The realisation that cartoons could be for grown-ups was the greatest development in the history of television comedy. The boom in adult animation - and by that I mean animation designed for adults, not that weird Japanese stuff - that began in the late 1980s and continues to this day smashed the boundaries of mainstream comedy, introduced fresh ideas and approaches to the world of the sitcom and freed makers of live-action comedy to experiment and break down conventions. Cartoons rescued the sitcom from the tyranny of the studio and the laugh track.
It has long been my belief that among the plethora of excellent animated comedies that have exploded onto screens in the past couple of decades or so, five stood above all as benchmarks of the genre: The Simpsons, the king of them all; Family Guy; Futurama; South Park; and King of the Hill.
There have been many other great ones, but these five stand out not only for being funnier than the rest, but also for being the shows that laid the foundations for those that followed: these are the cartoons the other cartoon-makers have all been trying to imitate.
But recently I have been forced to reassess the Big Five and turn it into a Big Six. I've had to add another cartoon to the ranks of the legends because of its inventiveness, its superb writing and performances, its striking animation style, and because it is unbelievably freaking funny.
That show is Archer, which airs on the Comedy Channel in Australia.
The brainchild of Adam Reed, and boasting a stellar voice cast - in particular the peerless H. Jon Benjamin, who might be the greatest voice actor there has been - Archer is one of those shows I feel the need to tell as many people as possible about, because, at least in Australia, it's not exactly mainstream, and every person who isn't watching it is missing something incredibly valuable in their life.
It's a show that gives me painful withdrawal symptoms every time I get to the end of a season. Set up as a spoof of espionage thrillers, the misadventures of crack secret agent Sterling Archer become so much more when you add in the collection of selfish, greedy, perverted misfits populating the show, the machinegun-pace dialogue, the intellectually vulgar sense of humour, the beauty of the sharply absurd characterisations and the refreshingly casual approach to sex and violence marbled throughout every episode, all lovingly animated in a perfect pastiche of cool '60s style.
Archer, being quite frank in its embrace of what might be called ''adult themes and coarse language'', will not be to everyone's tastes, but without wanting to be didactic, it will be to everyone with good taste's tastes. It's addictively hilarious and deserves a huge audience, especially if we want to encourage clever, funny, original TV and discourage dumbed-down cliches.
More than anything, Archer shows that the leading edge of TV comedy remains in that realm once ruled by The Flintstones and Scooby-Doo.
We've come a long way from Hanna-Barbera - if you're looking for the best grown-up small-screen comedy, going to the drawings ahead of the live humans is just playing the percentages.
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