From Homeland to Zero Dark Thirty, spies are once again dominating popular culture: bitter, obsessed, conflicted spies. Archer – the filthy, funny spy cartoon returning for its fourth season on FX on January 17th – is the antidote, returning to the freewheeling world of James Bond and his unzipped cohorts. "There's this perception that spies are traveling all over the globe with an unlimited expense account and having amazing sex on rooftops in Paris," the show's creator, Adam Reed, tells Rolling Stone. "The backdrop of global espionage is potentially huge, but I like ignoring it to focus on the petty bickering of the characters. That way, I don't have to learn how global espionage works – because it's actually very complicated."
The show, dense with jokes (on topics ranging from anal sex to the difference between a furrier and a farrier) and its own twisted mythology, is the spiritual child of Arrested Development – even going so far as to include many of that show's alumni among its voice actors. (Reed's two favorite TV shows of all time: Arrested Development and The Andy Griffith Show.) Jessica Walter, the boozy, imperious matriarch on Arrested Development, here plays the boozy, imperious head of the spy agency ISIS – and the mother of the title character, one of the world's best secret agents. "Archer is pretty much a terrible person, a raging alcoholic weirdo," says Reed. "But I wish I had his looks. And I wouldn't mind having a valet or all those clothes."
In a Hollywood recording studio with gray soundproofing on the walls, actor Chris Parnell (SNL, 30 Rock), wearing jeans and a plaid shirt, is recording his lines as Cyril, the sex-addicted ISIS accountant: "Actually, the United States bought the Virgin Islands from Denmark." In this episode, ISIS tries to recover a nuclear bomb from the ocean floor and then ransom it back to the American government. (Archer spends most of the episode getting drunk.) "The show's very raunchy," Parnell says afterwards. "It's great that it comes on as late as it does."
Also on tap for the fourth season: a crossover with the Fox show Bob's Burgers (H. Jon Benjamin does the lead voice for both programs). Reed explains, "Archer finds himself working in a burger joint with a mustache. Archer's mom has, in between seasons, gotten married to a guy named Ron Cadillac. And Archer gets bitten in the scrotum by a cobra. Those are the high points."