For seven seasons and 85 episodes, we’ve followed the hilarious misadventures of Sterling Archer, the world’s greatest secret agent, and the band of misfits he works with.
Archer started out with a terrific, albeit simple, premise – lampooning all the beloved (and some not so beloved) conventions of the spy genre – but it wasn’t long before the show began to tweak its formula. The gang started out at the International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS, before that acronym was spoiled), then tried their luck at drug dealing, espionage (again) and, most recently, private investigating.
Archer himself is a great character, but the show has mined a ton of comedy out of its fantastic supporting cast, from the unhinged heiress Cheryl to the brilliant and maniacal Dr. Krieger.
The eighth season, Archer Dreamland, debuts next week. To mark the occasion, we’re counting down the 15 Best Episodes Of Archer To Date.
15. Mole Hunt – Season 1, Episode 1
A lot of shows stumble out of the gate, and take a little while to find their footing. Archer had no such problem thanks to “Mole Hunt”, a perfect introduction to the secret agent and his world as well as a great episode in its own right.
With a classic spy genre motif – a good old fashioned mole hunt – as its foundation, the series premiere deftly introduces all of the main characters, the setting of ISIS and the power dynamics at play there.
Like all the best pilots, this episode tells us everything we need to know about the cast of characters: Archer is an arrogant womanizer, Woodhouse is his abused valet, Cyril is a socially inept geek, Malory is the exasperated boss, etc.
14. The Handoff – Season 7, Episode 2
In the seventh season, our heroes have been drummed out of the intelligence business and are trying their luck at detective work. In typical Archer fashion, of course, they make a mess of things from the start. In this episode, they are tasked with stealing back sensitive information which they themselves had just stolen, and hilarity ensues.
But this episode is really on the list for one simple reason – the best voicemail ever.
One of Archer’s longest running (and best) gags is the title character’s habit of recording elaborate voicemail pranks to trick callers (usually his mother). His pranks are so infamous that when he actually does answer his phone in this episode, just before fighting his way through an entire biker gang, the team back at the office listens to the ensuing battle (complete with screaming, biting, profanity, assorted stabbings and what sounds like a chainsaw) without batting an eye.
13. A Debt of Honor – Season 5, Episode 3
The fifth season, Archer Vice, switches things up by taking the gang out of ISIS and into the world of drug dealing (and country music stardom). They’ve got a mountain of cocaine to monetize, and no idea what to do with it.
In this episode, Pam (well on her way to a serious cocaine addiction) earns a place on the Yakuza’s hit list by conning them with fake money. The bad news is delivered by Mr. Moto, the Yakuza boss played by the awesome George Takei. Not content with just getting his drugs back, he wants Pam’s head, and so begins the Yakuza’s assault on Cheryl’s mansion.
There are a lot of great gags in this episode, like Woodhouse being forgotten in the mansion’s old fashioned gym and Archer’s shotgun negotiation with Moto. But Pam steals the show, from her tales of Yakuza debauchery and the note she leaves the UPS guy at her old apartment to her feverish consumption of every mind altering substance in sight.
12. Drastic Voyage – Season 6, Episodes 12-13
Archer has a tradition of ending its seasons with big, multi-part adventures: this is the first of three such entries on our list.
A tribute to and spoof of the classic science fiction film Fantastic Voyage, this tw0-part episode finds the team shrunk down to a microscopic size and injected into the body of a Russian scientist. The mission: destroy a blood clot in the scientist’s brain and save his life.
Naturally, they fail spectacularly (and, when the ship reverts to its full size while still inside the scientist, gruesomely).
Flying through the scientist’s bloodstream in a futuristic ship lends itself to a number of great jokes and references, from the obvious nods to Fantastic Voyage itself to Star Wars and Shazam! gags (including “TV’s Michael Gray!”). But the real standout of the episode is Krieger, who throws a tantrum after being left off the team and screws the whole mission up from the outside: and that’s before he takes a wrench to a government super computer.
11. The Papal Chase – Season 4, Episode 11
The Pope is in danger and it’s up to ISIS to save him.
This episode sees Archer and Pam jet off to Rome (disguised as a priest and a nun, respectively) to protect the pontiff from an assassination attempt. Oddly enough, it turns out that his Holiness is a dead ringer for Woodhouse, so the old dope fiend makes the trip as well to serve as a decoy.
