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Plain and simple FX’s new series Archer delivers the irreverent comedy that was experienced during the glory days of Warner’s adult swim. Not since the days of Sealab 2021 (another Adam Reed project) has a show come up with some of the most ridiculously funny and brilliantly absurd comedy as does Archer. Having seen the first five episodes of the series its no wonder why the network ordered more, aside from ABC’s Modern Family, Archer is the frontrunner for the best new comedy of the 2009-2010 season.

Sterling Archer (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin) is a secret agent for ISIS, a freelance spy agency run by his mother, Malory (the always funny Jessica Walter), and works with a cast of characters including his ex-flame Lana (Aisha Tyler), her new beau, and ISIS comptroller Cyril (Chris Parnell), and secretary Cheryl (Judy Greer) who changes her name from episode to episode.

From the very beginning the roots of the aforementioned adult swim classic, and Reed’s follow-up Frisky Dingo, are readily apparent, and that’s what makes Archer such a pleasure to watch. For an animated show to not be about the animation is always a risk, but the story, dialog, and just overall fun of the series clearly make up for it. Granted the animation has come a long way from Reed’s reusing of frames from Sealab 2020, but it has always been about the story, the situations, and the gratuitous violence that has brought viewers in.

The style of the show, set in a contemporary world, but with throwbacks to the spy movies of the 1950’s and 1960’s is excellent. More than a few Bond gags make their way into the early part of the season, including ridiculously named villains with quirks built in. Archer himself is a bumbling moron who, at times, seems to only have made it this far because of his overbearing mother, but does show flashes of how good he can be in later episodes.

Being on FX gives the animators and producers some more leeway on what they can show and what they can say, and while it’s usually shameful to push the envelope for the sake of shock, that’s what really works here. No show has done better cutaways since Family Guy, and even FOX’s cash cow could take a few notes.

In the end Archer comes together in a great mix of classic characters, hilarious dialog, visual gags, throwback jokes and a sense that we haven’t learned anything in the last 22 minutes, but we had a damn good time spending it with the ISIS team, even if our codename is Duchess.

Where FX has excelled in the drama game the network has always seemed to struggle on the flipside of the programming coin in the comedy genre. Save for the wildly popular It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, shows like Starved, Testees, and Lucky have always missed the mark for various reasons. The network recently unveiled a new slate of original programming including several comedies and dramas, the first of which is the fantasy football-themed The League which continues the network tradition of vivid characters based on excellent writing.

Breaking away from the sight-gag laced Testees, The League centers on an ensemble cast of characters all joined together by friendship and their desire to one-up each other in fantasy football. The competition is nothing to be taken lightly as characters influence each other in their work and home lives, all to get Peyton Manning.

The writing is sharp in the first two episodes with more than a few laugh out loud moments and more than a few hearty chuckles strewn about. What really works is the believable, relatable characters all pulled from the sitcom stable including the recently separated, charming guy; the clueless friend who drafts retired players; the married dude who has to watch porn in the garage while working out. Well, you get to expand the normal staples when you’re on cable.

A few standout moments are Taco’s (Jon Lajoie) wholly inappropriate song at a pre-teen’s birthday party, you know where its going from the very beginning, but there’s something about harmonizing and explaining various sexual positions that really makes you laugh. Nick Kroll’s Ruxin and his desire to win the fantasy league so bad he kidnaps an “oracle” leads to another stand out, laugh out loud moment that looks really, really bad, but you never realized implied pedophilia could be so funny.

The show has a semi-serialized nature to it, at least in regards to the first few episodes, and the “league” aspect is used (so far) as merely a framing device for a few jokes and as an excuse for everyone to stay together. In the end, however, The League is a very funny entry into FX’s already stellar lineup or originals, as long as the first season stays Sunny and avoids being Starved the future looks bright.

Comedic-drama Rescue Me returns in its fifth season with more of what we love, funny jokes interspersed with serious drama as the dysfunctional lives of Number 62 Truck play out in front of all of us to enjoy.

Creators Denis Leary and Peter Tolan have crafted a fine example of how to see into the lives of the FDNY and the situations that everyone finds themselves in are both uproarious and hard to grasp at the same time. But it’s really the characters that bring everything back, with each member of the house bringing something new to the table and the dynamics of how well they play together only aids the believability somewhat lost on the incessant drama each character experiences.

Season five picks up where the last ended. Tommy Gavin’s (Leary) father has passed away at a baseball game with his son and we’re reintroduced into the fold shortly after with Tommy day dreaming about desecrating his father’s coffin at a mock memorial in his head. The episode also introduces the highest profile guest star thus far, Michael J. Fox, as Janet’s (Andrea Roth) new boyfriend. Fox plays the a-hole card really well confusing Tommy if he’s being mocked. Fox’s story will surely play out more as the season continues, so it would be unfair to judge his character and performance based on this three minutes of screen time.

