Archer is the rare comedy that’s still going strong after seven seasons. It’s willingness to adapt, shift genre and maintain continuity keep it surprisingly fresh for a show that relies on shock humor and parody tropes. But what makes Archer a show I still happily revisit over and over again is the incredible characters. Each new season brings developments to the ensemble and world that retroactively make earlier episodes even stronger, while building up anticipation for the future. As we wait for Archer’s eighth season, which looks to be yet another clever anachronistic genre bend, fans can find solace in revisiting Archer’s fantastic 85 episode run. I’ve taken the liberty of narrowing that list down to a top 25.
Krieger: Jazz hands!
Malory: Should’ve never taken him to see “The Wiz.”
Lana: The Broadway show or the movie?
Flashback to Krieger doing jazz hands at a Broadway show and a movie theater.
This makes the cut for the sheer audacity to do an episode about kidnapping the Pope in a pre-The Young Pope world.
Archer: Bloody Mary, full of vodka, blessed are you among cocktails. Pray for me now and at the hour of my death, which I hope is soon. Amen.
To be honest, I am biased by my fondness for Archer and Pam’s brief affair. They’re both such shameless hedonists that bouncing them off each other is a delight. It’s also nice to see characters have a secret fling that never has any disastrous consequences—unless you count Archer missing his last chance to possibly connect with his possible father. But, you know, I’ve never been that invested in that plot line. Still, pour one out for Nikolai Jakov, head of the KGB.
Cheryl: Just say the right stuff and they just send you to a mental hospital for 10 months.
Gillette: I just this second realized why you do macrame instead of knitting.
Cheryl: Yeah, no sharp objects on the ward. They were super strict about that.
The ISIS office is thrown into chaos when movie star Rona Thorne wants to shadow Lana for research. Archer and Lana’s love/hate dynamic is in top form as they do everything they can to undermine each other and still end the episode with Archer’s face on Lana’s crotch. Meanwhile, Pam, Cheryl and Gillette bond over stealing Rona Thorne’s journal. Each of them tells a horrifying anecdote that is met with limited to no judgment, which really highlights what a fantastic ensemble of amoral weirdos the show has. This episode is Ah-maz-ing!
Ray: Oh god, it tastes worse than it smells!
Pam: If I had a nickel for every time I heard a guy say that…I’d have eight nickels!
Archer and Lana have to team up to take Cyril on his first field mission where he proves himself both as an agent and as a comedic character. While the Archer/Lana/Cyril love triangle was never especially compelling the three bounce off each other incredibly well. Cyril asking himself in every situation, “What would Lana do?” is great advice for all of us.
Barry: Samuel Johnson tells us puns are the lowest form of comedy, but for me, it’s murder.
Barry Dylan’s always been a great villain, or at least since he became a cyborg. But the last time he appeared we got a bit of insight on what makes that crazy cyborg brain tick. It was fairly terrifying. As was Malory, who’s spectacular this episode as she singlehandedly saves herself and breaks out of a bunker.
Archer: I basically just lurch from one fireable offense to the next.
The magic bullet gag in this episode, where Archer tries to find which room and floor Brett managed to get shot on, is phenomenal. The actual plot is pretty weak—everyone gets distracted trying to leave the building—but a lot of running gags are paid off: Archer’s hatred of robots and cyborgs, Ray’s on again off again paralysis, Archer’s tinnitus and Cheryl’s admittedly creepy sexual arousal at physical and emotional violence. Pam and Krieger teaming up is just a bonus.
Cyril: I just assumed that if anything bad happened-
Archer: No! Do not say the Chekhov gun, Cyril. That, sir, is a facile argument.
Woodhouse: And also woefully esoteric.
Archer has to train Cyril to be an effective field agent, which gives us a window into his methods and perspective on being a spy; his lessons devolve into murdering a call girl as quickly as you’d expect. The real threat is Lana finding out what they’re up to. It’s hard to capture in print how funny it is to watch Lana flip open a switchblade while asking poor Scatterbrained Jane if she’s “getting [herself] a tampon?” but it is one of the comedic peaks of television as a medium.
Lucas Troy: Dude, that is such a relief, I was worried they turned you against me.
Archer: Are you kidding? Dude, bros before apparent threats to national security.
This is a dark one. Archer finds out his old friend from spy training, Lucas Troy, has died. His fellow ISIS employees take this as a cue to make a lot of jokes about 1) Archer not having any friends, and 2) Lucas being in love with him. Both of these assessments turn out to be mostly true. Is there something to be said about Archer’s inability to build a friendship with another person without an underlying sexual element? Probably a lot, yeah. Anyway, Timothy Olyphant’s voice work is great and there are also some amazing, unexpected Frisky Dingo references.
