Before he became the world’s second most famous spy novelist, literary master John le Carre famously disliked the world’s most famous spy (who never actually seems to spy much). He has said of James Bond that “you felt he would have gone through the same antics for any country really, if the girls had been so pretty and the Martinis so dry.” We can argue about whether or not that’s literally or just figuratively true of 007. However, it’s very definitely the case if you’re talking about Sterling Malory Archer, the cocktail-guzzling, murderously self-centered yet oddly competent titular protagonist of “Archer,” Adam Reed’s blend of super-smart, reference-heavy, super-black comedy spy satire and frequently filthy animated workplace sitcom. If you’re a fan, like this writer, you’ll be delighted to know that the show returns to FX with its seventh season this Thursday night, March 31th.
Last summer, just as the new season was starting to go into production, I was lucky enough to be invited to a Comic-Con roundtable with pretty much the entire regular cast of the show as well as creator and voice actor Adam Reed. That’s pretty impressive considering the show’s cast includes voice acting comedy genius H. Jon Benjamin (“Bob’s Burgers,” “Home Movies,” etc.) as the voice of Archer; multi-talented actress Aisha Tyler as the even more multi-talented and super-smart superspy Lana Kane; SNL-grad par excellence Chris Parnell (“30 Rock”) as weaselly espionage accountant Cyril Figgis; borderline ubiquitous working actress Judy Greer as the lovably psychopathic billionairess Cheryl Tunt; the less well-known but seemingly no less talented Lucky Yates as mad scientist Dr. Krieger; and the voice of poly-addictive fan favorite Pam Poovey herself, Amber Nash. Present in the room but, sadly, not at my table was genuine acting great Jessica Walter (“Arrested Development,” “Play Misty for Me”), whose Malory Archer is easily the scariest mom in spy fiction this side of “The Manchurian Candidate.”
What follows are highlights of the conversations I was lucky to have or listen in on.
Ivana Milicevic is one of the sexiest dorks you’ll ever meet. Hey, don’t laugh: if you were wise enough to tune in to the premiere of her new Cinemax series, “Banshee,” when it made its debut on Friday, then you already know that my assessment of her sexiness is on the money, but having actually sat in her presence and chatted with her one-on-one for 20 minutes or so, trust me, she’s a big ol’ dork. But if you’re wondering, let me assure you that this is an amazingly awesome combination. During our conversation, there was much discussion of “Banshee,” of course, but we also touched on more than a few of her earlier credits as well, including everything from “Seinfeld” to “Casino Royale” to “Jerry Maguire” to “Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest,” a range which I think we can all agree is very wide indeed.
Bullz-Eye: An obligatory question to start out: how did you find your way into “Banshee”?
Ivana Milicevic: [Places palms flat on table.] Will, let me tell you.
BE: Please do.
IM: I read the script – ‘cause I was reading millions of scripts, because it was pilot season – and I was, like, “Wha…?!?”It was so good. I loved it. And I was madly in love with Greg Yaitanes because I had done an episode of “House” with him. Like, a season-finale “House” episode that was really fun to do, and he was so fun and easy to work with. And I had been touch with him because of…he was getting me on Twitter in the early days. This was, like, five years ago. But I loved “Banshee.” I had to go in a lot of times. I had to fight for it. I met Antony, we had this instant chemistry that just…
BE: That’s what he said.
IM: He said that, too?
BE: Yeah. In fact, I think he even made the same hand gesture to indicate “instant chemistry.”
IM: [Laughs.] Did he really? That’s so funny. But we do! It’s kind of true. We get along, but we’re also like black and white. So that makes exactly what you’re looking for: a polarity. It just worked. And I think that’s how come I got the job. And then I was really happy, Will, because… [Drops voice down to a whisper.] I had to play it. I had to play this part.
BE: You don’t say.
IM: I did! Because I get to be a mother, so I get to love my family. And I love my real family, so I just love to play that. And I get to be in love…with two men! [Laughs.] And I get to kick ass. And I get to be sexy. Because if not now, Will, when? When?
BE: I hear you.
IM: Because I’m European, and I like that sexy stuff.
With “House” coming to its conclusion on Monday after an eight-year run, it’s fair to say that quite a few regular cast members have seen their way in and out of the doors of Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, but their number can’t hold a candle to how many guest stars – we’re talking people who were on the show for a single-digit number of times – have turned up over the years. This isn’t all of them, but it’s a start…
Robin Tunney (Ep. 1.1, “Pilot”) Character: a kindergarten teacher who becomes dysphasic and starts having seizures. Turns out she’s invested with tapeworms.
Sam Trammell (Ep. 1.4, “Maternity”) Character: the father of a baby girl that’s not even out of the maternity ward and already on death’s door from a virus.
Elizabeth Mitchell (Ep. 1.5, “Damned If you Don’t”) Character: a nun who looks like she’s suffering from stigmata but is later discovered to be suffering an allergic reaction to a copper cross IUD left over from her, uh, wilder days.
Dominic Purcell (Ep. 1.6, “Fidelity”) Character: a husband whose wife – the Patient of the Week – turns out to have been unfaithful.
Amanda Seyfried (Ep. 1.11, “Detox”) Character: girlfriend to the Patient of the Week.
Scott Foley (Ep. 1.12, “Sports Medicine”) Character: a baseball player suffering cadmium poisoning from all the pot he’s been smoking.
Joe Morton (Ep. 1.17, “Role Model”) Character: a senator suffering the after-effects of an epilepsy treatment from childhood
John Cho (Ep. 1.20, “Love Hurts”) Character: a guy who, after spilling apple juice on House’s clothes, ends up being diagnosed by him as having had a stroke. Upon further investigation, it’s determined that he has a trauma-induced aneurysm as a result of a preference for sadomasochism.
