Archer: The Complete Season One (Fox) – Sterling Archer (code name: Duchess) has worked his way to the top of the spy game with a combination of arrogance, recklessness, hard-drinking, womanizing and nepotism: his mother (voiced by Jessica Walter) is the sarcastic head of the private intelligence agency ISIS (the International Secret Intelligence Service) that sends Archer around the world with weapons he should not be trusted with. That’s just one of the issues of contention between Archer and Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler), the unbelievably pneumatic top agent at Isis and Archer’s former girlfriend.
The made-for-FX animated series is a mix of espionage spoof of international intrigue and a skewed sitcom of cutthroat office politics with raunchy humor, and for a self-obsessed, sex-driven, easily-distracted moron, Archer’s actually got some mad skills between his playboy jaunts and cover-ups. And the show itself is pretty damn funny, utterly uninhibited and hilariously excessive, yet delivered with a deadpan directness. The show has the hard-lined look of a sixties comic book and features a voice cast that includes Chris Parnell (as the head tech geek at Isis), Judy Greer (the slutty secretary) and veteran voice actor H. Jon Benjamin as Archer, plus guest shots by Jeffrey Tambor, Coby Bell, Rene Auberjonois, Thomas Lennon and Ron Perlman.
10 episodes on two discs, plus the original unaired pilot, 20 minutes of featurettes on the production of the animation and deleted scenes, as well as pilot episodes from the FX original series The League and Louis. The new season premieres later this month.
Big Love: The Complete Fourth Season (HBO) – HBO’s original series about a sprawling Mormon polygamous clan with a skewed yet impassioned perspective on family values is coming to an end; the upcoming fifth season will be the last, so now is the time to catch up. Bill Pullman’s Mormon businessman Bill Henrickson, a practicing polygamist with three dedicated wives (elder wife Jeanne Tripplehorn, problem middle wife Chloe Sevigny, and youngest Ginnifer Goodwin) and seven surprisingly well-adjusted children in adjoining houses in a suburban Salt Lake City neighborhood, is deep in a partnership with an Indian casino and running for public office, all while keeping his polygamous life hidden.
That’s a tricky challenge but its not the only soap opera contrivances here. His eldest son fights an attraction to his youngest “mother” (Goodwin), his always-scheming parents (Bruce Dern and Grace Zabriskie) get the boy involved in an operation smuggling parrots over the Mexican border and his brother (Shawn Doyle) is being blackmailed over a murder he committed the previous season. Okay, the show gets sidetracked in some silly diversions (capped by Bill turning action hero to rescue his family from a crime family compound) and once again shows the stalwart patriarch become tunnel-visioned as he drives the family toward another major goal. But contrivances aside, I appreciate that the show presents the often conflicted members of the family as unequivocally devoted to and protective of all of its members, no matter what melodrama is twisting them around. And Sissie Spacek guest-stars this season as a Jack Abramoff-type lobbyist who leverages her way into representing the tribal casino and works to leverage Bill out of the operation. This may also be the final season with Amanda Seyfried as the eldest daughter, who married and moved away at the end of the season. She’s still listed in the credits of the upcoming fifth season, but the actress is so busy with film projects that her involvement in the show will likely be minimal.
Nine episodes in a box set of three thinpak cases, plus “Inside the Episode” featurettes for each episode.
Family Guy: It’s A Trap! (Fox) – The formula is wearing thin with this third installment of Family Guy‘s tribute to/parody of the original Star Wars trilogy, with the cast of the series taking on the iconic roles and Patrick Stewart, Michael Dorn, Adam West, Carrie Fisher and Rush Limbaugh adding their voices in brief, self-parodying roles. Arriving direct to DVD and Blu-ray (expect an eventual network showing), this almost scene-for-scene spoof of Return of the Jedi doesn’t bring any new ideas to the project and creator Seth MacFarlane seems to know it: the opening crawl jokes about its derivative, substandard quality. Who knew he wasn’t just cracking wise? This unrated disc features language that will be bleeped on its TV run, plus commentary, featurettes, animatics, outtakes and a digital copy of the film for portable media players on both DVD and Blu-ray releases. Fox is also offering a box set edition with the first two specials.
Acorn releases a couple of older British telefilms this week: Dirty Tricks (Acorn), a 2000 black comedy of social climbing and suspicious deaths starring Martin Clunes and Lindsay Duncan and based on a novel by Michael Dibdin, and The Guilty (Acorn), a 1992 thriller starring Michael Kitchen as a successful attorney accused of rape.
The Comedy Central Roast of David Hasselhoff (Paramount), the latest in the Comedy Central series of Celebrity Roasts, features Seth MacFarlane as Roastmaster and former Hasselhof co-stars Pamela Anderson, Traci Bingham, Nicole Eggert, Gena Lee Nolin and William Daniels (as the voice of K.I.T.T.) joining guests Gilbert Gottfried, George Hamilton, Hulk Hogan, Lisa Lampanelli, Jeffrey Ross and Jerry Springer to lob insults at Hasselhof.
Also new this week: Mannix: The Fourth Season (Paramount), The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Complete Third Season (BBC), Enemy at the Door: Series 2 (Acorn) and re-releases of the mini-series Shogun (Paramount) and Mama Flora’s Family (Vivendi).