The major subplots to the season seem to be Sean Garrity (Steven Pasquale) being injured, and Garrity, Franco (Daniel Sunjata), and Probie (Mike Lombardi) attempting to open a firefighter oriented bar to score with the ladies after hearing the successes of their favorite establishment of the same theme.

As mentioned before, Rescue Me is one of the finest examples of bi-polar drama on TV today. In one pivotal scene where Mickey Gavin (Robert John Burke) relapses and its up to Tommy to pull him from a church where he’s hassling a baptism, the conversation goes back and forth between philosophical enlightenment and the image of a dog defecating in a pantry. As the conversation continues neither participant knows what’s subject is really being talked about. These are times when you both think and laugh at the same time, and these are the times that make Rescue Me one of the best shows on TV.

There has been some trepidation on how Damages‘ creators Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler, Daniel Zelman were going to continue the multi-layered storyline of the first season of the show. Fans will know that we’re introduced to the series very near the end before being warped back in time and shown how we reached the point where a bloodied and distraught Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) would be running down a New York City street. While the season premiere offers up the future again, it isn’t the opening teaser that sets this episode in motion, it’s the final seconds that draw the audience right back in to the show’s comforting grasp.

Fresh off the destructive Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson) case, a haunted Patty Hewes (Emmy winner Glenn Close) is confronted by her associates into taking a new case. Ellen relays a set-up case provided by her new FBI friends as she strives to take down the women who tried to kill her, but Patty has been contacted by Daniel Purcell (William Hurt). The full scope of the help that Purcell needs isn’t immediately evident aside from a big corporation and chemical work that could be very harmful. Patty initially rebuffs Daniel, who we find out had a previous relationship of some sort, but in the closing moments of the premiere the tables turn dramatically.

Byrnes portrayal of a broken, revenge-driven Ellen is the highlight of the episode and her shut out from an Emmy nod last year is near criminal. While her story isn’t as integral to the “A” storyline, at least at this time, her vivid daydreams about shotgun blasting a-still-alive Frobisher add an element to her character full realized in the aforementioned closing seconds.

Three great things continue over from the first to the second season of the series. The A-list cast is a big part of just how great this series is, with award winners, cult favorites, and solid acting stripes abound, the series continues to compile the best cast on TV with additions like Timothy Olyphant (Deadwood), Marcia Gay Harden, and Hurt. The second and third go hand in hand, the astounding writing for the series is what made it so attractive to these actors and actresses and the premiere already begins the twisty-turny spiral we’ve come to expect. Lastly, its an intelligent series that keeps the watcher engaged, everything in the series has a purpose, and as we saw last season, everyone is connected, everyone is manipulating someone else, everyone is dirty in some way, but who comes out on top is a matter of great discussion once we’re able to see how everything shakes out.

For those worried about the second season of the series, don’t, everything that made Damages one of the best drama series on TV is still intact and just as good as ever. Will the writers be able to sustain the series again for 13 episodes and include as many twists as last year? That’s still to be determined, but if the initial batch of episodes is any indication its going to be a great ride.

FX’s run with un-PC comedies has weathered the cable storm of the years with successes like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and failed opportunities like Starved, now FX is bringing former South Park writer Kenny Hotz’s Testees to the small screen as a companion to Philadelphia, and while the series does induce a few laughs in its debut, the show still has a lot to live up to.

Testees is, at times during the pilot episode, a live action version of South Park, the characters are inherently dim-witted but likable, and the social norm-bashing is certainly in place, however Peter (Steve Markle) and Ron (Jeff Kassel) are no Stan and Kyle, they fall into place with what ever comes their way rather than point out the irrational behavior of everyone else a la the aforementioned animated duo.

Peter and Ron are introduced to the audience sifting through the couch in their rundown apartment looking for rent money, while a suggesting is made to just “buy more couches” in search of money, the pair return to their jobs at Testico testing out products with Peter usually receiving the product and Ron lucky enough to be rewarded with a placebo. Upon their return they’re entered into a clinical trial which, after a few days of gestation, appears to make Peter pregnant. The two prepare for their child as you’ve probably seen on nearly every sitcom known to man, however it doesn’t take a Hollywood writer to see where this is ultimately going. And that’s the problem with Testees, its almost too obvious at times what is going to happen, sometimes running the jokes completely.

There are a few jokes that sneak up on you, such as Peter attempting to abort his unplanned pregnancy with a coat hanger up his rear end, and as offensive as you think it might be, you have to realize that these guys aren’t the brightest bulbs in the chandelier.

A B-story with fellow product tester Larry (Kenny Hotz) and his amazing “cockzilla” penis enlarging spray is a worthy distraction from the main storyline, but, again, smart watchers will see the punch lines (such as Larry passing out when engorged due to massing blood loss to his entire body) coming and while you’ll cringe at the bits you should cringe at, you won’t necessarily laugh at everything thrown against the wall.

While its obvious the show needs more time to establish the characters and show us if it will turn into a “product of the week” device facilitating all the jokes, there is promise in this show and for those interested, give it a few weeks before removing that season pass.

