Correction Appended: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the review was based on the second season’s premiere. The reviewer actually watched the fourth episode of that season.


Season 2 Midseason
Thursdays at 10 p.m.

After far too long a break, Sterling Archer is back in the danger zone. The writers of FX’s breakout animated comedy “Archer” put their off-time to good use, crafting a second season that, if its premiere is any indication, focuses on what worked best in last year’s batch of episodes.

Right off the bat, that means much more back-and-forth between Archer (H. Jon Benjamin, “Important Things with Demetri Martin”) and Lana (Aisha Tyler, “Ghost Whisperer”). Their swift transitions between perfect spy team and dysfunctional couple are more hilarious than ever, and their banter is perfectly paced to maximize laughs. While there may be funnier individual characters on other shows, there’s no couple on TV right now that comes close to matching Archer and Lana’s tag-team hilarity.

The refined second season also means more cultural references courtesy of our dynamic duo. Returning are Archer’s constant self-comparisons to action heroes, joined by less-expected cultural nods to “The Lorax” or “Where the Red Fern Grows.” And as always, “Archer” trusts its audience to be smart, slipping references into the middle of conversations without making it too obvious. Not only does getting the reference make viewers laugh, it also makes them feel smart.

Sadly, “Archer” can’t just be the Archer and Lana show. The rest of the cast is greatly marginalized in the season premiere, but even the few scenes in which they appear just don’t pack much of a comedic punch. While putting Archer and Lana together is always a great idea, putting them away from everyone else leaves the rest of the cast flailing without a solid comedic anchor.

If any other complaint could be made, it’s that the season premiere’s storyline was the show’s most anti-climactic to date. But while the lack of a shootout ending was a bit of a letdown, the fact that Archer and Lana went through explosions, alligators, dry ice injuries and putting up with each other, all for nothing, is probably the most fitting possible way to sum up their whole schtick.

“Archer” is one of the most intelligent comedies currently around. It’s written by smart people, for smart people and about smart people (who happen to do ridiculously dumb things). And with a second season promising humor that is more self-referential, pop cultural and socially unacceptable, it’s only getting smarter from here.

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