Archer

What constitutes a classroom? For Archer Fellows, the classroom is the Lincoln Memorial, the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian and the top of the Washington Monument. The classroom transcends physical spaces — the classroom is 2 a.m. conversations on living room floors and it is a vibrant GroupMe that is abuzz with political (and non-political) insights and jokes. Education that transcends the traditional classroom facilitates constant curiosity and learning. The Archer Fellowship Program, founded in 2001 by former Congressman Bill Archer, creates a space for experiential learning by bringing together UT students for a semester of living, learning and interning in Washington, DC. Each semester, 40 students are selected from across the nine participating UT System schools for a semester in the nation’s capitol. I am grateful to have served as an Archer Fellow last fall where I constantly had the opportunity to learn from my peers in the program, from my work with the United Nations and from the city itself.

The Archer Fellowship Program houses students in historic townhouses minutes away from the Supreme Court and U.S. Capitol. The opportunity to live and take classes with students from attending different UT System schools is a unique one. Despite attending schools within the same University system, students from across the various UT campuses typically have little academic interaction. As an Archer Fellow, I got to hear perspectives from students attending UT Pan American and UT-Brownsville on the merging of the two schools and learn about the culture and traditions of nine different UT System schools that were represented.  

The Archer houses quickly become a microcosm of D.C. itself, with students interning at the White House, the Supreme Court, the U.S. Capitol, government agencies, think tanks, NGOs, IGOS and in the private sector. Household and traditional classroom conversations with Fellows interning at these various organizations served as a model for understanding how different stakeholders in DC work together to examine issues and solve problems. 

During my semester as an Archer Fellow, I worked at the United Nations Information Center, one of 63 United Nations Information Centers around the world, each dedicated to serving as a resource to the country within which it is located. The mission of the United Nations Information Center in Washington is to serve as a focal point for UN news and information for the US government, NGOs, civil-society organizations and the American people. I was specifically working on outreach by developing a pilot project that frames the world’s news through the lens of the UN and consolidates various UN initiatives into one easy-to-read email product. I also designed and delivered presentations on the UN’s work to colleges in and around D.C. and performed research on issues like South Sudan and the Post-2015 Goals. 

The city of Washington served as a space for learning in itself. One Archer course, “Historical Memory and the Building of Washington,” took us to the very spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech and had students deliver lines from that speech to the class. In this course, we visited memorials and museums across the city and learned how to examine our own humanity in the context of the political and social realities that we (and the monuments) reside within. 

Like many programs where students spend time away from their home universities, participation in the Archer Fellowship Program comes with a certain level of privilege. Many students in the program expressed frustration with the higher cost of living in D.C. (in terms of food, housing and transportation) and noted that there was a subtle divide between those who could more easily afford to live in D.C. and pursue primarily unpaid fulltime internships and those who could not. An explicit acknowledgement of this divide, along with an increase in financial support for students hoping to pursue learning away from their home universities, can help mitigate this issue going forward. 

The Archer Fellowship Program reconceptualizes traditional notions of classrooms by emphasizing the opportunity for learning that is contained within each moment. As I begin my spring semester back on the 40 Acres, I will remember that classrooms can be created within all of the spaces that I occupy and that it is important to contextualize my learning in the real world. 

Kumar is a Plan II junior from Austin.

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