By T.J. Tranchell
The sixth season of animated spy-comedy “Archer” recently hit the small screen via FX and streaming on Hulu. If you haven’t seen this show, which satirizes everything from espionage-action thrillers to office comedies, you are missing out.Granted, it is at times – OK, much of the time – vulgar and definitely not a cartoon for the kids. With action aplenty, one-liners better than the best sitcoms, and stellar voice acting, “Archer” is one of the best shows running.
The show centers on Sterling Archer, a booze-swilling, tactical turtleneck-wearing “superspy” and the independent intelligence agency his mother owns and runs. If you tune in for the first time and have an itch in the back of your brain telling you that Archer’s voice sounds familiar, you’d be right.
Comedian H. Jon Benjamin lends his signature voice to Sterling Archer and captures a smarminess for the character that lends credence to Archer’s abilities as a spy as well as Archer’s ineptitudes and disdain for most of the people he works with. He is totally confident in everything he does.
And yet that same voice is one of self-deprecation and low self-esteem when heard as Bob Belcher from “Bob’s Burgers.” Benjamin did so little to give Bob a different voice that during one episode of “Archer” Sterling Archer believes he is Bob Belcher, humble family man and burger restaurant proprietor. The amnesiac Archer eventually regains his true identity and both shows move merrily along the way with no changes to their central characters’ voices.
As currently running shows, “Archer” and “Bob’s Burgers” are easy to find. But two other short-lived animated series put Benjamin in place to be the current king of animated actors: “Home Movies” and “Lucy: Daughter of the Devil.”
Both shows were once part of the Adult Swim lineup on the Cartoon Network. In “Home Movies,” Benjamin voiced Coach McGuirk, an unstable youth soccer coach. In “Lucy: Daughter of the Devil,” he was the devil, shrouded in Cosby sweaters and running the Mexican restaurant in which his unwilling evil spawn Lucy works as a waitress. “Lucy” only had 11 episodes, most of which are available via YouTube. “Home Movies,” however, lasted 52 episodes, including a number of classics that would not be the same without Benjamin’s exasperated vocals.
The highlight comes early: season one, episode five titled “Yoko.” The main character, Brendon, is on a camping trip with some classmates and Coach McGuirk. It’s innocent but weird. No, we don’t know why this trip is happening and it doesn’t matter. It’s a set-up for a joke. Without spoiling anything – because I want you to watch this yourself – I will tell you to be aware of lending your canteen to any unscrupulous adolescents. McGuirk learns this the hard way.
Benjamin’s vocal work is only one part of what makes that particular episode and all of “Home Movies” a delight. The animation suits the premise: 11-year-old Brendon makes movies with his friends, often in his basement. They go to school and play soccer. The show is squiggly with mostly solid and primary colors (think of the classic Comedy Central animated series “Dr. Katz” but with fewer squiggles – Benjamin also did voice work for that show), and looks like a kid drew it.
It is a far cry from “Archer,” but when Coach McGuirk says, “Because I tasted it before,” and Sterling Archer says, “Do you want ants? Because that’s how you get ants!” you’ll know these two characters are spiritual brothers speaking in one voice.
“Home Movies” is available on a number of streaming platforms including Amazon Video and Hulu.
Tranchell reads and writes horror fiction, teaches at the University of Idaho, and is secretly training his son Clark to be a superhero. If you’d like to talk about books, movies, music or TV, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (509) 834-1966.