'Archer' returns with guest star Burt Reynolds

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Lana Kane as voiced by Aisha Tyler, Adam Reed, Sterling Archer as voiced by H. Jon Benjamin and Cyril Figgis as voiced by Chris Parnell in “Archer,” airing Thursday, January 26 on FX. (Photo courtesy of FX)

The third season of “Archer” resumes tomorrow on FX, and the animated spy comedy remains as ridiculous and irreverent as ever. Although the third season technically began back in September with a three-part episode dealing with the fallout from the death of Archer’s fiance Katya, the newest batch of episodes continue to display the show’s penchant for gut-busting jokes handed to characters that continue to get better and better well into the current season.

H. Jon Benjamin stars as the titular character Archer, a dashing secret agent who also happens to be a remarkably obnoxious blowhard. His colleagues at the ISIS spy agency (short for the International Secret Intelligence Service) include the alluring, sarcastic Lana (Aisha Tyler), the oblivious secretary Carol (Judy Greer) and the handicapped former field agent Ray (creator Adam Reed), not to mention Archer’s boss and mother Mallory, played by “Arrested Development’s” Jessica Walters.

Although “Archer” is certainly about espionage, the show’s spy plots tend to be mostly perfunctory, often just an excuse for the show’s brilliant ensemble to interact in a new and entertaining way. “Archer” is often much more interested in examining workplace politics in a new context, or simply content to let its characters rip with the most inappropriate, ridiculously foul comments imaginable.

In fact, tomorrow’s season premiere mostly underplays the show’s spy elements, instead letting the focus shift to guest star Burt Reynolds (who happens to be Archer’s personal hero). The episode is a showcase of everything that makes the show work, including Benjamin’s consistently entertaining vocal performance as Archer, Tyler’s hilarious way of wringing a joke out of how she can enunciate a single line of dialogue, the detailed animation and the various ways the show’s chemistry between characters works in every exchange, even though the actors often record their dialogue separately (as is common practice on animated shows).

While there’s no underplaying Benjamin’s Emmy-nominated work as Archer, other cast members often manage to steal entire episodes out from under him. Greer and Amber Nash, playing two of the clerical workers in the ISIS office, are easily the show’s most underrated players, as their bizarre dialogue and character traits make their presence equally delightful and revolting. Meanwhile, Chris Parnell is often asked to play the straight man, but hits every punchline out of the park, and Walters more or less reprises her icy, reprehensible character Lucille Bluth from “Arrested Development,” tearing into her acidic lines with aplomb.

FX’s comedy lineup is currently made up of the long-running “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and the fantasy football comedy “The League,” and “Archer” is the clear standout, unafraid to go for the darkest, dirtiest punchlines no matter what the joke and lucky enough to have a cast that’s game enough to say some of the terrible, off-color things creator Adam Reed comes up with. Archer is a show that’s only getting funnier with age, and it’s a fresh, consistently entertaining way to start 2012 for the network.

Printed on Wednesday, January 18, 2012 as: 'Archer' returns with dark, brilliant humor