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Are we too self-absorbed to laugh at self-absorption anymore?

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“This must be what it’s like to have sex with me,” Sterling Archer says, elated, as he skips across bayou country in an airboat, clad in a leather vest that buttons only to the sternum.

His partner and onetime lover, Lana Kane, replies, “How can an airboat be selfish?”
This is a rare moment in Archer, the animated FX spy spoof from Adam Reed, creator of Sealab 2021 and, therefore, an originator of the Adult Swim aesthetic.

When he’s on cover ops, Archer usually wears a turtleneck, not a leather vest.

To call Archer a spy parody, though, is like calling Sealab a SeaQuest rip-off. The spying here is incidental the way being underwater was there.

It takes a month to make a single episode of Archer. If Charlie Sheen were the showrunner, he’d speed things up, but the comedy wouldn’t be able to comment on the current madness in the world, where real spies are probably being used in droves.

Archer isn’t about lampooning the profession. It’s not even about the covert operative as collective masculinity myth. Like SeaLab before it, it’s about what Adam Reed knows best: self-absorption.

And the truth is, yes, Archer is very, very funny.

You stop laughing, though, and wonder what the point was. Self-focus was never an issue in the nihilistic early days of Adult Swim. What’s the difference here?
It’s not Reed who changed — that’s for sure. And not our society’s conception of the suave, clandestine ├╝bermensch, either (Exhibits A and B: Daniel Craig and Vladimir Putin).

Mostly, it’s we who have changed, dear reader.

Since 2001, we’ve been given Facebook and Twitter. Self-absorption no longer needs parodying, because it’s on display, at an un-parody-able clip, 24 hours a day, in perpetuity. Seriously. Check your newsfeed. You won’t have to load a second page before you find a friend of yours behaving every bit as badly — and with just as little self-awareness — as any character in Archer does. There are other niggling issues, but mostly Archer isn’t over-the-top enough to compete with reality.

It’s a weird feeling, watching an admittedly funny farce and realizing it’s a little too tame for the biggest joke of all. Us.


Nurse Jackie
As Season Three opens, our favorite pill-popping, pharmacist-banging, take-no-shit New York nurse finds her world falling completely apart. (Showtime, premieres Monday, March 28, 10 pm)

The Fabulous Beekman Boys
Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell are partners. In the business sense and in the sexy sense. They bought a farm together and are in the process of creating a “lifestyle brand” of goat milk soaps and whatnot. Ridge is way into it, while Kilmer-Purcell, already a best-selling author, wrote a book about the experience, called The Bucolic Plague. That should give you some sense of the tension in the series. (Planet Green, Tuesdays, 10 pm)

Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen
It was only a matter of time before molecular gastronomy got its own show, and only a matter of time before SyFy — that flailing, are-we-sciencey-or-are-we-not former science fiction network — did a food show. Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen is a match made from two sides of an identity conflict. Proper culinary channels don’t know what to do with molecular gastronomic techniques and SyFy doesn’t know what it wants to do with its horrible ratings. Perfect. Fit. (SyFy, Tuesdays, 10 pm)


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