Cheryl: Do you have change for 10—let me finish—drams of vole’s blood?
With both Archer and Lana officially off the market, the Figgis Agency needs to determine who the new sexiest single spies in the office are. This results in a lot of makeovers, a lot of betting and a lot of fun. What this episode lacks in depth it makes up for in drams of vole’s blood.
Archer: I bet I’ll never be able to have sex again without thinking about this! I bet I won’t even be able to eat spaghetti and meatballs! Oh my God. I could eat. I mean, not necessarily spaghetti and meatballs, but not necessarily not spaghetti and meatballs. I mean I really like spaghetti and meatballs. Man, if I don’t get some spaghetti and meatballs I may literally die.
This is by far the best episode about the gang being invited over to Malory’s for a dinner party and then having to cover up a murder. Malory needs Archer and Lana’s help after the Italian prime minister is murdered in her apartment with an eggplant sized dildo inside him. Of course she killed him, but the narrative she spins makes a rather compelling whodunnit and a fun [Cheryl Tunt voice] “elegant dinner party.”
Pam: I swear to god, you could drown a toddler in my panties right now. I mean, not that you would.
Burt Reynolds lays down some hard truths during an incredible car chase. What else could you possibly need to know?
Ray: How long will it take you, Archer, to admit that you dick around every time we’re in danger, just to screw with everybody, because of your complete—no, your utter contempt for your own mortality?!
Archer: I mean, yeah. Duh.
Lana, Pam and Cherlene put together a spa day for Malory and also discuss how they’ve pretty much all had sex with each other over the series. Meanwhile Archer and Gillette bond over not taking Cyril seriously. There’s an oddly heartwarming moment where Gillette reveals he faked being paralyzed just to get Archer to admit he’s a selfish asshole. You know, because they’re all selfish assholes. It also has my favorite elaborate voice message prank with the impromptu rave in the Tunt mansion.
Krieger: Huh. Should I be in there? I feel like I should. I mean, I am a doctor.
Gillette & Cyril: No, you’re not.
Krieger: Well, no, but… a student of life.
I dare you to watch the scene where Archer meets his daughter, Abbiejean, for the first time, without tearing up. You can’t.
Reggie Thistleton: Water? Never touch the stuff. Fish fuck in it.
I have this episode to thank for teaching me what a tontine is, so points for that alone. We finally get Woodhouse’s tragic backstory from World War I, somehow, in this show’s unclear timeline. The episode has a lot of fun with the heavily implied but never outright stated homoerotic subtext of so many brothers at arms stories. The real punchline though is that sweet, gentle hearted Woodhouse is always one emotional break away from cutting off 50 German scalps. That’s a lot of scalps!
Archer: Seriously Lana, call Kenny Loggins cause you’re in the danger zone. From Top Gun.
It’s debatable if Conway Stern is the best guest character Archer has ever had, but he should undoubtedly be the standard to which all future bit characters are held. Conway Stern, which is not his real name, is hired to meet ISIS’s diversity guidelines, which is ironic because he is objectively a much better agent than everyone else. Or, if nothing else, he’s way better at having the right quip ready. His good looks and basic competence send the whole office into chaos. Archer’s oedipal complex comes out in full force, Lana shows her professional jealous side and we get our first display of full on Cheryl’s—or “Crystal”’s—weirdness.
Archer: Lana I’m in love with you.
Lana: You are also shit-faced.
Archer: I can be both.
Archer gets diagnosed with stage two breast cancer, which turns out to be a wholly unexpected laugh riot. Season two puts a lot of work into humanizing Archer, and this episode about how Archer can change, to some extent, under the right pressure, is the perfect example of how far he’s come. From the montage of Archer unknowingly playing with radiation to the running joke of his doctor hitting on Malory, this episode is packed with amazing comedy bits reliant on the gravity of the disease without making human suffering a punchline. The ending where the doctor keeps calling back, because he has the wrong results, is incredible.
Archer: I have to go, and If I find one single dog hair when I get back, I’ll rub sand in your dead little eyes.
Woodhouse: Very good, Sir.
Archer: I also need you to go buy sand.
Woodhouse: Yes, Sir.
Archer: I don’t know if they grade it, but… coarse.
This is one of the strongest comedy pilots I’ve ever seen. Wall-to-wall jokes, clear character introductions, and a fun spy plot all in under 22 minutes. Even if Archer only made it to pilot, this one episode already gives us “Just the tip,” “Because that’s how you get ants!” and poor Brett’s now iconic “God damn it, Archer!