Carmen Electra (Ep. 1.21, “Three Stories”) Character: While begrudgingly lecturing a classroom of medical students about a past patient who is depicted as looking like Carmen Electra playing miniature golf. In reality, the patient was actually a male golfer…and he played regular golf, by the way. (Who knew miniature golf could be so sexy?)
It’s a sure sign that spring is on the verge of emerging when the networks start to let slip the names, premises, and attached actors for all of the pilots under consideration for the next TV season. Most of these pilots go nowhere, which is the way the cookie has always crumbled, but a few lucky programs end up getting the go-ahead for a series commitment. I don’t claim to have any real idea how the networks think – as a critic, it’s pretty much a given that I never know what the networks are thinking (and, in turn, they don’t care what I’m thinking) – but that doesn’t mean I’m afraid to give my thoughts on 15 of the pilots that I’d like to see come to fruition and join the fall schedules of their respective networks. You can check out a much fuller list from The Hollywood Reporter by clicking here, but in the meantime, here’s the stuff that I’m hoping to be TiVo’ing in a few months’ time….
1. Gilded Lilys (ABC)
It’s been quite awhile since a broadcast network has managed to sell viewers on a period piece set prior to the 20th century, so the fact that ABC is even considering this series, which takes place in 1895 and revolves around the first luxury hotel in New York, is proof of how much pull executive producer Shonda Rhimes has with the American Broadcasting Company. In truth, the big selling point for me is John Barrowman. This doesn’t exactly bode well for another season of “Torchwood,” but the dude deserves a big U.S. break. You never know: this could be it.
2. Untitled Louis C.K. / Spike Feresten Comedy (CBS)
Go on, admit it: you were sold the moment you saw the name “Louis C.K.,” weren’t you? And Spike Feresten isn’t bad, either. Seeing these two guys attached to this project is the only reason why it stands out, since the only real description available is that it’s an an ensemble comedy about a bunch of twentysomethings trying to make their dreams come true despite today’s crappy financial climate. But, damn, after two seasons of “Louie,” the idea of Louis C.K. putting his spin on anything makes it something that’ll surely be worth seeing. With that said, however, I hope Dan Byrd ends up not being available to do the show, as that will mean that “Cougar Town” has been renewed.
3. Animal Kingdom (NBC)
Two words: Tyler Labine. I mean, come on, America, what more does this loveable teddy bear of a comedy actor have to do to get a show to stay on the air for more than a season or two? NBC is, if memory serves, the last of the broadcast networks that has yet to cancel a series out from under Mr. Labine – “Invasion” was on ABC, “Reaper” was on The CW, “Sons of Tucson” was on Fox, and “Mad Love” was on CBS – and, frankly, this could be his last stop before the autograph-show circuit. Doesn’t Tyler Labine deserve a better fate than that? You’re damned right he does.
4. Untitled Kevin Williamson serial killer drama (Fox)
The man behind “The Vampire Diaries” brings Kevin Bacon to the small screen to play Ryan Hardy, a former FBI agent on the hunt for serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), who’s busy building himself a whole cult full of serial killers. If that isn’t enough to sell you, the cast also features Natalie Zea (“Justified”).
As 2011 rapidly winds to a close, it’s easy to fall back on lists as a way to fill columns – indeed, as a TV critic, it’s my God-given right – but HBO’s announcement this week that it was cleaning house and cancelling “Hung,” “Bored to Death,” and “How to Make It in America” served to convince me that I needed to discuss a number of now-defunct series that lost their bid for continued existence during the course of this year. I’m not talking about shows like “Friday Night Lights,” which had an end-game in sight and wrapped on their own terms. I’m talking about series that effectively had the rug ripped out from under their feet. Believe me, there were a bunch…and I’m still kind of pissed about quite a few of them.
11. Medium (CBS)
After seven seasons on the air and surviving a switch between networks (from NBC to CBS), it’s hard to say that “Medium” didn’t live a good, long life. With that said, however, the show had continued to find new ways to keep things interesting, and with the trio of DuBois daughters growing up and getting their own storylines almost as often as their mom. As such, Allison, Joe, and the gang could’ve easily kept going for another few seasons without any complaints from me.
10. Outsourced (NBC)
Am I going to try to defend my enjoyment of this show? No, I am not, because there’s no point in wasting your time or mine. You may not have thought it was very funny, and if you didn’t, that would be your right. I, however, did. And I still miss it.
9. Law & Order: Los Angeles (NBC)
There’s nothing I dislike more than a series that doesn’t know when to leave good enough alone, and for my part, I don’t know why they felt the need to change the formula and kick Skeet Ulrich‘s character to the curb. Sorry, did I say “curb”? I meant “grave,” of course. Not that there’s anything wrong with giving an actor of Alfred Molina’s caliber a more substantial role, but to do so in midseason can’t have pleased the existing viewership very much. Truth be told, I’d rather they’d just kept the original “Law & Order” around, but in its absence, this was a nice substitute, and it sucks that it never had a chance to really spread its wings.
8. The Event (NBC) / V (ABC)
When it comes to casualties in the alien-invasion field, I can accept the cancellation of “V” a bit more than that of “The Event,” if only because it was a minor surprise that it made it to a second season in the first place. And if I’m to be honest, I’m not really surprised that NBC couldn’t be bothered to give “The Event” a shot at a sophomore year, since they probably figured it’d only let them down the way “Heroes” did. But whereas “Heroes” really dropped the ball in its second year, I felt like “The Event” had a better chance of upping the ante. Guess I’ll never know for sure.