and supports him.

I did feel like the final scene of the last episode was a bit too much of a quick turnaround. I could see where the motivation was coming from, but I didn’t feel like it had been built up enough. I’m interested to see where they take the series from here. In a way, because this is a prequel, the writers are kind of restricted in terms of what they can do with the characters. But perhaps having those sorts of boundaries to work inside of is a good thing. It’s certainly different. And, as this writer for Variety notes, knowing where these characters end up in Breaking Bad gives a weight and sense of impending tragedy to Saul that is really compelling. Having said that, I don’t think you need to have watched Breaking Bad to enjoy Better Call Saul; this series works well on its own, and while watching I rarely found myself thinking back to events in Breaking Bad, or wishing there were more references. The biggest (and most important) link between the two shows I think is thematic: the question of morality and what makes something right or wrong, an action good or bad. As Spencer Kornhaber notes in The Atlantic, “Better Call Saul is, like Breaking Bad, a great meditation on the nature of wrongdoing.” I know exactly where James McGill is headed, in the long-run, and yet I can’t help but like him.

Better Call Saul is created by Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould. The series first aired in 2015, and has been renewed for a second season.

There’s a lot of great television out there these days – Game of Thrones, Utopia, Better Call Saul, Orange is the New Black … just to name a few (oh, and did I mention that The X-Files is currently filming a new series? I didn’t? Well, The X-Files is currently filming a new series. Yep, I said it twice. Here it is one more time – The X-Files. New Series. Right now.) It’s difficult to keep up, and I would have missed this series entirely had it not been recommended by a friend. I wasn’t the only one to come late to The Honourable Woman – NPR writes about it here as part of their ‘The One That Got Away’ series, and Gabriel Tate notes in this Guardian review that the mini-series “attracted respectable rather than spectacular viewing figures.” So what’s up with that? Why wasn’t my Facebook newsfeed a minefield of Honourable Woman spoilers (as it was earlier this week with Game of Thrones)? Is it because of the delicate subject matter (the Israel/Palestine conflict)? Or perhaps, as a few reviews have described it, The Honourable Woman is too ‘slow’ (although I found it pretty enthralling most of the time – and not because I’m ‘smart enough’ to watch a show about politics; simply because The Honourable Woman is genuinely thrilling in every traditional sense of the word). Whatever the reason, in my opinion this series is one of the best I’ve seen (and that’s saying a lot, given the TV renaissance we seem to be living in at the moment), and certainly deserves more attention.

To describe The Honourable Woman is a pretty complex task (I’m not entirely sure I’ve grasped all the nuances myself) but I’ll give it a shot. In a nutshell, it’s an eight-part mini-series, co-produced by the BBC and Sundance. The protagonist and ostensible ‘honourable woman’ is Nessa Stein (Maggie Gyllenhaal), although Atika Halabi (played by Lubna Azabal) is just as important a character as Nessa. Nessa Stein is a Jewish-British woman; the daughter of an Israeli arms dealer. In an attempt to promote peace between Israel and Palestine, Nessa (as president of The Stein Group) is building a fibre-optic network in the West Bank. Communication – like peace – however, is never quite as simple as laying cables, and despite Nessa’s insistence that she “must not be compromised” she inevitably is. The Honourable Woman is part spy-thriller, part family drama. It is the perfect mix of personal and political: as Andy Greenwald writes of the series in Grantland, “All politics is personal. And that can be a very dangerous thing.”

The Honourable Woman is certainly dangerous. It’s also complex, violent, and real – often to the point of being hard to watch. From the very opening scene – in which a young Nessa witnesses her own father’s assassination – this series is intense. The writing is wonderful, as are the performances. Maggie Gyllenhaal and Lubna Azabal steal the show, but Andrew Buchan is also fantastic as Nessa’s brother Ephra Stein, as is Tobias Menzies as chief security advisor Nathaniel Bloom. Stephen Rhea is perfectly cast as MI5’s Sir Hugh Hayden-Hoyle (Andy Greenwald describes him as “a machete masquerading as a butterknife”, and I cannot do better than that!) The tension is high throughout, and the twists are many. I watched this on my own, and there were more than a few moments where I turned to my boyfriend with a shocked look on my face, only to have him say “What’s happened now?” Impressively, The Honourable Woman manages to address a conflict that is real and ongoing in a way that (for the most part) hasn’t pissed too many people off. There are no clear heroes or villains, both Nessa and Atika are both honourable (and dishonourable, at times) women, and everyone is compromised. The series makes clear the real messiness of such situations – it doesn’t matter whether or not you are willing to die for the ‘right thing’ if there is no clear cut ‘right thing’ to die for.