It wouldn’t be Archer if the mission didn’t immediately go wrong, which it does: Pam drops a giant mirror on the sleeping Pope, while Archer expects the Swiss Guard to brandish nothing but halberds and is shocked to find them packing guns.
It’s a bit meta too, as the agents learn they were hired by a Cardinal who expected them to fail so he could take the Pope’s place: ISIS, it turns out, has a reputation for not being very good at what they do.
10. Heart of Archness – Season 3, Episodes 1-3
After the death of his fiance Katya, Archer goes off the grid and starts a new life as a beach bum (a year before James Bond would do the same in Skyfall, incidentally).
Patrick Warburton makes a welcome debut as Rip Riley, a former ISIS agent tasked with tracking Archer down. But getting the missing spy to return to his life and responsibilities is no easy sell, especially after he joins up with a gang of pirates and quickly becomes their leader.
“Archer as a pirate king” is a pretty great premise, and it’s leveraged to the hilt. Archer is in his glory lording it over his own island kingdom, sleeping with an endless supply of beautiful women and teaching illiterate pirates the finer points of lacrosse.
9. Fugue and Riffs – Season 4, Episode 1
Archer took advantage of leading man H. Jon Benjamin’s prolific voice acting resume with this episode, which boasted an unlikely but very entertaining crossover (of sorts).
Benjamin voices Sterling Archer, of course, but he also plays the role of Bob Belcher on Bob’s Burgers. The actor doesn’t alter his voice to differentiate the characters, so they sound exactly the same (and to his credit, he’s great as both a burger-slinging family man and a dashing secret agent). “Fugue and Riffs” has fun with that similarity by placing an amnesiac Archer in a new life: running a familiar burger joint (complete with “burger of the day” jokes) with a wife and (adopted) kids!
Seeing the “Archer-ized” versions of the Bob’s Burgers characters is a treat, even though their cameo is brief. Before long, the KGB finds the forgetful Archer, and his ISIS team has to save the day while trying to restore his memories.
8. Space Race – Season 3, Episodes 12-13
Any animated spy sitcom worth its salt eventually has to spoof Moonraker, and “Space Race” is Archer’s answer to one of the most maligned of the Bond movies. It’s riddled with references to the Roger Moore film, most notably the villain’s plot to create a utopia in space.
The team is enlisted by the ISA (think NASA) to travel to a space station that is under attack by mutineers. In yet another ISIS screw-up, they arrive and subdue the ‘attackers’, only to learn that they picked the wrong side, helping the rogue Commander who intends to colonize Mars.
This is the first of the show’s big two-part finales, and they make good use of the extra time, cramming in a ton of gags and references to classic science fiction films like Star Wars and Terminator 2. Archer goes on the warpath with a power loader straight out of Aliens, with other weapons and outfits also referencing the James Cameron classic.
7. Swiss Miss – Season 2, Episode 1
Like another famous secret agent, Sterling Archer is irresistible to women. He winds up complicating most of his missions with ill-advised dalliances, and “Swiss Miss” is no different: though this time, for once, it’s not his fault.
Sterling and the gang are sent to Switzerland to protect a billionaire, Conrad Schlotz, and his sex-crazed teenage daughter, Anke. The aggressive teen immediately sets her eyes on Archer and spends most of the episode trying to seduce him, while he simultaneously fends off her advances and deals with kidnappers bent on capturing her.
In true comedic fashion, of course, Archer’s attempts to keep Anke at bay are inevitably interrupted by either the kidnappers or his co-workers, usually at the worst possible moment. In a hilarious and action-packed sequence, Archer and a topless Anke must flee from the kidnappers on a snowmobile, with the secret agent charged with keeping her both safe and warm.
6. Sea Tunt – Season 4, Episodes 12-13
Another Archer “mega finale”, this one is a bit of a love letter to another one of series creator Adam Reed’s show’s, Sealab 2021.
Cheryl’s equally rich brother comes calling for help when Sealab’s Captain Murphy threatens to launch nerve-gas missiles over the Eastern Seaboard. Descending to the ocean floor, the agents deal with the threat while back on the ship, Cheryl and her brother Cecil quarrel over their respective inheritances, and whether Cheryl is mentally unfit (which, let’s be honest, she really is).