Archer: Grill me a cheese.
After a season of buildup we still didn’t find out who Archer’s father is, and seven seasons in I don’t think we’re going to find out. Yet it doesn’t really matter, since the core of the show is Archer and Malory’s dysfunctional love for each other. Whoever is or was Archer’s father, he’s not the one here to grill him a cheese. There was one satisfying season one payoff, though, when Lana finally agrees to have sex with Pam after rejecting every man in the office.
Anka: You must address me by my title, Countess Von Fingerbang.
Anka Schlotz, the 16-year-old heiress hell-bent on sexually harassing Archer, makes a surprisingly great foil for our hero. The scene at the end, where Archer recognizes that her hyper-sexual acting out is a product of an incredibly lonely upbringing, is the first time I viewed Sterling Archer as a developed character and not a joke. This episode includes my favorite hit squad, made up of identical twin brothers and a woman who keeps switching which one she’s dating.
Archer: I—I would prefer not to.“Bartleby, the Scrivener”? Anybody? Not a big Melville crowd here, huh? He’s not an easy read.
This is such a perfect execution of a spies-fuck-around-on-a-mission-while-the-drones-fuck-around-in-the-office episode. Archer goes to rescue Lana from the dangerous Skorpio, except there’s no danger and they goof around on his mega-yacht before having a two-man threesome with Scorpio, then shooting their way out. Back at the office everyone gets drunk, Cheryl torments Cyril into sleeping with her and Krieger builds Fort Kickass before burning it down.
Archer: I’m looking for a terrorist and an ocelot.
Archer: Not necessarily in that order.
Any episode that ends with everyone getting banned from Canada is an instant classic. Archer gets to experience, and then immediately regret, two of his dreams: fighting on top of a moving train and getting to hang out with Babou, the ocelot. It’s an endearing episode for Archer, who spends most of the episode looking for Babou instead of the escaped Canadian terrorist. Plus we learn that the Tunts own a railroad.
Cheryl: Well, sorry. That money’s gone.
Cyril: Wh-? What do you mean it’s gone?
Cheryl flashes back to setting a stack of bills on fire and throwing it into a dumpster.
Cheryl: It’s been an extremely volatile year.
It turns out Cheryl is a rich heiress with a mansion, an ocelot and half a billion dollars to her name. She also has kidnappers after her who mistakenly take Pam. It’s a great twist to add to Cheryl, especially to explain how someone as weird and unhinged as she is could have stayed out of jail or worse. Though Pam is the one who really shines this episode—mocking, negotiating with and eventually killing her captors.
Lammers: For the last time, you idiot! It’s not hydrogen! It’s helium!
Lana: And what about that are you still not getting, exactly?
Archer: Well, obvious the core concept.
Everything is working in this episode. The opening commercial for safe non-flammable helium blimps; everyone crammed on top of each other in the blimp; the German with an eye-patch who makes Archer and Lana feel like assholes for assuming he’s the bad guy; and Lana and Cyril accidentally bombing Wales to save their relationship. The office drama and silly spy caper are both as good in top form and overlap perfectly.
Cheryl: No no no no, like a big sweaty fireman carries you out of a burning building, lays you on the sidewalk and you think, yeah, okay, he’s going to give me mouth-to-mouth. Instead, he just starts choking the shit out of you, and the last sensation you feel before you die is that he’s squeezing your throat so hard that a big wet blob of drool drips off his teeth and just, plurp, falls right onto your popped out eyeball.
I think that monologue alone justifies “Honeypot”’s #2 spot. If you need more convincing, see Archer’s hysterical laugher at the mere thought that Woodhouse is tied up somewhere—scared, alone and probably dehydrated. Or Danny the intern running around drugged. Or our first brief but memorable introduction to Ray Gillette.
Archer: Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the hogs of war.
Lana: Dogs of war.
Archer: Whatever farm animal of war, Lana. Shut up.
In the follow-up episode to Archer getting stage two breast cancer, he discovers his chemotherapy has been replaced with Zima, and someone must pay. Archer’s rampage—or “RAMPAAAAAAAGE”—is outrageous, hilarious and, in a rarity for the show, pretty justified. I mean, he does put a grenade up a man’s ass, but guys, counterfeit cancer drugs. I also love that Lana just follows him around all episode filming the rampage. What a pal. By the way, Krieger is maybe a clone of Adolf Hitler.
Sara Ghaleb is a writer and comedian living in Los Angeles. She takes pop culture much too seriously. You can see her sketch team The Burbs perform at The Nerdist School Stage every month. Follow her at @saraghaleb.