A few days ago a friend and I were discussing female protagonists on television. My friend pointed out that although there are more strong women on TV these days (I’m thinking Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones, and Gillian Anderson as Stella Gibson in The Fall among others) there aren’t that many that are allowed to be strong and struggling. It’s almost as if we’ve become so determined to represent tough female characters that we’ve forgotten that these women are still only human, and deserve to have a bit of a breakdown now and then (just as male characters do). I think that – in Nessa and to a lesser extent Atika – we finally get to see two on-screen females that are really real. Both incredibly powerful, and both allowed to bend beneath the weight they carry.

The Honourable Woman was written and directed by Hugo Blick. Inspiration for the series came from an incident Blick remembers from 1982, when the Israeli ambassador at the time was shot outside a London hotel. NPR quotes Blick as saying: “Suddenly I felt that the world that seemed so distant was there on our sidewalks.” The Honourable Woman first aired in 2014.

I’m easily scared these days. I never used to be – as a teenager I loved horror films, and my favourite show was (still is) The X-Files. Now I’m jumpy. I’m afraid of flying, traffic accidents, home invasions. I freak myself out just walking down the hallway at night. And yet, somehow, I have recently become addicted to American Horror Story.

This series began in 2011 and is currently in the middle of its fourth season. As its title suggests, American Horror Story is the television equivalent of a scary movie, but with a few twists on the genre. AHS is created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk – the boys responsible for Nip/Tuck and Glee. I was a couple of seasons into American Horror Story before I realised who Murphy and Falchuk were, and at first I was a little put off (I’ve only watched a couple of episodes of Glee, but that was enough to know I was not going to be a fan). Once I saw Jessica Lange in her first musical number, however (a surreal extravaganza in an asylum) I began to realise what AHS’s deal was. This series is, essentially, Glee turned inside-out. Just like Glee, American Horror Story is about spectacle: it is voyeuristic, emotional, cathartic, and sexy. AHS is the B-side of Glee; the side with the blood stains.

One of the most interesting things about AHS is the way it experiments with the TV series format. Like True Detective, American Horror Story is an anthology series, with each season telling its own separate and complete story. Unlike True Detective, however, AHS uses many of the same actors in every season – most notably Lily Rabe, Sarah Paulson, Frances Conroy, Evan Peters, and Jessica Lange (who has won numerous awards for her roles in the series). The use of a repertory company is an interesting choice, and one that I’m not sure completely works. I do like a lot of the actors (particularly Frances Conroy), but at times I feel like they are given similar sorts of roles (Jessica Lange consistently plays a powerful but manipulative, self-destructive matriarch, for example, and Evan Peters is usually cast as the hard-done-by but handsome hero).

Not surprisingly for a show that sets out to shock (this series is certainly not an exercise in subtlety) American Horror Story inspires extreme reactions. This article in The Guardian describes it as “the Marmite of TV shows” – you either love it or hate it. And there is a lot to criticise about AHS. The writing is at times predictable and clichéd and the stories are mammoth and sprawling. There are so many characters and subplots in this show that it is impossible to get them straight. Something tells me, however, that the creators are not particularly concerned about any of these things. I don’t think Murphy and Falchuk are trying to create a show that makes sense. AHS strikes me as a sort of playful experiment; a fun mash-up of as many horror movie tropes as the creators can think of. One of the things that disappoints me a little about this series is that it does, at times, come very close to being a clever parody of the American horror genre. It falls short, however, when it begins to take itself too seriously.

I like American Horror Story not for its stories but for the way it feels to be caught up in each episode. AHS is creepy, dramatic, musical, and sexy. It reminds me of a darker version of the late nineties-early 2000s NBC soap Passions – only with better production values. I like the way AHS looks – at once dark and full of colour (a haunted house in LA; a coven in New Orleans; circus tents in Florida). The opening credits are (like the show itself) stuffed full of creepy and not necessarily relevant images. The soundtrack is unsettling, but somehow also catchy. The way the show is filmed (particularly the ‘cold-open’ at the beginning of each episode) is reminiscent of The X-Files; not surprising, since writers/executive-producers James Wong and Tim Minear used to work on the show. It should also be noted that AHS is female-dominated; the majority of the roles in the show are for women, and the female characters are undoubtedly the focus of each season.