There’s plenty of classic Archer humor to go around here, but there’s some heart too. Lana reveals that she’s pregnant during their escape from Sealab, and when there aren’t enough scuba suits to go around, Archer sacrifices himself so Lana can escape. Of course he survives (the show is called Archer after all) but it’s a big moment in their relationship, and paves the way for their romantic reunion further down the line.
5. The Double Deuce – Season 2, Episode 5
We get a glimpse at Woodhouse’s surprisingly adventurous past in this episode, which flashes back to his days fighting in the First World War. With his old compatriots dying off in seemingly mysterious fashion, and a large sum of money going to the final living member of the “Double Deuce”, Archer leaps into action to protect his valet/preserve his windfall.
This episode is a showcase for the late George Coe, who was fantastic in the role of the long suffering servant. We get a rare glimpse of a young Woodhouse in the war, when he goes on a murderous rampage and scalps enemy soldiers after the death of his friend(?) Reggie. Then we get a Casablanca-inspired look at his time running a bar in Morocco, where he meets a very pregnant Malory and helps her give birth to Sterling (who, we learn, has been nasty to Woodhouse for pretty much his entire life).
4. Vision Quest – Season 6, Episode 5
Lock all of the Archer characters in an elevator for an entire episode, and you’re basically guaranteed a memorable installment.
Showing up at the office for an early morning meeting, everyone crams into the elevator, which promptly breaks down. Stranded together with few options and dwindling hopes of escape, each member of the group slowly unravels until they’re all at each other’s throats. Granted, with the cast of Archer that doesn’t take much.
More than anything, it’s a reminder of just how weird these characters really are. When Malory finally arrives and overrides the elevator, she finds Lana strangling Archer, which isn’t all that unusual… Cheryl grappling with Krieger… a naked Pam choking out Ray… and Cyril masturbating in the corner. There’s a reason these people lost their spy business!
3. Skytanic – Season 1, Episode 7
One of Archer’s many charms is its uncertain time period. Some clothes, settings and historical references evoke the 1960’s, yet the characters make contemporary pop culture references and use modern gadgets. That mix is well on display here, when the ISIS gang boards a fancy airship in one of Archer’s earliest and best episodes.
Malory calls in a fake bomb threat to get ISIS hired on as protection for the vessel’s maiden voyage, but her planned vacation goes awry when it turns out someone else has made a very real bomb threat, leaving Archer and Lana to find the bomb before it’s too late.
There’s some great stuff in this episode, from Archer’s Hindenburg references and his inability to understand the difference between helium and hydrogen, Cheryl blackmailing Cyril for sex, and Malory’s attempts to seduce the thoroughly uninterested Captain Lammers.
2. The Man From Jupiter – Season 3, Episode 4
Archer has a serious man crush on Burt Reynolds, so he predictably flips out when he meets his hero in the flesh. He flips out even more when he learns that Burt Reynolds is dating his mother.
Though he kidnaps Reynolds in an effort to keep him from seeing Malory, Archer is eventually forced to team up with his idol to deal with a hit squad that’s been sent after him. Naturally, Burt’s driving skills are crucial to saving both of their lives.
Bringing in Burt Reynolds for an episode is a big deal for the show, and not only because he was one of the biggest movie stars of the ’70s and ’80s. The series had long established Archer’s hero worship for Reynolds, sprinkling in references to movies like Deliverance, Gator and Smokey and the Bandit, so actually having him appear on the show as himself was a perfect fit.
1. Placebo Effect – Season 2, Episode 9
One word. “Rampage!!!!!!!”
Archer gets breast cancer and starts treatment, only to learn that the chemo drugs he’s been taking are fake. When he finds out the Irish Mob is responsible, he goes on a violent “rampage” of retribution: which gets more difficult, though no less violent, when he starts taking real chemotherapy.
Lana goes along for the ride to film the action of “Terms of En-Rampagement” (or “Casablumpkin”?), while Archer mows down the mobsters, working his way up the ladder until he meets the boss, Franny Delaney, and caps his revenge masterpiece with a bullet to the old gangster’s skull.
Aside from being hilarious, the episode also gives us a look at Archer’s rarely glimpsed soft side, as he reminisces about his friend Ruth, an old lady he met during cancer treatment who died because of the fake drugs.
Plus, we learn Krieger may or may not be a Nazi…
Those are our favorite episodes of Archer. What are some of yours?