Archer

For those of us stuck in the colder climes during this miserable winter, what could be better than keeping the home fires burning with laughter? Not so easy when ABC, which boasts the best all-around night of comedy with its Wednesday lineup, is currently in a repeat cycle. (No new episodes of anything besides the effervescent Cougar Town until Feb. 9 — and that's the night when Cougar is temporarily benched for the not-so-bright Mr. Sunshine.)

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At least NBC has stepped up with its three-hour sitcom block of back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-Outsourced comedies. This week, the Thursday situation gets a little trickier when FX enters the fray with a second season of its smart, sick and appallingly hilarious animated spy spoof Archer (10/9c), which goes head to head with NBC's increasingly uneven but still fitfully funny 30 Rock.

Archer is great to look at, with its sleek and bold graphics, but it's even more of a blast to listen to. H. Jon Benjamin (much better used here than on Fox's undercooked Bob's Burgers) is the commanding voice of Sterling Archer, a studly spy with serious mommy issues — she's his boss, also wonderfully voiced by Arrested Development dragon lady Jessica Walter. Put another way: Archer is James Bond handsome, but James Spader twisted. Benjamin's ironic line readings are a marvel of surprising timing and wondrously inappropriate attitude.

Archer is a lethal weapon, but he's also a whiner, a cad, a spoiled brat with a filthy mouth and a worse work ethic. In the fractious workplace of spy agency ISIS, Archer clashes constantly with his boozy mother, his sexy ex/fellow spy Lana (Aisha Tyler) and assorted other crackpot characters. The season opener is a perfectly tuned caper, sending the ISIS team (including long-suffering and in this case helpfully zaftig HR head Pam Poovey) to Gstaad, Switzerland, where no one can stay neutral as they try to protect a billionaire's nympho/jailbait daughter from a kidnapping threat. Archer's snarky lechery bites him in the privates this time. The more he tries to protect the aggressive little vixen, the more it looks like he's trying to molest her. "I can't be alone," he barks. "That's when she strikes, like a slutty little ninja."

It's a brisk, naughty little show, among the freshest of genre parodies. Despite its vintage look, Archer feels very modern, whereas Friday night's premiere of Working Class — a new but old-seeming sitcom that represents CMT's attempt to enter the scripted biz — is a step backward.

Reba scene-stealer Melissa Peterman stars in this generic knockoff as Carli, a cash-strapped single mom raising three kids with little help from her slacker brother in a messy but shiny/phony sitcom soundstage home. Carli is first seen watering down the milk for her family's cereal, but it's the jokes that are truly soggy here. "What are you people, baby goats?" Carli gripes about their bodacious appetites as the laugh track shrieks. (You want to see a good comedy about this sort of thing? Try ABC's The Middle, where the kids are as funny as the parents. Or look up old episodes of Grace Under Fire, where the main character had character.)

Carli, unlucky at love but still hopeful, works at a deli alongside curmudgeonly Ed Asner, who serves up grouchy asides ("You want a spark, chew on a lamp cord") with all the energy of a narcotized bulldog. In the first episode, she's wooed by an old high-school acquaintance who comes courting in a Miami Vice costume. The show is that timely. In the second, she's wooed by Ryan Stiles (The Drew Carey Show, Two and a Half Men) as a daffy dentist who says things like, "Cut the plaque!" The only way to wring laughs out of this situation is to dope Carli up on nitrous oxide.

Playing off the nostalgic vibe that worked for TV Land's silly sleeper hit Hot in Cleveland, but working with a much emptier hand, Working Class is intended mainly for exhausted working stiffs willing to kick back on a Friday night with something that already feels like a rerun. They have my sympathy.

Archer returns Thursday, 10/9c, on FX

Working Class premieres Friday, 8/7c, on CMT

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