The Shield‘s Kurt Sutter branches out on his own with Sons of Anarchy a show thematically between the grit of the aforementioned cop series and the dark humor of FX’s own Rescue Me dramedy. The pilot episode, creatively named “Pilot” introduces us to the Sons of Anarchy motorcycle club lead by Clay Marrow and featuring an eclectic mix of do-gooders and criminals all with noble intentions but less than noble, or lawful, ways of attaining those goals.

The story focuses primarily on Jackson Teller (Undeclared‘s Charlie Hunnam) the VP of the MC with a newborn baby and the stickling feeling that the gang has fallen away from its real intentions since his father’s, the former president, death. Jackson initially has to deal with his premature infant son and the thought that he might not survive his untimely birth from a drugged out mother (guest star Drea de Matteo).

The Sons of Anarchy operate out of fictional Charming, CA, a small town they use to work day jobs, protect the local businesses from meth-heads and Mexican gangs, oh, and run guns, lots and lots of guns for gangs in the Bay Area. The pilot establishes the less than cozy relationship between the Sons and the Mayans and brings a third player into the mix by the end of the episode.

The brutality of the violence is often overshadowed by impeccable comedic timing such as how a character achieved the nickname “Half-Sack” (it IS what you think) or the steps to taxidermy a deer’s head. While these moments are few in the pilot the nature of the characters and their relationships play well off of each other, the friendly taunting you see in close circles is very evident here.

The two big names on the roster are Hellboy‘s Ron Perlman, for once not disguised in make-up, and Married With Children and Futurama‘s Katey Sagal who lights up the screen in the rare opportunity to show her drama chops (aside from a few guest spots on Lost). Sagal manages to handle her character (Jackson’s mother) in such a cold, domineering fashion that there is more going on behind the scenes than she lets on. In the episodes pinnacle moment between Jackson’s ex-wife and herself, Sagal becomes almost frightening. Perlman, on the other hand, is his usual charismatic self, commanding the screen in every moment of the episode he appears in as a calculating leader and tough guy.

Sons of Anarchy continues FX’s tradition of breaking the mold of traditional dramas with out-side-the-box characters in situations you don’t usually see on TV. The strength of the pilot alone brings along a host of characters and branching storylines to cover over the first season, and while the impending war between the Mayans and the meth-heads is all but a given, we’ll have to see how the season’s other episodes flesh out the characters and the story as we go along.

Damages’ writers Glenn Kessler, Todd A. Kessler, and Daniel Zelman put together one of the year’s most sharply written, well acted, and generally engrossing drama series that hides under the veil of being a litigation-like series instead borrowing heavily from series like Prison Break with a lightning fast story that throws enough twists and turns at the viewer to make them think twice, trust no one, and question everything. It’s almost as if The X-Files were reincarnated into Law & Order.

The overall story arch of the season concerns an Enron-like white collar business man, Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson) having his employees invest heavily the company before the bottom drops out, with him selling all his shares prior. The employees of the company hire Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) to represent them, and along with new associate Ellen Parsons (Rose Bynre) things start off clean and smooth and eventually flip you so upside down by the end of the first hour you’re clamoring for more.


The show is actually told in flashback; with the present day events the big mystery of the show as Ellen appears in a police station bloodied and not talking (this is all provided in the on-air promos, so no spoiler warnings here). Still, there’s so much to the series, and its serialized nature that the viewer will be coming back week after week for extra servings.

While the story is the aspect of the pilot that may get the most attention, the acting is top-notch as well, providing a memorable canvas to bring the written word to the screen. Glenn Close brings her A-game once again to the small screen after her Emmy-nominated portrayal of Captain Monica Rawlings on fellow FX series The Shield in 2005.

Rounding out the top billed cast is a sliver-haired Ted Danson who has come a long way from Three Men and a Baby. Danson really sinks into the roll of the corrupt business man doing what ever it takes to avoid a trial and huge settlement with Frobisher and his lawyer Ray Fiske (Zeljko Ivanek) in a game of words and actions with Hewes, with the viewer left guessing who has the upper hand at any given time.

The rest of the line-up in no way plays second fiddle to Close’s Hewes, but it’s so hard to escape from the shadow of the character. Rose Bynre, late of theatrical 28 Weeks Later, shows that she has the cockles to stand up to Hewes by turning down her initial interview, only to have Hewes show up, at a wedding she wasn’t invited to, with a glass of bourbon and a purpose.

The series itself is deadly serious, but there are times of laugh out loud bickering between characters, one happens early in the pilot on the courthouse steps, that certainly shows aspects of Hewes’ character. She can go from happy-go-lucky to firing an employee back to asking if you like sushi in ten seconds flat, and that makes her a character to watch, because her unpredictability makes her more than some cliché “strong-woman-bitch” character you see spread around the industry. She has everyone in the palm of her hand, and a plan for everything that she does.

Damages is easily one of, if not the best drama premiere this year, cable or otherwise. Even after only seeing the pilot the potential of the series and its intricate network of characters and their interaction leaves the door wide open for more than a few twists and viewers guessing which way is up.