Different lands have different dialects. Even traveling to a — supposedly — English-speaking country often means wading through the unintelligible.
So it is when visiting Adult Swim. In the dark hours of Cartoon Network, Adult Swim gives us beyond-weird shows like Metalocalypse, Aqua Team Hunger Force and Sealab 2021.
Adult Swim is a land rife with non sequitur, anti-logic, anti-climax and aggressive in-your-face surrealism. It’s place where all voice actors seem to mumble every line into their shirt collars, and talk in the same bizarro rhythm no matter the context.
It’s a place where, perhaps, a talking meatball will go on a three-minute monologue about ice cream. Perhaps.
I say all of this to discuss a show that’s not on Adult Swim. Archer, the new spy-spoof series, is technically on FX — the peerless basic cable network that pumped out shows like The Shield, Damage and Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
Yet Archer feels like a visitor sent from Adult Swim on a foreign exchange program. It embodies the Adult Swim spirit even more than Venture Bros., an actual Adult Swim secret-agent spoof.
Archer is an incompetent, blustering buffoon of a secret agent, like so many Maxwell Smart rip-offs before him. There’s only one other spy — the rest of the cast is populated by secretaries, human resources workers and accountants. As you might guess, far more time is dedicated to discussion of health care plans and expense accounts than actual secret-agent missions.
And that, largely, is the big joke. Where Venture Bros. parodies the genre by dishing out hilariously over-the-top action sequences, Archer’s parody is about never giving payoff. It lingers on the mundane, it casually dispenses with the exciting. It’s less homage, more deconstructive mockery.
Though most of its jokes are of the old “Ha-ha Oedipal complex” variety, there are a few brilliant lines. (“Karate? The Dane Cook of martial arts?” “Ironic, isn’t it? This is like O. Henry and Alanis Morissette had a baby and named it this exact situation.”) Yet, because of the voice acting — the rambling Adult Swim rhythms — the jokes flop.
There’s a reason most shows on Adult Swim are only 15 minutes.
Even amid the college haze of drugs, drink and sleep deprivation of their demographic, only a stalwart few can weather that style for a full halfhour.
Remember how on Battlestar Galactica, they’d go “Previously on Battlestar Galactica”? This is “Previously on Battlestar Galactica” the show. Fifty-eight years previously. Yet it’s not in space, it’s not crushingly bleak and there’s neither Battlestars, nor the Galactica. Really, creator Ron Moore says, it’s more like Dallas. With robots. (Fridays, 9 pm, Syfy)
The CW returns to its roots of giving sassy young women earnest and witty dialogue. Lux is a precocious (naturally) 15-year-old foster girl seeking emancipation. To achieve such, she must meet her birthparents, an immature bar-owner Dad and her talk-show host mom. Life Unexpected is more Gilmore Girls than Gossip Girl. Which is a bit refreshing. (Mondays, 9 pm, The CW)
Important Things with Demetri Martin
The greatest key to good sketch comedy wit is brevity. Important Things not only has some great absurd premises (new chess piece: The Annihilator), they’re all four minutes or less. It’s another example of the eternal question: Why is anyone watching Saturday Night Live? (Thursdays, 10 pm, Comedy Central)