American Horror Story is a ridiculous series, but it is successfully ridiculous. AHS is like Halloween: it allows us to come face to face with scary characters and places, but in ways that render them less terrifying. The reason I can watch AHS, I think, is because it is so ludicrous. It is a reminder that fear can be fun, and that it can feel good – in the same way that having a good cry can. Watching American Horror Story is a bit like riding a rollercoaster – once it’s over I can barely remember all the twists and turns, but I know I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

American Horror Story currently airs on FX, and has been renewed for a fifth season. Murphy and Falchuk are apparently working on a companion series, titled American Crime Story.

This review contains spoilers.

I watched HBO’s comedy/drama series Girls in fits and starts; a few episodes here, a season there. It’s taken me a while to decide how I feel about it. Girls does address a lot of issues left un-discussed by other series’ (such as the ‘problems of privilege’ and female sexuality/body image); it is certainly more serious than a soap, and funnier than the average sitcom. However, for me (a woman about to leave the twenty-something era of her life) Girls is at best un-relatable, and at worst embarrassing.

Girls – created by and starring Lena Dunham – is a series that sits somewhere between Gossip Girl and Sex and the City on the ‘shows-for-women-by-women-about-women’ spectrum. Its main characters (four female friends in their early to mid-twenties) have moved to New York City in an effort to fulfil their Me-Generation dreams. Dunham plays Hannah Horvath (the Carrie Bradshaw of the group), an aspiring twenty-six year old writer who finds herself struggling after her parents announce they will no longer support her financially. Allison Williams is Marnie Michaels, Hannah’s beautiful but insecure best friend; Zosia Mamet is Shoshanna Shapiro (read Charlotte York), the studious and (up until the end of season one, at least) virginal member of the group; and Jemima Kirke plays Jessa Johansson, Shoshanna’s wild and unpredictable British cousin (the Samantha Jones element). I didn’t notice until I began writing this review that each main character has an alliterative name, and I have no idea of the significance of this.   

I was initially impressed by Girls – particularly when, in the very first episode, Hannah’s parents tell her she is effectively on her own for the first time in her life. I liked the way the series portrayed problems relevant to my generation: a sense of privilege, entitlement, ‘special-ness’, and the resulting disappointment when reality hits and all those high expectations are dashed. I was excited to see how the characters dealt with these things, interested to see them grow and change, become less selfish and more realistic.

Over the course of three seasons, however, I’ve been disappointed. The characters seem to have grown more selfish, not less; to have become increasingly confused and lost, rather than wiser. Girls also (predictably and disappointingly) focuses mostly on the relationships the main characters have with men. Granted, they are not all traditional romantic/sexual relationships, but they still seem to take precedence over storylines that deal with career choices, family relationships, and other equally important aspects of being female in the twenty-first century. Hannah’s on-off relationship with Adam (played by Adam Driver) is sometimes sweet, but is more often disturbing, dark and unhealthy. Shoshanna’s, Marnie’s, and Jessa’s relationships are equally dysfunctional. I know ‘stable’ partnerships don’t make for high drama, but for a show that (I assume) is trying to portray a somewhat realistic version of life for this demographic, surely at least one healthy, successful partnership wouldn’t hurt the ratings too much.

Girls is kind of murky. Both in the way it looks – lots of night shots, wet New York Streets, greens, browns, blacks – and the way I feel about it. There are some wonderful moments: Jessa, for example, helping an older woman to commit suicide in the season three finale. Here was a scene that was perfect for this character, a moment where Jessa has a real experience, a moment of gravity, a moment that could change her. However, it wasn’t given nearly enough attention; the relationship was rushed through before it had any time to build, and left me feeling like I’d missed an episode.

Overall, I find it hard to like any of the central characters. Hannah is endlessly self-involved; Shoshanna is shallow to the point of caricature; Marnie is needy needy needy. And while I can certainly see aspects of myself in each of these girls, they are only the bad aspects. Left out of Girls are all the twenty-somethings who have gone through the Generation-Me bullshit and come out the other side as hard workers, committed partners, and generally compassionate and wise people who no longer constantly seek external reassurance or praise.

Maybe the problem is that Girls is meant for twenty-somethings, and I’m just a few months away from not belonging to that bracket anymore. Maybe I’m the wrong audience, maybe Australian and American women really are that different, maybe I’m taking the show too seriously. I know at twenty-five I was (in many ways) a mess, much like these girls. But I also knew that it wasn’t okay, and I made an effort to move past it. Hopefully, in season four, Girls will, too.

