Now in its third season, Adam Reed’s spy spoof “Archer” has quickly risen to become easily the best animated sitcom on television, and arguably one of the best sitcoms on television period. Aptly described as a cross between James Bond and “Arrested Development” with the visual style of “Mad Men” and sex and language normally relegated to premium cable. It is smart, funny, marvelously entertaining, fast-paced, chaotic and absurd, and in Sterling Archer, Adam Reed has created a character unlike any other on television: A brilliant spy whose cock-ups have nothing to do with bumbling stupidity and everything to do with obstinate laziness.
In tonight’s episode, the series looks to dabble in the playground of fellow FX series, “Justified,” as ISIS takes a trip to backwoods West Virginia. Ahead of that episode, I thought we’d take a closer look at the cast of “Archer,” and — at least for the “Archer” newbies — learn some more about the voices behind the characters.
H. Jon Benjamin (Sterling Archer) — Over the last 15 plus years, H. Jon Benjamin has been one of the most in-demand voice actors in television, starting with his role of Ben Katz in “Dr. Katz Professional Therapist.” Most know that in addition to providing the voice for Sterling Archer, he also provides the voice for Bob in “Bob’s Burgers” (in addition to numerous other voice roles). What some many not know is that Benjamin began his career in David Cross’ comedy team, Cross Comedy, along with Sam Seder (who was later Janeane Garafolo’s co-host on her Air America radio show). What many don’t know is that H. Jon Benjamin auditioned for the role of Gary in Wet Hot American Summer (the role that went to A.D. Miles), but ended up providing the voice of the vegetable can that sucked its own dick. The story behind that is pretty funny. Here it is in full (from the AV Club)
The best story there is that they recorded a scratch track—not the official movie version of it—to use as a template before. Then we went back in to record the polished version, just applying the same lines to picture. We had come up with the line about me sucking my own dick; I think I just said that, we were fucking around and I had said it on the scratch track version. And they were like, “You gotta say that, let’s leave it in.” So I was recording it, doing the line different ways, and David Wain and Michael Showalter got a phone call. They left, and it was just me and the audio engineer. There was this awkward waiting, and he pushed the button and said, “Hey man, really funny stuff.” I said, “Yeah, it’s really funny.” “Yeah, except for the thing about sucking your own dick. I mean, a can wouldn’t say that. I don’t wanna take over the process, but, uh, if you’re cool, you should say stuff like—I jotted down some ideas, and I bet those guys would love it.” I was playing along, like, “Yeah, that would be a hugehelp! I don’t wanna say this! It doesn’t make sense! A can is an inanimate object!” And the guy’s like, “I know! That’s why I was thinking you should make it funny! Like, you should say, ‘I stew my own vegetables a lot.’” I can’t remember what he said, but it was something that was like—geez, the lamest. And I was like, “Oh that’s great!”
Then the guys walked back in: “Sorry Jon. Alright Peter, let’s do another one.” [Laughs.] And I was like, “Well, listen, I stew my own vegetables all the time.” David Wain and Michael Showalter go, “What are you doing?” “I just think it’s funnier to say I stew my own vegetables than suck my own dick.” “Why?” “Because it’s a can.” “No…definitely say suck your own dick.” It was this totally waste-of-time argument that I was doing. I was like, “Yeah, whatever, I’ll say suck my own dick, but—I dunno, stew your own vegetables is pretty funny.” “No, that’s not funny at all.” We were overtly insulting this guy, who was sitting there grimacing. They never knew about it.
After, the [engineer] guy was like, “Those guys were assholes.” And I said, “Yeah, no sh*t.”
And here is the scene from the film:
In the second season of “Parks and Recreation,” Benjamin also played the Pawnee City Attorney.
Judy Greer (Cheryl Tunt) — Greer — whose birth name is Judith Laura Evans — has been “that girl” in television and films for over a decade, often playing the best friend in either sitcoms or romantic comedies. Her first big break came with the short-lived CBS sitcom “Love and Money” about an heiress falling in love with a blue collar guy, which also starred Paget Brewster (“Criminal Minds”) and Brian Van Holt (“Cougar Town”):
Interestingly, both Greer and H. Jon Benjamin have provided voice talent to “Family Guy” and the PBS kid’s show, “Wordgirl.” Greer, who is probably best known for her role as Kitty in “Arrested Development” is married to Dean Johnsen, an exec producer on “Real Time with Bill Maher.” He looks like a tool bag.