Girls first aired in 2012. Season three premiered in 2014, and a fourth season is scheduled for 2015. The show’s content is partly inspired by Lena Dunham’s own experiences.

I’ve been on a bit of a mystery-crime-drama kick this year: Twin Peaks, True Detective, and now Top of the Lake, a six-part miniseries created and written by Jane Campion and Gerard Lee. Top of the Lake is yet another example of how TV is maturing; in many ways television is now a more effective medium for storytelling than film. As with True Detective, I was a little disappointed with how Top of the Lake ended. However, overall I found this series beautiful – in a bewitching sort of way.

Top of the Lake is set amidst New Zealand’s stunning South Island scenery, in a small town called Lake Top. The series begins with a haunting sequence in which 12-year-old girl Tui (Jacqueline Joe) walks into a freezing lake. Later, she is discovered to be pregnant, and then she just disappears. Detective Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss of AMC’s Mad Men) is back in town from Sydney to visit her dying mother, and she becomes drawn to Tui’s case.

Jane Campion – perhaps best known for her 1993 film The Piano, for which she won the Palme d’Or at Cannes twenty years ago – has lately set her creative sights on TV. “Television is the new frontier,” she says in this interview with The Telegraph. Campion recalls seeing an episode of HBO’s Deadwood, and being excited by it. “There’s a revolution going on,” she felt. For Top of the Lake (a co-production of the Sundance Channel in the US, UKTV in Australia and New Zealand, and BBC Two) Campion was given free rein, no constraints; a freedom seldom offered in film. Campion used this opportunity to tackle some sensitive topics, including underage pregnancy, incest, and suicide. Perhaps most importantly, however, Campion uses Top of the Lake to explore rape culture, and she pulls no punches (or broken bottles, for that matter).

I liked a lot of things about Top of the Lake. From the very beginning, the atmosphere of this series is noticeably different; New Zealand’s landscape is beautiful, but there is a chill to it, a stillness that is somehow both ghostly and glaringly real. The music – by Mark Bradshaw – adds wonderfully to this ethereal feeling. Top of the Lake takes its time (another advantage of being a six hour miniseries instead of a two hour film), but never feels boring. I also appreciated the fact that this series is so female driven (in a much more real and important way than a series like Girls is), and that it confronts the issue of rape so openly.

Perhaps the best thing about Top of the Lake, however, is its performances. Elisabeth Moss leaves Peggy Olsen completely behind as she takes on the role of slowly unravelling detective Robin Griffin (her accent is almost perfect), and David Wenham is similarly impressive as Detective Al Parker. The best performance, however, comes from Peter Mullan. His portrayal of Matt Mitchum – the local drug lord – is terrifying, complex, and very sad.

I (emphatically) did not like GJ (played by Holly Hunter). I understood that she was supposed to come across as something more than an annoying quasi-enlightened new-age guru: lines like “That one wants to help Africa” and “Just get me away from these crazy bitches” did endear me to her at times. However, she was still overall just a new-age guru with a couple of good lines.

The last episode of Top of the Lake didn’t feel quite right to me. In many ways it was more satisfying than True Detective – most of the threads did tie together at the end of Top of the Lake. However, there were some subplots that I felt were not adequately explored or concluded (the American woman looking for a seven-minute fuck, among others). Mostly, though, the end (unlike the rest of the series) came too quickly, and felt a little unbelievable.

Top of the Lake tries a bit too hard – at the end, especially – to be something serious; to be something dramatic and meaningful. Perhaps GJ does have a point when she says “die to … your idea of yourself. What’s left?” Maybe Top of the Lake needs to die to its idea of being clever or smart, and just be what it is: a visually stunning, powerful, mysterious piece of television.

Top of the Lake first aired in 2013. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation was initially set to co-produce the series, but pulled out when Elisabeth Moss was chosen for the lead role over an actor from Australia or New Zealand.

Top of the Lake – watch the trailer

Out of all the people that ever were, almost all of them are dead. There are way more dead people, and you’re all gonna die and then you’re gonna be dead for way longer than you’re alive. Like that’s mostly what you’re ever gonna be. You’re just dead people that didn’t die yet.