What most people don’t know about Greer — or at least, I didn’t know — is that she currently hosts an online exercise series, “Reluctantly Healthy,” for Yahoo!
Amber Nash (Pam Poovey) — Amber Nash — who started out as an improv actor in Atlanta, where she still performs with the improv group, Dad’s Garage — is the only cast member of “Archer” that had a significant working relationship with Adam Reed in the past. Nash voiced a character named Val on Reed’s Adult Swim animated series “Frisky Dingo.” In fact, the first time Nash saw the character of Pam, Pam was on screen delivering lines that Nash had delivered as Val in “Frisy Dingo.” Reed said, “This is what we want.” Nash describes the voice of Pam as being the one she uses when she’s pretending to sound like her Mom.
This is what Amber Nash looks like. Pretty cute, eh?
Chris Parnell (Cyril Figgis) — Parnell — like many “SNL” actors — got his gig on “Saturday Night Live” through the Groundlings. He had an interesting “SNL” career, having been fired from the show twice. In 2001, Parnell was fired from “SNL” due to budget cuts; Lorne Michaels decided to keep Horatio Sanz, instead. However, Parnell was re-hired midway through the season after Will Ferrell left to film Old School and Darrell Hammond entered rehab. Five years later, however, budget cuts forced Michaels to fire Parnell again, this time along with Horatio Sanz. Ironically, Sanz and Parnell would subsequently work together on the series “Big Lake” in 2010 for Comedy Central.
During his stint on “SNL,” Parnell and Ana Gastayer also auditioned to take over the Weekend Update desk, but lost to Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey. Parnell and Gastayer are now fake married on the ABC sitcom “Suburgatory.”
Brick Tamland, the Anchorman character played by Steve Carell, was originally written for Parnell.
Aisha Tylor (Lana Kane) — Maybe you first knew Aisha Tyler from her stand-up days, maybe you first knew her from her role as Charlie Wheeler in the 9th and 10th seasons of “Friends,” maybe you know her from “The Soup,” or from one of the women on the CBS version of “The View” called “The Talk,” or maybe you know her from one of the many film and television roles she’s had over the last decade or so (including multi-episode arcs in “24” and “The Ghost Whisperer”). But, did you know she went to a performing arts high school with Margaret Cho and Sam Rockwell, and provided the voice of the narrator in a documentary about the school (fast forward to 1:20 to see Rockwell and Cho).
My God, all three of them were giant dorks.
Jessica Walter (Malory Archer) — Walter has been acting mostly on television since the early 60s. She is 71 years old. She’s been in an enormous number of television shows, including most famously “Arrested Development,” but probably the most interesting role was that she was in “Three’s a Crowd,” the John Ritter spin-off of “Three’s Company.” She played the mother of Jack Tripper’s wife. She was also in a movie with Larry Hagman called Three’s a Crowd back in 1971. She was kinda hot, too.
Jessica Walter was cast on “Archer” because, when Adam Reed was passing around the pilot script to agents, he said of the character, “Think Jessica Walter.” Jessica Walter’s agent called and said, “How about the actual Jessica Walter?”
Adam Reed (Creator, Ray Gillette) — Adam Reed, responsible for “Sealab 2021,” which led to “Frisky Dingo,” which led to “Archer” — drew all the characters for “Archer” based on real people in and around Atlanta before he even cast the show. It was just a stroke of luck that some of the characters ended up looking like the voice talent (Aisha Tyler as Lana, for instance). But the interesting thing about Reed is that, in a strange way, he owes his success to Carrot Top.
We did a live-action morning show with him on Cartoon Network, for kids. It was called AM Mayhem. And it was just—we didn’t really mesh with his manager. Carrot Top? Really nice guy. But it was just hellacious shoots and writing and rewrites, and it just dragged on for months and months and months. It was a very troubled production. And we’d been promised, like, “Do this Carrot Top thing, then we’ll talk about your little Sealab cartoon.” So, the Carrot Top thing finished and we were like, “Okay, let’s do Sealab,” and they were like “We’ll totally do that—right after we shoot a whole other round of Carrot Top,” which was going to be like fourteen months, and I was like, “Can’t do it, can’t do it!
When Reed left, he stole the master tapes to “Sealab,” redubbed them with he and Matt Thompson’s dialogue (provided while they were drunk) and sent it back in to the Cartoon Network, which picked it up for their new network, Adult Swim. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Here’s some “Frisky Dingo.”