This is Louis C.K.: father, writer, director, boating enthusiast, and possibly the best comedian of his generation. That’s right – comedian. As in, tells jokes for a living. But Louis C.K. is a comedian in the fullest sense of the word: not only can he make people laugh, he can make them laugh about almost anything. Death, divorce, loneliness, the deep existential sadness that just comes with being alive. And there is such comfort to be found in laughing about these things along with Louie. Watching Louis C.K., I realised for the first time what truly great comedy is. Not a distraction from the hard realities of life, but a way of bravely, cleverly, and cathartically confronting them. Joel Lovell writes in ‘GQ’ about a conversation he had with Marc Maron about Louis C.K. What Louie gives his audience, Lovell notes, is a kind of liberation: “That’s the role that C.K. plays, Maron said. The service he provides is that he knows how to guide us into and then back out of darkness.” I would add that Louie also brings us out of the darkness a little less afraid. Or, at least, a little less ashamed of our fear, and more comfortable in our human skin.

It’s impossible to write about Louie the television show without first writing about Louie the person. Louis C.K. (born Louis Szekely) is an American comedian who lives in New York City. He has been writing comedy and doing stand-up since he was in his early twenties and (now in his forties) is hailed by his peers as one of the best comedians working today. His most popular stand-up specials are “Oh My God” and “Live at the Beacon Theater” (for which he won an Emmy), and he has recently appeared in the films Blue Jasmine and American Hustle. Despite his success and busy schedule, Louie still regularly plays gigs in comedy clubs in New York. “Stand-up has always saved me,” he says. Louie is a divorced father of two, and his daughters are a huge part of his life. He often talks about his kids in his stand-up, and notes that they are the people that keep him going.

Louie (the series) began in 2010 and has just finished its fourth season. The show is written, directed, and often edited by Louie himself. Louie is also the main character in the series – episodes follow his (fictionalised) everyday life as a comedian and a father in Manhattan. Louie may be most simply described as a comedy, though it is (like Louie’s stand-up) much more complex than that. FX, in commissioning the first season of the show, allowed Louie full creative control (in exchange for a limited budget) – something that rarely happens with television. The result is a series that is constantly surprising, and always evolving. Each episode is its own complete story, and although the third and fourth seasons have begun to explore some extended plotlines, there is still a focus on segments, rather than wholes (what FX President John Landgraf calls “extended vignettes”).

Watching Louie, I never know if I’m going to laugh, squirm uncomfortably, or cry. Usually all three. Scenes can turn in ways you don’t expect: a friend admits he wants to kill himself and Louie refuses to give him a reason to live; a sexy liaison with a model turns into a trip to the emergency room and a lawsuit; a depressing stand-up gig turns into midnight breakfast with his kids in a downtown diner. Episodes are often bookended with live segments of Louie’s stand-up (Seinfeld-style) that make you laugh out loud. Then there are the warm, family moments when Louie spends time with his children; the heartbreaking moments (the quiet, sober decision to end a marriage); the awkward moments (Louie onstage in front of the wrong kind of audience); and moments of confronting honesty (the famous ‘Fat Girl’ speech from season four). Louie is artistic without ever being pretentious; there is a sense of great personal honesty in everything Louis C.K. creates, a trait that is both wonderfully creative and incredibly brave.

I really struggled to write this post. After watching his stand-up and TV series (and listening to numerous NPR conversations between Terry Gross and Louis C.K.) I have a great deal of respect for Louie – both as an artist and as a person. He is so genuine; not afraid to say what he thinks, ready to learn, and quick to admit when he is wrong. I want to be this honest in my own writing, and I also want to do Louie justice in writing about him. I want to express the effect he has had (and continues to have) on my life and my way of thinking. Louie makes me feel better about a whole spectrum of niggling worries; about failure, aging, depression, death, and about sometimes being a crap person. Louis C.K. makes me laugh at things I never thought could be funny. And, to top it all off, he can drive a boat. All of these things make Louis C.K. a great comedian, a philosopher, and – perhaps most importantly – just a really cool guy.

Louie airs on FX. The series also stars Hadley Delany and Ursula Parker as Louie’s daughters, and has featured Sarah Silverman, Jerry Seinfeld, Ricky Gervais, and David Lynch (among many other excellent performers). A fifth season of the series seems very likely, as Louis C.K. has noted that “The show is not anywhere near over for me.”

This review contains spoilers.

This is the last animated series on my list of things to write about at the moment, and one that I think has not been written about enough. Unlike Adventure Time, Archer is most definitely an adults only cartoon, and one that doesn’t try to address any of life’s big questions. This series is different to anything else on television; at its core each episode of Archer is a dose of intelligent, racy, surprising, and much needed escapism.

Archer, another offering from FX (the channel responsible for Sons of Anarchy and Louie), began in 2009 and has just finished its fifth season. The series revolves around ISIS – an international spy agency with its headquarters in New York. ISIS is possibly the most ethically questionable spy agency in the history of television: across its first four seasons the organisation has been involved with the yakuza, piracy, white slavery, sexual assault, bum fights, and kidnapping the pope. The beginning of season five sees ISIS busted by the FBI for treason: apparently all of the agency’s espionage operations had thus far been carried out sans permission from the government. Malory Archer (the tough, spirit-guzzling owner of ISIS who once had an affair with the head of the KGB, voiced to sharp-tongued perfection by Jessica Walter of Arrested Development fame) is forced to forfeit her agency or face a lifetime in prison. This is a move that takes the series in a very different (and very entertaining) direction. The real focus of the show (and of his own universe), is Malory’s son, Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin of Bob’s Burgers): a handsome, spoiled, narcissistic agent who is also very good in a fire-fight. All of Archer’s main characters are hilarious: Cheryl Tunt (voiced by Judy Greer, also from Arrested Development) is ISIS’s secretary, heiress to a family fortune, and the not-so-proud owner of a pet ocelot; Pam Poovey (Amber Nash) is the human resources director with an extremely addictive personality; Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler) is ISIS’s top female agent who simultaneously loves and hates her male counterpart, Sterling Archer; Cyril Figgis (Chris Parnell) is the agency’s cowardly accountant; Ray Gillette (voiced by creator Adam Reed) is the team’s intelligence guru; and Dr Krieger (Lucky Yates) is the resident (mad) scientist, and is married to a Japanese anime-style hologram. Archer has also been host to its fair share of guest talent, including Jon Hamm, David Cross, Fred Armisen, Kristen Schaal, and Bryan Cranston. The big names are never the focus of an episode (as Gwilym Mumford points out in this article in The Guardian); their talent is always utilised to support the show, rather than to draw larger audiences.

I really enjoy Archer for a number of reasons, but the biggest one has to be the witty and fast-paced dialogue. Adam Reed has created a fantastic parody of the secret agent world; his goal, he notes here, was to set up “a backdrop of global espionage … and focus on the bickering.” This works extremely well: one of my favourite moments from season five is when Sterling and Lana are screaming at each other during a shoot-out about the name of a character from The Muppets. The writing is intelligent, funny, strewn with references to pop-culture, and very politically incorrect. When someone suggests forming a cartel to offload “literally … a tonne of cocaine”, Malory wonders “How hard can it be? If Mexicans can do it …”; Cheryl refers to the Yakuza as “Chinese daylight vampires”; and in perhaps the most stinging barb of the show’s love/hate relationship, a pregnant Lana responds to Sterling’s marriage proposal with: “I would rather lose the baby.”

After reading the above quotes this next statement may be somewhat hard to believe – I genuinely like all of the characters in this show. It has taken me a while to figure out why: they are all (to varying degrees) selfish, irresponsible, and insensitive. I think their likeability is generated in a number of ways: first, Archer is clearly meant as a joke; second, the characters are largely presented as products of their environment (Cheryl and Sterling, especially, were brought up surrounded by wealth but starved for affection); third, they are all very good at their jobs; and fourth – and perhaps most importantly – there is a childish sense of humour and fun about them. It is difficult not to smile at Sterling’s uncontrollable giggling over his use of the juvenile insult “Shut your dick trap”; in the same way it is hard to stay angry with kids when they are distracted by some trivial amusement. The strength of the voice acting in Archer also contributes in no small way to how an audience responds to the characters; Reed admits that H. Jon Benjamin’s skilful delivery renders Sterling much more sympathetic than he otherwise would be. It is also heartening to see a show with such a large cast of strong female characters.

Finally, Archer is aesthetically impressive. The animation is much more detailed and realistic than other cartoons (each character is based on a human model: you can see the ‘real’ cast here), and it is stylish in a way that is reminiscent of Mad Men. The show’s time period is deliberately unclear (a way of avoiding modern political issues that might result in Archer being viewed more seriously than it wants to be), but there is a 1960s influence – particularly in terms of clothing – that gives the series a touch of class.

Stylishly drawn, cleverly written, superbly voiced, and very quotable. In the end, Archer is simply great – and smart – fun. Settle down with your sense of humour, and enjoy.

Archer is created by Adam Reed (Sealab 2021, Frisky Dingo) and produced by Matt Thompson, Bryan Fordney, Neal Holman, Eric Sims, and Casey Willis. A sixth season is due to air in 2015.